I’ve been having flashbacks lately. Vivid, intoxicating flashbacks. Memories from a different time.
The smell of jasmine in the morning. The way the sunlight looks from underneath a thick rooftop of bougainvillea. The sound of a speedboat engine revving to pull me out of the water on a pair of skis and the taste of the salt water when it hits my face. The crackling of a wood fire and the smell of lamb chops on a summer night. The brown of the water in forest rock pools. The morning sun slanting through my bedroom window and the insistent scratch of the cat’s paw on my door. The neckline of a school uniform and the shine of shoes newly polished by Dad. The beep and grind of a fax machine with news from far away. The sound of the house phone ringing at night and knowing it’s for me. The sting of the swimming pool water when that first swim of the season is at least a month too early but you couldn’t wait any longer and the last thing you’d admit is that the water’s too cold.
These moments are with me only for an instant, but they’re so real I almost believe them.
They’re moments from what I now think of as a totally idyllic childhood. A childhood of happy families and playing in the street. Of sunshine days and dance recitals. Of security and love and simple things – and sometimes the pull of “back then” is so vivid I’m almost there all over again.
My little sister and I often refer back to one of our favourite quotes from Mary Stewart’s The Stormy Petrel – “I sometimes think it’s a mistake to have been happy when one was a child. One should always want to go on, not back.”
Isn’t that just the most ironic of things? That a happy childhood should leave you feeling like you want to stay stuck, rather than going on? And it isn’t really like that – because a happy childhood also gives you the tools and propulsion to go on, to move forward, to keep making good memories. But every so often nostalgia takes me back to times gone by and I want to linger there. Remembering.
My biggest, most fervent, most consuming wish is that my kids will feel the same one day. And when I can’t sleep at night this is usually what keeps me awake: Did I do enough today? Did I help you make good memories? Or did I miss out on an opportunity? Did I make you happy? Will you look back on what we created for your lives and will you approve?
Because I feel like these flashbacks of mine are a way of understanding just how very much my littles ones are going to remember about our here and now, and how much daily influence I have on the way they’ll see their lives when they look back.
The weight of responsibility I feel is sometimes crushing, oftentimes overwhelming. On my best days I watch my daughter stretch her legs as she runs, see her white-gold hair glistening with drops of water in the sunshine and hear her belly laugh, or feel my baby’s chubby little arms wrap tightly around my neck, and I think our little family is doing a pretty good job. On my worst, I’m consumed with guilty despair. I didn’t do enough.
And then I remember that my childhood wasn’t really as idyllic as it is in my mind. The sun did not in fact shine all the time and I definitely made my parents angry occasionally. There were arguments with friends and there was homework (so very much homework). There was the mortifying dance recital where I went blank and ran off the stage and there were freezing cold early mornings waiting for lift club on the corner. There was the time I lost my temper and threw a sugar bowl at my sister’s head. And then spent hours (maybe weeks) cleaning up the sugar that I’d just filled that bowl with a minute earlier. There was the Cape wind that blew through the branches of the huge tree in our school courtyard and drove us all crazy. There was life, and it wasn’t always perfect.
But it was perfect enough.
Perfect enough that, in my mind now, it’s perfectly preserved; it’s idyllic. It’s magnificent.
So all I can hope is that each and every day I’m doing enough for my kids to give them the same. A childhood that’s perfect enough. Enough moments they’ll look back on as perfect. A childhood lived happily. Memories they’ll cherish and want to return to, but also confidence to know that in their own adulthoods they have the power to make so many more wonderful memories and moments. Just like their mum and dad are doing now.
And on the days I’m not so sure I’ve achieved that I’ll try to give myself grace. Because really, the only thing any of us can ever strive to be is perfect enough.