Remember This

Dear Little One: I wonder what you will remember about this time. What will become part of you and what won’t. Which one of my precious memories will slip away as you become different versions of yourself over and over again.

I love this five-year-old version of you with soft skin that I stroke during our “Five-minute sleep with me” time before bed. How you always say “too tight mommy” when I wrap my arm around your waist. I love the version of you who insists on putting jewels on your face the day after Halloween. And how you ask if we can leave the pumpkins out “for just a little bit longer.” I love the version of you that runs amok trick-or-treating and says over and over “this is so much fun!”. I love the version of you whose entire body jumps and whose smile cracks wide open when I tell you Nanna is coming. It’s adorable how you decide your doll, “Dancing Lucas,” is your brother one day, a dad another day and a classmate the next. I love hearing you talk about your big buddy and watching you pack the friendship bracelet and card you made for her. It was amazing seeing the shock on your face when I surprised you on hot lunch day.

What I Remember At Your Age

I think back to what I remember at your age—walking to school with Meredith Clark. Fighting with Meredith over who could partner with Oliver Shumer when we were asked to walk two-by-two from our portable to the gym. Seeing my name above my coat hanger in the cloakroom and feeling like it was a secret spot just for me. I remember my teacher telling us we had to ask to go to the bathroom in French and teaching me “ou sont les ciseaux?” I remember sitting in circle time and singing the alphabet. But there is a lot I don’t remember—I don’t remember who picked me up from school, what I had for lunch, even what we did on the weekends. I only remember my lopsided smile and freckles because of my school photo. And sometimes I wonder, if that story about me naming the cat, the one I called “lover because I love her so much” is my own memory or one I made up from hearing the family lore so often. I do remember my mom rubbing my back when I was upset and making me eggs every morning. I remember my dad making roast and Yorkshire puddings on special occasions and fishing for compliments the whole time. But there are vast swaths of childhood that this version of myself hasn’t retained.

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My Memories

When I think back to kindergarten, my most vivid memories are about school and friends. But, surprisingly few memories of my parents. This is of course, a bit disconcerting from my current vantage point as a mom. What if you don’t remember our family outing in the snow to the Forestry Museum last Christmas? What if your memories of daddy-daughter Costco trips, where you pick out a bouquet of flowers for me, disappear? And what if you never remember the little fox vase beside your bed that I fill with gerbers. But also, what if you remember how I snapped at you for trying to “help me” by pulling out a flower by its head instead of the stem, crushing the petals as you tried to yank the brightest flower for yourself? What if you remember seeing me crying on the toilet during Covid? How I bad mouthed Nanna after she cut your bangs?

Your Memories

But of course, I can’t control what you keep as your memories, good or bad. I only have my own mom-memories to treasure: looking at you, not being you. As a parent, I try to create memories for you. Taking you to see mall Santa, visiting your cousins overseas, stopping to see the full moon on the drive back from Grandpa’s. Memories, in many ways, are our legacy as parents. Once you’ve grown up and left, you’ll be able to look back at the childhood we “created” with fondness. But what if you don’t? What if, like me, you remember most vividly the parts of childhood that didn’t involve us? What if all those late nights making special lunches and hiding elves on the shelves melt away with the fallibleness that is remembering? Or what if you only remember my shameful parenting moments?

Then I remember, my job isn’t to give you good memories, although that would be really, really nice. My job is to make sure you’re okay. Make sure you learn how to navigate the world. Watch me fall down and get back up. Know you are loved. Know how to feel anger without hitting, feel sadness without hopelessness and be happy in a troubled world. Show kindness. Develop empathy. Offer gloves to a friend when it’s cold out.

Despite my scattered memories, my parents made me feel safe in the world, they let me be myself and those things are no small feat. I’m sure they have their own memories of watching me grow up that I will never have. Instead, I’m sure they remember being a living, feeling human who did their best. After all, that’s all any of us can do.

Julia Mais
Julia Mais
Julia Mais is a policy and communications professional in Victoria B.C. She looks for beauty in the everyday through writing, photography and the outdoors. She lives in a messy, cheese-filled home with her husband and young child.