We parents are collectors. We have the photos from the day they were born. We have the first drawing they did. Their first pair of shoes, the tickets to that first flight. We have their high school diploma and their baseball t-shirts. We have their trophies and ribbons. Our garage, we’ve said, is a graveyard of strollers and high chairs and bikes and boxes of outgrown clothes and toys.
Why do we do this? We do this because the stuff means so much to us. We do it because we can’t bear to throw or give it away. We do this because we know that one day our children will no longer be with us–that they are constantly growing up and moving on–and we think it’s a way we can keep them with us. We do this because we don’t want to lose them.
But it’s worth thinking sometimes about what those mementos will actually feel like to us when they do move out and on, or god forbid if something tragic happens. Joan Didion has written movingly and beautifully about this in her books A Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights because that did happen to her. She lost her husband suddenly. She lost her adult daughter suddenly. And then suddenly she was left in a house filled with the mementos they kept. She thought this would be comforting, that it would keep them with her, which they did. But they also made her feel something very different. “In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment,” she wrote. “In fact, they only serve to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”
Ooooh. That hits you. Just as it does when we hear Johnny Gunther’s mother say, “I wish we’d loved him more.” We only get so much time with our kids. There are only so many moments. In the end, the physical reminders of the moments are going to be cold comfort, woefully insufficient compared to the real thing. And it will hurt all the more if we regret our lack of presence in those moments, if we wasted too many of them, if we weren’t there while they were happening.
If you’re struggling to be present with your kids, you’re not alone. Ryan Holiday has some practices and exercises that will help bring your attention fully to what’s in front of you in the latest video from The Daily Dad YouTube Channel.