When I was a little girl, I dreamt of being two things when I grew up: Snow White and a mother. While the first didn’t happen until the Halloween of 2001, the second dream came true in October 1998 when my son Cooper was born.
The joy of becoming a mother cannot be overstated. Neither can the sheer exhaustion nor crippling fears. Am I doing it right? And by “it,” I mean everything. Breastfeeding. Potty training. Counting. Reading. Shoe tying. Consequences. Dancing Like an Egyptian.
Cooper graduates from high school exactly one month from today. Lately, I spend a lot of time reminiscing about his younger days. Friends warned me that time with my children would fly by and I didn’t believe them. In each moment, time seemed to stretch out as if it would go on forever but now I’m faced with my son leaving home and our relationship shifting in a major way. So, I’m doing what I do best: telling stories.
One evening, I retold the tale for the umpteenth time of how, for a few weeks, Cooper insisted upon wearing a superhero cape everywhere, relenting only to remove it at bath time. The grass green cape had a yellow applique thunderbolt zig-zagging across the back. When he ran, the cape flew out behind him, but when he stood still, it dragged on the floor. He’d gotten the cape as a “handy-down,” around the time he’d turned three, from a former colleague of mine.
Cooper and his younger brother had been visiting with their father overnight and were returning home on a Sunday morning. (Their dad and I had been separated since my youngest was an infant.) Cooper sprinted toward me, that cape streaming behind him like a flag.
As his little legs pumped up and down bringing him up our little walk to our little brick home, I opened the screen door to let him in.
Without breaking his stride, Cooper lifted his hand in greeting. “Hiya, Wonder Woman” and brushed past me.
Under my breath, I said, “It’s about time someone noticed.”
Their dad bent at the knees, grabbed his stomach, and let out a guffaw. His ever-present Yankees baseball cap tumbled to the ground. My youngest son, who was 18 months old at the time, emulated his dad’s response.
Soon we were all laughing.
As I finished the story, I smiled.
Cooper smiled, too. “I wish I remembered more from when we lived in our old house and our time there,” he said. “Mostly what I do remember is because of you telling me the stories.”
In front of our home, after the “Cape Era” ended.
That’s when it hit me: I was the container for their lives’ experiences. I remembered it all. All those firsts: rollovers, giggles, teeth, steps, tumbles, boo-boos, dances, heartbreaks, performances, and days of school. I knew their favorite foods and what they hated. I could recite teachers’ names, favorite subjects, and experiments gone awry. I knew who liked which vacation best and who would tell which story at my funeral: those mistakes we loved to laugh about. (Whom am I kidding? I make mistakes so often they love to rib me about them on a daily basis.)
I’ve been the witness to my children’s lives and they to mine. If something were to happen to me, their childhood stories would disappear along with me: a double tragedy. So as they plot their Mother’s Day gifts, I’ll also be planning my own: recording their stories in my voice for them so they never have to worry that their childhoods will evaporate.
Leave a comment below with a specific action you’ll be taking to preserve your own family’s stories.