Some unseen muse has taken to peppering my wife, Sara, with random fits of motivation. Sometimes, it’s motivation to clean the house from top to bottom or motivation to re-organize entire rooms, move furniture, bake some new dessert, re-fold all of my t-shirts, or construct a contraption out of popsicle sticks, an old dish towel, and saran wrap that will make sorting our socks easier, like a kind of craft-oriented MacGyver. I think that this muse lives in our computer and invented Pinterest.
Usually, I try to avoid getting sucked into participating in these intense bouts of inspired action because it puts a serious dent in my ‘sit-here-sipping-lemonade-and-reading-a-book’ time. Two days ago, however, I didn’t even have to work very hard to stay clear of the major operation Sara had undertaken in our room. I helped carry several plastic tubs filled with our son’s old baby clothes across the house, sat them in next to our bed, and proceeded to monitor Benjamin (who, for whatever reason found his old clothes hilarious; he kept holding up tiny shoes and cackling at the thought that he had ever been able to fit into them) and read. This is the kind of summer day I can get behind, let me just tell you.
After dinner, while Sara went back to folding, sorting, and boxing up ten (!) plastic crates of our son’s old clothes, Benjamin and I went outside to turn off the valiant sprinkler that was doing its best to keep our increasingly brown lawn from heading off into that great big Scott’s commercial in the sky. Just a few seconds after we walked out of the garage, I heard Benjamin’s panicked voice yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!” When I turned to see what the problem was, Benjamin’s half-panicked, half-excited face greeted me. “There’s a doggy!” he yelled and jumped into my arms. Sure enough, there, nipping at his heels, was a stumpy gray and white shih tzu. The dog barked twice and promptly sat at my feet. It allowed Benjamin to pat its head and I led it around to the front of the house, expecting to see relieved owners from whom the dog had recently escaped, but there was no one. Benjamin and I went to the front door and knocked and showed Sara the dog. Soon, we were walking door to door, using a white ribbon tied to the dog’s collar as a leash, asking if anybody owned or recognized the dog. No luck.
We printed up a few FOUND DOG signs and taped them to light posts and the backs of stop signs at the intersections near our house, but it was getting late in the evening, so we put some food and water on the back porch and used a baby gate to seal the dog in. Benjamin stayed outside with it nearly until dark, shooting baskets on his Fisher-Price goal and petting the dog intermittently.
When the sun was nearly down, I went to the back door and told Benjamin it was time to come in. I told him that it was getting dark, and that we had to wash his blackened feet before bed, but that he could see the dog again in the morning. He relented before too long, and I led him toward the bathroom. I waited until the water ran warm and sat him on the edge of the tub, watching the water slowly swallow his feet. I grabbed a washcloth and told him to sit still so that he wouldn’t slip. He grabbed onto my arm as I reached across the tub for a bottle of Johnson and Johnson body soap. The instant that the soap’s smell reached my nostrils, my consciousness was jerked back in time as I remembered all the baths I had given Benjamin when he was a baby, how I had held his head and softly rubbed soap into his hair and washed it off with a cup, being careful not to let any of the runoff get into his eyes. Smells can do that, of course: pull us back in time without any warning and trigger the return of unbelievably vivid memories.
I rinsed the grime from Benjamin’s feet and dried them for him, told him to go play for a few minutes before bed, and went into our bedroom to see what kind of progress Sara was making with the clothes. Tubs crowded the space to the left of the bed, and a couple still sat empty near the dresser. A few sorted stacks of unfolded shirts and pants lined the bed’s edge. I sunk into an old pink chair and told Sara what had just happened when I smelled the Johnson and Johnson. She nodded and made a sympathetic face. “I know. I’ve been about to cry all day. Every time I look at these clothes, I can’t believe he was ever so little.”
I wanted to laugh at us, sitting there, letting nostalgia run roughshod. Then Benjamin came bursting through the doors and trying to climb onto the bed while Sara shooed him away. This is going to happen to us for the rest of our lives, I thought. These moments where our minds get scrambled by some small thing we see or smell or hear and we’ll be pulled into the bittersweet past. And it’s funny how much time and energy we’ve spent trying to synthesize moments like that, and how infrequently the moments we try to fill with significance truly become significant. I thought from the time Benjamin was boring that his first tee-ball practice would reduce me to a sobbing heap, but it came and went without much emotional stirring. But that’s one of the great unspoken things about having kids: you don’t really get to decide which moments are the most meaningful; they just kind of happen, and they’re so much better that way. You watch them grow up, simultaneously in love with the present and halfway clinging to the past, amazed at how quickly one turns into the other.
I knew as I watched Benjamin bounce around the room that this would be one of those nights we’ll talk about forever. Remember that time you were packing up all of Benjamin’s old clothes and we found that dog and we walked all over the neighborhood trying to find its owner while it tried to get away?
The list it joins is long: Remember that time I caught Benjamin a foul ball on his birthday? Remember when he asked us if every song we played in the car was about God? Remember when he tried those roller skates on and couldn’t stay upright for more than five seconds? Remember when we couldn’t figure out how a two year-old learned to roll his eyes and say “whatever” to us? Remember when he would put on my shoes and try to walk around our room? Remember when he used to shout “I love you mommy!” after we’d closed the doors to his bedroom at night? Remember when he used to watch that video of the Kentucky mascot over and over and danced to the Black Eyed Peas’ song? There are dozens more.
This is, admittedly, a dangerous game to play. It’s pretty easy to “remember-when” yourself into a funk, overcome with sadness about how right Ferris Bueller was regarding life’s speed. But dipping into the past every once in a while can be invigorating, if only because it assures us that whatever complex, frustrating, difficult moments we’re going through at the moment will probably be superseded over time by all of the great little moments that find a way to sprout up through the cracks. Even better, I’m starting to figure out to just let those moments come and not try so hard to manufacture them. Watching our kid(s) grow up, after all, is a very different proposition from growing up ourselves. I know that when I was young, I looked constantly to the future, reaching for the next milestone, even if I had to invent one, because I had tricked myself into believing that the faster things went, the better off I would be. Thankfully, I haven’t fallen into this trap as a parent. There are definitely things I look forward to, but I’m able to temper that eagerness in favor of being (as Matt advised in his Father’s Day post) simply present in the moments.God willing, I’ll be here for all those things I’m already looking forward to, and all the little things in between will be better than any of it. But they can take their time.
I’m in no hurry.