Sitting in Jimmy Johns eating a delicious unwich the other day, it hit me: my daughter, Elliott, is reaching the age where she’ll remember this stuff for the rest of her life. In that moment, her daddy was acting silly and she was cackling loudly, her laugh echoing through the whole restaurant and the thought of this moment being burned in her memory forever just hit me. Hard.
I have vivid memories of kindergarten. I have a few from before too. So my daughter, who will start kindergarten this year, will remember what she’s doing, saying, and feeling. We’re making memories right now that will last forever in her mind.
This thought is overwhelming.
Up until this point, we’ve been teaching and showing her things we hope she’ll remember (be kind to others, wash your hands after you go to the bathroom, forgive your sister when she hits you, talk in your indoor voice, don’t pick your nose), but now she’s going to have actual childhood memories that will stay with her.
She’ll have memories she will tell her kids one day. She’ll be able to recall that funny thing her Daddy said or the way her Mommy made her feel. These days will come up later, in her stories, in her dreams, in her soul.
Maybe with her therapist.
This is the first time I remember feeling so overwhelmed with the task of parenting. I had moments when Elliott was first born and the hospital just let me take her home like I knew what I was doing. But we figured it out, Chris, Elliott, and I. We made mistakes (like the time I wanted so badly to save a poop-covered onesie that I pulled it over her head and got poop all over her sweet face and in her fuzzy hair…and then the onesie ended up being stained and I had smeared poop all over my baby for no reason) and we learned. But she doesn’t remember all those times, they were like free passes: I got to learn a lesson while she sat there too little to remember my mistakes.
Now she’ll remember. And I’m praying that she looks back at those memories with love and grace. It might be a while, it might take years, but I hope one day, when she’s thinking back to her childhood and how once, in a fit of childish rage, her mom yelled at her to shut up!, she’ll know it had nothing to do with her. That she’ll understand that Mommy is flawed and human.
Once when I was in high school, my mom slapped me across the face. We were standing outside the laundry room, right down the hall from my bedroom. We were in the middle of a fight and I said something rude or hurtful, knowing in all my high school wisdom, just the right, nasty thing to say and my mom reacted by slapping.. After, no words were spoken. I turned around and left and my mom went the other way. I remember this vividly, like it happened yesterday.
Here’s what I know now as a thirty-two year old adult: I probably deserved to be slapped; what my mom really should have done is pummel me into the ground; slapping me was probably the lesser of all the evils she could think of in that moment; my mom is flawed and human; she always did what she thought was best. And she loves me fiercely.
Parenting is overwhelming.
That is not a complaint, it’s just a fact. I signed up for this gig (sort of blindly…), but it seems like each time my kid grows, I have to re-learn parenting. I have to start over, forget everything I thought was right, and do it differently. Sure, some things stay the same, but most of it doesn’t.
And now, Ellie will remember. She’ll remember the fun, the giggling, the yelling, the trouble, the mistakes, the trips, the experiences, the words. That realization is bringing a whole new layer to what my actions mean and what is truly important.
Man, parenting is hard.
This post originally appeared on Trusty Chucks in January 2014.
Mary Graham is a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, Indiana. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and rescue dog, Blue. During the day, she teaches high school English and at night (after the girls are asleep), she writes for The Huffington Post, Pearson's Teachability, For Every Mom, her own blog TrustyChucks & various other print and digital outlets. In her spare time, she likes to read, travel, eat chocolate, run half marathons, and then eat more chocolate.