i don’t remember what started it. something like a root being tugged deep inside. some primal mama root, an urge that could not, would not, be stopped. i wanted to grab hold of long-ago time, to loop it forward and back, to get lost in the nooks and the crannies. to turn back to the start of the holiest story i’ve ever lived and breathed. the one that over and over has filled me beyond the brim, prompted me to whisper in my deepest, holiest, truest hours, “thank you for this plenty. thank you, and thank you, and thank you.”
and so, a few days ago, i found myself on my knees, tugging hard at the drawer that hasn’t been opened in quite a long while, the drawer that never really wanted to open, a stubborn pine drawer in a stubborn pine chest. but inside was a box, a blue box, with a stack of 27 cassettes, each one smaller than an index card, and each one holding moments for me that have been swirling to life, ever since i plugged in the old clunky video cam, the one i never much knew how to work.
it’s been dizzying, as the moving pictures have swooped and dipped in and out of the frame, and in and out of focus (no one in this house claims cinematography skills). but every once in a while, when the camera held still, i got a glimpse — a whole string of frames — of moments in time that in rewind and from this perch of a quarter century later (my firstborn turns 25 a week from today) are doubly precious to me as i study each one for the first hints of who these boys would become and how deeply, gently, exuberantly, they were loved.
the moments i’m watching, the ones that have me glued to the itty-bitty lens (i don’t know how to hook it up to any bigger screen so i watch on the just-bigger-than-a-postage-stamp-sized screen that flips out from the camera), map in fine detail this journey into the center of my heart.
there is my sweet boys’ papa, holding a four-month-old in his lap, reading page after page in a whole stack of most-loved picture books, reciting in those homespun meters and warbles and trademark whimsies (the ones parents and children invent, putting a signature twist to particular pages of particular children’s adventures in dramatic reading), the ones that laid down the roots — the foundational truth — that joy could be found tucked between the covers of even the cardboardiest book. and there, two years later, is the sweet boy perched at the top of a step stool, leaning over the butcher-block counter, describing to me in glorious detail the train cake (complete, for some reason, with “strawberry garden” just to the side of the tracks) he and our twice-a-week nanny baked for my 39th birthday. and, back to the one-year-and-nine-months version of that breathtaking child, there he is echoing on cue the words his papa whispers: “mommy is beautiful,” then adding his own improvisational “daddy is beautiful.”
it’s now my new favorite activity, the one i squeeze into all the margins of hours, in between chopping or stirring. while awaiting a call or the handy repairman. i pop in a tape, and whirl back in time, never knowing what precious moment is just around the bend, a moment i’ll watch and re-watch (thank goodness for “rewind”). did i mention i watch through tears every time? and sometimes the tears come so hard and so fast, i need to mop up the spills on my cheeks and the cutting board below.
all week, i’ve left the video cam sitting out on the kitchen counter. once or twice (or thrice), i’ve captured my favorite little sequences onto my itty-bitty iPhone. i sent one such bit off to the faraway legal scholar, the one currently working in washington, filing briefs on critical matters. just in case he wanted to watch his nine-month-old self in heart-melting action.
it’s a bit, um, kooky, i know. but through the magic of moments captured on digital tape, i’ve yet another way to pay even closer attention — to time, to the first seeds of the boys who now talk in complete sentences, who no longer get tangled by S’s and diphthongs (those smack-ups of vowels that prove quite a challenge to the tongue just finding its way through the jungle of words on the long road to talking).
i feel my soul reaching back, leaping forward, in time. if someone offered a master’s degree in the study of new-forming children, in the art of raising and teaching a child, of loving day in and day out, and doing so with godly measures of patience and gentility, i’d be the first one in line. there is a good dose of something akin to aching here, of wishing for yet another chance, of wishing i’d realized the first time around just how sacred these hours were, even though i believe that deep down i never lost track of that truth. and in watching, i never lose sight of that critical eye, the one that has me scrutinizing my each and every move. the one that sometimes wonders if i hit the pause button often enough in those early impressionable years, did i slow down the frames to relish each one, did i realize i could never come back to these moments, to the script as it rolled the first and only time through?
i stumbled in so blindly, back at the beginning. led only by heart and a gravitational pull toward loving. as i watch that child, those children (for eventually, eight years after the start, the second sweet boy came along), as i consider who he was, how we loved him, against the backdrop of who i know him to be today, i am washed over in holy gratitude for the raw capacities — the combined graces of the man i married, and the parents who taught him (and me) how to love — that kept us so unmistakably focused on quietly, gently teaching. and, more than anything, bathing him, bathing both blessed boys, in love upon love.
tape after tape after tape, it’s a whole-body immersion in loving and examining love, in resuscitating moments and hearts and the passing of time. these moments, forgotten in the everyday, live deep in the core of who we’ve become, me and the boys i so love. it’s where i’ve been lost — and found — in this past string of days….
on the brink of father’s day, a day when we celebrate the men who’ve loved us and shepherded us through the wilds and pitfalls, i thank the heavens for the one i so loved. and the one who so loves the boys who i birthed. and for all the fathers among us who teach with gentle and certain abundance.
have you gotten lost — in pages or film or videotape — in your past, and what lessons did you extract, and if you could do it all over again, what might be the few things you’d try hard to live with more grace? (no need, of course, to spell that out here; i’m just echoing the question i’ve lived with all week…)
This is so true as the wander down memory lane evokes emotions that are almost too pure to hold. A few Christmases back, I packed up all our movies (with a gulp!) and sent them off to iMemories to be put on the cloud. I did get them safely back, and for Christmas gave our “dad” the password to watch them at will on his computer. It has been a gift that keeps on giving. I think beyond the fact that we look SO young, it is a gift to see our parents who are no longer with us. The laughter and love spills out. Happy Father’s Day to your guy and all those men who back up those of us who gather at the table. PJV…this will be a hard one, so holding you up in prayer.
“too pure to hold….” bingo. (i need to ask how one goes into getting all this digitized. i look into a couple options and was flabbergasted at cost….)
your point about seeing parents and loved ones now gone….one of the first i watched had a beloved grandpa and a beloved friend who has since died. i was blinded by the tears, it hit such a deep deep chord.
love that you sent special love to PJV. xoxox
Found two things in the basement the other day that had the same effect as your video tapes: one postcard labeled “Young Detectives Club” with my son’s info on it and the second a dinosaur drawing on an old “message” post-it from an old job of my husband’s.Both belong to my son, now 37, with a 2-year old of his own. Billy and a couple of his friends formed a detectives club when they were all about 7 and would run around the neighborhood finding “clues” of things lost or cars that looked suspicious. He drew dinosaurs and all manner of futuristic cars and contraptions on whatever paper was at hand. I still find them everywhere. I’m taking both the card and the drawing to California Sunday to show he and his wife and to give to his little girl to show her what her Dad was like when he was little.
love that your budding paleontologist left countless clues for you to excavate. and that you are bringing them back to The Source this weekend.
do kids still form “clubs” in the slow days of summer? we can only hope……
have a splendid visit to CA!
“… who teach with gentle and certain abundance.” That is said so beautifully!! My boys are like that but wish all men were like that!! Put that on a T-shirt!! Haha!! Always look forward to Your Friday posts!! xoxo
Sent from my iPhone
oh, dear mary, always melts me to find you here. sending love to BC. xoxoxox
Both of our fathers have been gone so long (yours and mine). Yet the ache of missing them is always fresh. And, my mother died on Father’s Day. So.
I love that Joanie sent PJV love … we do, too, most certainly.
oh, gosh, honey. i didn’t know about your mama dying on father’s day — that’s a hard one, and makes every father’s day double hard.
sending love. some days more than others i wish this table wasn’t merely virtual, wonderful as that virtuality is. sending hugs all around. xoxox
You have 27 cassettes of these precious memories?? Oh my goodness, what a treasure…. I’m reminded of a Robert Brault quote that goes something like this: If you don’t remember it with tears, it wasn’t happiness.
Praises for sweet moments we’ve shared, gratitude for dear ones young, old, and every age in between we have loved…
Wishing you and Blair and all the lovelies of the chair a beautiful Father’s Day weekend. Here’s to all the good men, past and present, who have nurtured us. May they be ever blessed. xx
love the Brault quote, thank you….the holy anointing of tears….
i know you will be celebrating emphatically with the dear dear fathers in your life. may to be blessed…..
I made a New Year’s resolution to get something done with these 22 tapes of my little ones, now 22 and 25 but alas, the VCR is long gone. BAM, an awesome idea to watch them in the camera!! Now, to find the cords to the video camera….and check out iMemories, you say? Happy Father’s day to B.
maybe if we make this resolution we can get something accomplished here. yes, yes, watching FROM the camera is quite easy. about those cords…..hmmmmm. mine, thank goodness, were tucked right in the camera bag. the one that’s been sitting on the hall closet shelf for about 15 years! xoxoxo
I just this evening went through several old family photo albums that were unearthed during the great clean up that is preceding a family reunion to be held in my parents’ home! Looking at photos of my parents wedding & of myself at my daughter’s age are making me feel all kinds of feelings. I hope & pray & then hope some more that I’ll do well in this crazy beautiful job of parenting! Thanks (as always) for a beautifully written piece that resonated with me.
sweetheart, if you are hoping and praying and hoping some more, you are halfway there. i somehow know you’ve got a gift. i’ve seen how radiantly you glow. your children know that glow as the epicenter of their existence. oh, if only we could all hold the center we hope for, day in and day out. but we’re human and i think across the long arc our children know the essence…..
Somehow I missed your reply! Sorry for my belated response. Thank you though for always spreading kindness – your words (written here, spoken, written in your books) just have a way of soothing. I hope you are right & that Lulu will know how much she is loved & how hard my husband & I both try. Only time will tell I supposed
she will know. she already does. of that i am certain. xoxo