Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Which Memories Will You Choose to Keep? A Review of This Is Childhood

I have a confession: I fear the moment my sweet little boy becomes a bigger boy who no longer lives and breathes untainted, unconditional adoration for his imperfect mamma. I, who have always been self-sufficient to a fault, feel drunk on the love in his eyes, his wet toddler kisses. I am greedy; I don’t want to lose my fix. And I don’t want to know when I will lose it.

And so it was with trepidation that I picked up my review copy of Brain, Child Magazine’s This Is Childhood, a lovely and extraordinarily well-written anthology of essays about the first ten years of childhood. But the book proved to be relatable, even cathartic, and I highly recommend it.

Despite the outpouring on my blog, I lack the courage to write to my son as opposed to about him. And so I wept with abandon at the essay on One by Aidan Donnelly Rowley, a letter to her daughter on the cusp of turning two. Both she and the author of Two, Kristen Levithan, express the hope that their children will understand how much they were loved simply by reading their mothers’ missives. I, too, claim record-keeping as a large motivation for my writing: I want future-Henry to know just how funny and sweet and innocent he was, just how much we adored him.

But the idea that we keep memories for our children until they can keep them for themselves is a fallacy. The truth is we craft recollections through the lens of our own experience. Blogging, jotting down notes in his baby book – they are more than just a way to preserve a record of his milestones; they are the way I capture how I myself felt in the moment he first smiled or sang me a song or said I love you, Mommy. As Nina Badzin writes in Three, “they’re the [memories] I choose to keep.” My scribblings and ramblings are but a continuation of the small, yellow spiral-bound notebook labeled PRIVATE that I kept in my nightstand drawer at age seven. My memories, my truth.

Speaking of seven, the vivid recollection of first keeping my own memories at that age is no mere coincidence. Seven appears, in this anthology, to be a fulcrum around which the age of innocence is divided from its more aware cousin. Like the bucking of car when a novice changes gears, there was a palpable shift between Bethany Meyer’s essay on Six -- “No matter how many leaps forward you take, six, you’re still so preciously innocent” – and Tracy Morrison’s essay on Seven.

Seven is precarious. Morrison describes the two “sevens” she has experienced. For her eldest daughter, Morrison writes, seven “meant starting to care about what other people think, insisting on wearing the ‘right’ clothes…” while for her younger daughter, seven means “not caring about those things, living with her head in the clouds of happy oblivion while wearing twirly skirts, tights, Mary Janes, big bows….” The lever balances atop its fulcrum.

And then Eight. “You back yourself into your closet and dress alone;” writes Amanda Magee, “then, each morning as you leave your room, you close the door securely behind you.” And: “I rarely let my lips touch your [sleeping] face as I lean in to kiss you because you often wake, not always gently. I am an intrusion.” Thwap. The lever falls to the other side.

I am not ready. I am the swollen-eyed, sniffling, opposite of ready.

I pull myself together and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing I have almost five years of the intoxicating little man love drug before seven rears its trembling, unsteady head. The question is whether I will be brave enough to continue writing when he is Seven, Eight, Fifteen, Eighteen. Will the memory of his loss of innocence be one I choose to keep?

Denise Ullem’s note following her essay on Nine catches my breath. “One of my greatest joys – watching my children grow – lives beside a subtle sorrow that my time with them is finite.” There is comfort, at least, in knowing you are not alone.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of This Is Childhood from Brain, Child Magazine, for whom I have contributed essays.