Friday, June 10, 2011

Allowing memories

My wedding rings tend to slip around on my finger and rarely are they aligned as they were in the wedding photo that shows off mine and my husband's newly committed fingers. I notice that when I hold out books as I read them to my kids the diamond on my engagement ring is nearly always staring back at us from below the book, facing out with my palm.

I noticed it particularly today as I helped my oldest read through a book on farm animals. "What's 'e-w-e', Mom?" "That's pronounced 'U', honey. You'll have to trust me on that one."

She and her siblings have to trust me on a lot of things. There's a fair number of those things that I'll likely turn out to be wrong about. For now their youth and my confidence are enough to allow me the final word on what's true, what's worthwhile, and what's right.

I wonder if they'll carry my truths with them. After all, truth is a byproduct of memory and circumstances. Will our memories be the same? I can imagine there will be a day that I carry their reality, a day when they will have the final word on what's true, what's worthwhile, and what's right.

There are scenes I'm hoping they will keep, pictures I hope they'll hang in their minds always. I'd like very much to craft some of these memories for them, as though I'm the authority on what kinds of things will grow more poignant over the course of time. Maybe even that turned-around ring. Maybe they will always see it winking out from the bottom of books about ewes and ducklings, trains and zoos. Maybe it will help them remember our history.

I know there are a lot of images and sounds competing for their attention. Pet names might become the same nicknames they roast each other with at fortieth birthday parties and in wedding toasts. The sound of my laugh, the smell of their father's work-a-day cologne, "bear hunting" through the unkempt bushes at the back of our yard all have a chance of being that thing that they talk about after we are long gone. They might become that thing that pins our family life, our very existence to the long term.

Yesterday I picked up my oldest from her last day of kindergarten and she came home burdened with keepsakes and treasures. There were the last of her writing pages, full of misspellings and minor achievements made large ("We went to the zoo!"). I leafed through them wondering which I should keep, which would remain significant after this summer, this week, this day.

There is simply too much potential sentiment to vouchsafe. Before this school year began I couldn't have guessed that I'd have cried more on this last day of kindergarten than I did on the first. How can I know what will pass for treasure in my daughter's eyes some years from now?

The gift of living well is that we populate our future recollections with today's choices. To have lovely memories we must now, today, try new things, embrace adventure, laugh and live with joy, cry with empathy, touch each other. If we expose ourselves to the many sounds and sights and smells we'll hold open the possibility of having the richest of them cling to heart and mind until our last. That's the only control I have over my children's future; I can help them to live well in this present. And I'll just have to trust my children to memorialize their own lives.