Make the most of your time. Enjoy what we have. It all goes by fast.
We hear this stuff a lot. All the time. Yet, it often seems to fall on deaf ears, even for the most well-intended of us. I mean, it’s hard not to get distracted in today’s world isn’t it? With a keyboard in front of us or a smartphone in the palm of our hands, we can easily check out what the rest of our friends, strangers, or the world is up to with a quick scroll that easily becomes a long scroll, a response to tap out, and a photo to capture this moment on a Tuesday afternoon we’d otherwise let pass by as we eat lunch.
Our followers need to see this funny meme. This photo of me will get enough likes to make me feel better about myself for another day or so.
Perhaps it’s that album we need to record, that book we need to finish writing, that piece of art that’s just not perfect but should be. Whatever it is, it hangs there, gnawing at us to come back to it, to finish it, to shut out the rest of the world and see this through so the rest of the world can share in our vision – our place in the fabric of culture sewn and secured for the rest of eternity.
Or we so often tell ourselves.
I certainly am not immune. Every time I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or hold a finished book or creative product in my hands, I get caught up in a euphoria that this thing, right here, might outlast me. But time passes, swiftly, as we’re often reminded, and even those products we create, those stories we tell, that branding we curate, it all fades in time.
This winter, I was struck by an interview with Conan O’Brien that ran in the New York Times, with discussions of when his then-latest running late night series might come to a close.
Is this how you want to go out, with a show that gets smaller and smaller until it’s gone?
Maybe that’s O.K. I think you have more of a problem with that than I do. [Laughs.] At this point in my career, I could go out with a grand, 21-gun salute, and climb into a rocket and the entire Supreme Court walks out and they jointly press a button, I’m shot up into the air and there’s an explosion and it’s orange and it spells, “Good night and God love.” In this culture? Two years later, it’s going to be, who’s Conan? This is going to sound grim, but eventually, all our graves go unattended.
You’re right, that does sound grim.
Sorry. Calvin Coolidge was a pretty popular president. I’ve been to his grave in Vermont. It has the presidential seal on it. Nobody was there. And by the way, I’m the only late-night host that has been to Calvin Coolidge’s grave. I think that’s what separates me from the other hosts.
I had a great conversation with Albert Brooks once. When I met him for the first time, I was kind of stammering. I said, you make movies, they live on forever. I just do these late-night shows, they get lost, they’re never seen again and who cares? And he looked at me and he said, [Albert Brooks voice] “What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? “No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.” It’s so funny because you’d think that would depress me. I was walking on air after that.
I remember reading initial reactions to this article online as people wondered if Conan was all right, if he was in a state of depression or deep sadness. When I read it, I saw a man with an incredibly healthy perspective that I felt I could learn something from.
That’s not me being against putting forth your creative energies. Please, by all means, do! I encourage everyone to find a creative outlet, whether you are a New York Times Best-Selling author, a professional Hollywood director/actor, or you’re working a steel mill and acting on the community theatre stage or sketching in a sketchbook by night. Find what brings you joy. Relish the happiness that being creative brings you.
What I’m saying, what it took me a long time to really, truly understand myself, is to not let it consume you. You can spend your entire life with that one focus, shutting out the rest of the world and people around you. You may hold it in your hands (and enjoy that moment, you should, you’ve earned it), but keep in mind, those hands will one day be gone.
By my very nature, I’m the type of person to constantly have juggling pins in the air, plates spinning, a multitude of projects that I’ve lined up, either professionally or just for myself that I want to get done, I want to cross off that list. So much so, that it can very easily slip from ‘i want to get this done’ to ‘I NEED to get this done,’ at the expense of the one thing none of us get extra of – our time. Time that can be spent with a loving partner, sharing laughs with friends, getting down on the floor or the grass and playing with children, looking to the world around you and savoring it for a few moments longer than you did the day before. The other stuff will get done. It will. But before you know it, so will each of us, so let’s enjoy it while we can.
I’m going to try making a better effort at it myself. Putting down the phone (where I’ve been keeping electronic lists as of late), fighting back the nagging urge to drop other things around me in order to just do something I can cross off. I need to get outside more, I need to get down on the floor more and actually play with the kids instead of watching them play while I work on other things. Things that can often wait.
Don’t become all-obsessive, I beg you. Look around you, to the world, to the people, and enjoy every moment with them, on this earthly plane.
This morning I was standing in the middle of our living room, getting dressed for work.
It’s not the usual place I prep for the day, but everyone else in the house was still asleep, and with a nine month old with a temperamental wake-up, I didn’t feel like tempting fate and having anyone wake up that might start a domino effect of human alarms that ended with a crying baby to start off the day.
So, I was there, just Winston (one of our cats) and myself, in the silence of the early morning. I was buttoning up my shirt when my eye caught some of the baby toys on a cubed shelf we have in the living room. We bought it with the sole purpose of having a place to house toys when not in use so they weren’t constantly scattered across the living room rug.
Three fabric bins neatly placed underneath, housing everything from Fisher Price Little People to toy instruments. A shelf filled with some board books, another bin filled to the brim with Duplo Legos, the raw material that leads throughout the day to spaceships, houses, superhero headquarters, zoos, and any other creations that spring to our kids’ minds.
In the past several months, a small basket has sat on top, filled with soft blocks, indestructible books, a rattle, and a handful of toys suitable for keeping a baby’s interest, at times a wishful prospect.
The shelf itself has been there, probably a year, by my estimate, but for some reason, this particular morning, one thought hit me while I got dressed – “these things are not going to be sitting here long.”
Contents within will change, perhaps from the Fisher Price Little People and Duplo of today to action figures and building kits of tomorrow. Puzzles might give way to board games, board books to magazines. And those baby toys in the wicker basket on top will fade away from our view like a mirage that in time will make us wonder, with how quickly it changed, it was all real, and all not so long ago.
It seems like only yesterday I cradled you in my arms, swaddled in a blanket covered in baby footprints, wondering how I was so lucky to get to welcome you into this world.
When we brought you home, I never thought I could feel so exhausted again in my life. I wondered how how your mom was even standing. And yet, as I write this, we’ll be going through it all over again in just a few short months.
I sat in awe the first time you smiled. I laughed when you pooped on my hand during a diaper change. I watched you roll over, then crawl, then stand up and walk and with each step you took, you walked deeper and deeper into my heart.
The awe in which you saw everything for the first time left me inspired.
You gave me new eyes in which to see the world.
I sat awake in a chair in the hospital while you and your mom slept, unaware that febrile seizures even existed, let alone it was what put you there in the first place. We hoped and prayed we would see you return to the exuberant force of nature you are. Lucky for us, you did.
And that was just the first year and a half.
You turned two and I thought how fast the time had passed. You impressed us with your counting and letter knowledge, and the way you’d chat up a storm. Now I look back at video of that time and realize how crude those words may have been in the beginning, but they were there, and we knew every word you meant.
Some days you were unhappy. It happens to us all. And when you’re a kid it can be magnified. Sure, it’s been 32 years since I’ve been in your shoes, but I get it. You’re having the time of your life, tons of fun, playing up a storm and suddenly being told you’ve got to go, that it’s time to go to sleep. You were just getting warmed up. Or it was a cool toy, a great book or the open space of green grass. I may tell you it’s time to nap or go home, buddy, but deep inside, I get it. I really do. Who wants to be dragged away from all of that with no choice in the matter?
Our car rides are legendary…well they are to me. The fact that you’ve made it your own game to guess which composer is on when I play the classical station makes me simultaneously chuckle and beam. Other days you want to listen to music from cartoons ranging from Thomas the Tank Engine to Winnie the Pooh, to DuckTales, and it makes me rediscover childhood all over again. Only I get to experience it with you.
To see you play with my old toys or watch cartoons that I watched as a kid and have just as much fun with them strikes a chord deep inside.
You help me stay eternally a child, little buddy. It’s something I’ve longed for and long-lost in this crazy world of adulthood. Some people never lose it, some never had it. Me, I’ve lost my way here and there, looking back wistfully at those bygone days. But thanks to you, I’ve been in touch with them all over again. And It’s something I’ve needed for quite a while.
I admit there have been times when I’ve wished we could speed through a troublesome phase or moment. But honestly, more often than not, I’ve wanted nothing more than to stop the sands of time, and live these moments forever with you.
I can’t believe I get to be your dad. Whether it’s the intelligence and thought you show in the decisions you make, the stories you tell, or the compassion and kindness you show to others, be they a baby, a fellow kid, an animal, or an adult, you inspire me.
You make me a better person each and every day and I thank the stars above every moment of my day (yes, even when you’re kicking and screaming) that you’re here.
Happy Birthday, little man.
And all I can think is ‘how the heck did it get here so quickly?!’
I’m not talking in that ‘I’m unprepared!” way when events sneak up on your despite their regularity every year. No, I mean, what the heck happened to the lead-up?
This revelation hit me when, of all things, I was putting some bottles of beer in the fridge.
Every winter, I get a pack of the Samuel Adams Winter/Holiday Pack. It comes with such staples as the Boston Lager, but some special winter-y mixes like White Christmas, Winter Lager and my favorite, Old Fezziwig Ale. It seems that even in years of recent memory, I would savor the dark days of winter (or quasi-winter, meaning when it’s not officially winter and just cold), leading up and thinking about the season – past, present and future – while savoring these favorite beers of mine.
And as I was loading them into the fridge last night I thought – ‘it’s almost Christmas Eve. In mere days, that’s it, the holiday is over.’
Then it struck me just how fast it’s been breezing by. While I was prepared for the holiday and any festivities that come with it, my shopping done early, our prep for family gatherings done, it dawned on me how I’ve yet to find that relaxed ‘ahhh. the holidays’ state of mind I’ve known in years past. And I can’t put my finger on why this may be.
Could it be the warmer, dreary and rainy weather this Christmas, making for a green, muddy holiday than the idealistic White Christmases of the past? Last year, it was expected to be green and on Christmas Eve, snowed by surprise – “A Christmas Miracle!”
Is it that the little guy is already 2 1/2, making the ticks of the clock and the tears of the calendar pages seem to move ever faster in general?
Or has all of life led to a hurry-up, checklist, get this done lifestyle that hasn’t lent itself to such relaxing and reflecting as before? Is that just the natural course of life and parenthood?
I have no concrete answer. But I do know that it’s yet another wake-up call to me to take heed of this fast-paced breeze through life and start living it before it passes us all by.
As the year comes to a close and another begins to start, I think it’s maybe appropriate that I’ve had this wake-up call when I have.
Every now and then I need that kind of kick in the pants to stop running around in that checklist-driven life and start just enjoying life for what it is. Otherwise it’s going to pass you by before you know it.
Every time our little guy learns something new, makes a new expression, says a new word, or just enjoys something in a way he never did before (splashing in puddles, apple picking, or just being pushed around the room in a cardboard box) it has filled our hearts with memories we will always cherish. When I watch him playing with mommy or running around our house, or laughing it up with Gramma and Grampa, I smile thinking of just how much joy he is experiencing and how these are the moments to hold in our memories.
It’s recently saddened me to come to the realization that these times we will remember so fondly, he won’t.
As we start looking to the future and think about what other needs we may have someday as our family grows, new locations, new housing, is at the top of that list. While it’s not immediate, it’s certainly a someday, as our current place was great for Meg and I, but as our family grows, our tiny space seems to shrink more and more.
That got me thinking about the various places that I had lived growing up, equating our current situation/house/neighborhood to what I remembered of the early residence my family had when my brother was born and I was three years old.
Then it began to dawn on me. That was at three years old and that’s the earliest I can remember…well, anything, really. Unfortunately, even that memory is spotty, remembering more just vague images of the surroundings and area through the eyes of a child. I don’t remember my brother being born. I don’t remember the apartment we lived in before that period of three-years old.
Of course, that led me to the inevitable conclusion that all of these wonderful memories we’re making, all these moments of enjoyment our little man is having each day, reacting to, communicating with us…it’s very unlikely he’ll remember any of it. And it just saddened me.
While I didn’t know it at the time, it’s an actual form of development known as Childhood Amnesia.
According to scientists, childhood amnesia (or infantile amnesia) is the term for our inability as adults to recall memories before the stage of 2-4 years old. During our first one to two years of life, scientists say that parts of our brain known as the limbic system holds what is called the hippocampus and amygdala (used in the storing of our memory) and are not fully developed at that point in our growth.
Researchers have found that sometimes children can recall memories from before the ages of 3 or 4, but that’s something they can accomplish while they are still children, and an ability that declines as the children age. It can vary from child to child, reportedly, as to when they start remembering. Sometimes it’s 2 year old, sometimes 3 1/2, other times 5 years old.
Days spent with no reference of time, of limitations – purely of emotion and the drive to do, to play, to enjoy and to love.
It seems a bit unfair to me that these wonderful, carefree times should go unremembered by a child. At these early ages, we as adults get to enjoy in the purest form of their joy and yet, they will not be able to do so themselves.
The researchers used 81 3-year-olds and their mothers who had volunteered in an earlier study on the development of memories in infants by the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development.
As mother talked with their child about six events (ranging from neutral events to positive events) that the child had recently experienced and were recorded doing so, asked to talk to their child as they normally would in any other situation.
In the years that followed, the researchers then made contact with the families again and asked the kids (at different ages, ranging from 5 to 9) to recall the events they talked about with their mothers when they were three. The age differences were so that the researchers could take note of what varied in each child along with how much they either remembered or had forgotten.
According to the MinnPost article, they found that “children 5, 6 and 7 years of age remembered a substantial percentage of events from the age of 3 years. In contrast, children 8 to 9 years of age had lost access to many of their memories of events from the same early age.”
That finding suggested that age 7 was the “inflection point” for childhood amnesia.
While that in itself is not groundbreaking or new information, the recent study is reportedly the first to demonstrate the finding using the recollections of the children.
The study also found that those children who remembered more details of the events discussed at three years old had mothers who had encouraged the child to elaborate on the memories as well as let the child steer the course of the conversation. The researchers say that encourages the child to participate in the give-and-take of the conversation as well as fill their recollection of the memory with their own content.
The MinnPost article goes on to point out that the study revealed the paradox that children between 5 and 7 recalled 65-72 percent of the events they talked about with their mothers at the age of three, but those children who ere 8-9 years old could recall only 35 percent of the events.
And while the older children remembered less of the events, what they did remember was in more detail. The researchers also say those older children were able to take perspective on the events by giving more evaluative information about them.
What the researchers believe this all suggests is that narrative abilities play a role in what is remembered. After seven years old, the language skills of a child have become stronger, which allows them to create a more elaborate narrative for each memory. That then helps the memory become more firmly established in their minds. Whereas at the younger ages, they don’t have much knowledge of the why, what, where and when that goes along with those memories, leaving many of them to be forgotten.