Take a few moments and think back on a person from your childhood. How many specific memories can you recall with them?
I am a mother of two kids, growing up so rapidly that my breath catches when I stumble on a random picture of a little girl on her dad’s shoulders with her hands on her hips and a head tilt accentuating her adorable pigtails. The look on her face is mirrored now in a young woman who can share clothes with me, growing into her adult form before my eyes. Where has all of that time gone? I see them from a mother’s lens; I remember their childhoods in bits and pieces. I sit and wonder what they will remember from these days. What are their anchor memories? Out of the thousands of days that we spend together, what sticks?
I ache to remember my mother in detail. I want those thousands of memories we created together to be neatly organized on a reel that I can pull up and press play whenever I miss her. But, instead, they are scattered, like leaves on a windy day. Some are gone, lost in the deep recesses of my brain that I cannot access.
When I was around ten years old, my mother and I went on a long bike ride. We lived in the country, and we biked down long, windy back roads. We stopped at the ruins of an abandoned house along the way and tiptoed across saggy floorboards like we were explorers in a newly discovered land. My foot almost fell through one of the boards, and we laughed at the excitement and danger of it all, quickly deciding to get back to the safety of our bikes. We rode for what felt like hours, all the way to my aunt’s house across town. They bantered and laughed the way sisters do, and we snacked on sandwiches and potato chips before embarking on our long bike ride home, refusing to be driven. The ride back was slightly uphill, and at times I felt like my pedals were barely propelling me forward anymore, but I was so proud of how far we had gone and so content spending the day with my mom. This seemingly benign day has stayed with me all of these years. It became one of the anchor memories of my childhood and my mother.
I remember other little things as well. Like the night we stayed up past midnight cutting up little quotes we liked out of a few books and taping them to our refrigerator, or staying up to watch Law and Order together after everyone had gone to bed. I remember her Bruegger’s order- A pumpernickel bagel with spicy brown mustard, a slice of swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato. The way she would constantly rearrange the furniture in our house and change her hair from blonde to dark to red; change was energizing to her instead of feared. The coffee she would get from Dunkin Donuts with more mocha than I liked, and the smell of breakfast in her house when I would visit after I moved out. Everything with a hint of maple. Photos help jog these memories also, like the time we held hands and jumped into the water with all of our clothes on in Stoneybrook park, laughing at the spontaneity of it as we heard the shrill of the lifeguard’s whistle signaling to us to get out.
These memories seem so random to me, and they make me look at my children with wonder. What will they look back on when I am gone as the anchors of their childhoods? What will stay after we accumulate these thousands of days by each other’s sides?
Sometimes I think about what I wish I had more of and make an effort to do more of those things for my children. Growing up in the eighties, recording videos was not easily accessible, so I have very few videos of my mom. It makes her voice, facial expressions, and mannerisms more challenging to recall with any clarity, depending entirely on my memory, like looking through cobwebs. She always took lots of pictures, even in the days of film and physical photographs, but the problem was that she was always the one taking them. She was behind the lens, leaving me to see her view of the world without seeing her. I don’t have any journals about her life from her perspective.
I sometimes get lucky enough to hear stories about who my mother was outside of that mother role. As a sister, as a woman. My aunt tells me the story of how she saved all of her money in secret and then bought a plane ticket to California, flying across the country with a dime in her pocket at 18 years old to move and be with her boyfriend. She called home to tell her parents she moved to California, again when she got married, then again to share that she was pregnant. She flew home later to file for divorce, raise her baby, and start a new life, only closer to home this time. As an adult now with my own kids, I wish I could hear this story directly from her. I wish we could talk about parenting, about the troubles she had raising four kids, about her decision to start a career after being a stay-at-home mom for so long, what she would view as her biggest hurdles, successes, and failures.
Thinking about our mortality is difficult. We don’t want to believe that we might not be here for all of the milestones or able to tell all of the stories and advice our children or loved ones may want. We don’t have a crystal ball, but we can do a few things while we are here. First, allow ourselves to be in more videos. They are so accessible now with smartphones, taking advantage and recording family gatherings, silly moments, and everyday things. Let yourself be in those videos, talking and laughing. The same goes for photos; don’t hide behind taking pictures of your family; get right in there! There is also a service called “StoryWorth” that I read about last year. They send you a writing prompt about your life each week, and at the end of a year, they compile them into a book as a keepsake. What an incredible thing to leave your family after you are gone, the stories and the advice all written in your voice. If it is possible for you, consider buying it for yourself or your loved ones. If you are disciplined enough without a service, try to create something yourself through writing or videos. Push through the awkwardness and resist the inner critic; tell your story. Your loved ones will hold it tight, right next to those little anchor memories they keep of you.
If you are interested in StoryWorth, it is linked here. I would love to hear your thoughts on anchor memories and ways to leave your legacy for your family.