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Proactive Nostalgia

If I had to guess what the most universal piece of parenting advice is, I’d go with “Enjoy them while they are young.” The only thing I’ve heard even half as much is “Trust your instincts” or “You know your child better than anyone.”

This latter advice, frankly, strikes me as well meaning but terribly misguided. Like common sense, I think “instinct” can be informed by personal and cultural history, and those can be, well, misguided. Parents do and have done lots of awful things to their children based on instinct. We spend years learning to control our baser instincts when it comes to conflict, greed, etc., why would we run with whatever first comes to mind when we’re tending to our young? And while in some regards I’m sure parents do know their children best, we only see them in very limited contexts. I’m sure that if we open our minds and listen to what friends, family, and teachers have to say about our kids, we’ll add significantly to that knowledge.

But that’s a topic for another day. Today is about living in the moment. It seems that many parents rush their kids to grow up or hurry so much they don’t enjoy them as much as they could. Or at least, that’s the perception many parents have once their kids are grown and gone. I am adjured all the time to relish these early years, to let the house go, to not mind the mess, to just spend all the time that I can with this little person who changes faster than I can imagine.

A friend of mine even took some snaps to prepare for such future nostalgia. She took pictures of small shoes by the door, action figures poised on work tables, baby blankets draped over chairs, and all the little things that indicate the presence of children. I thought this a great idea and went to do the same, but was stopped in my tracks by two things: First, the house is never so clean that I want to document it, and second, I got choked up when I tried.

This unexpected swell of emotion made me realize that I am erring on the side of too much awareness. I’m nostalgic before a thing has even ended, like a child mourning the end of summer vacation when there’s still a week left before school starts. If Simon says or does something particularly adorable and child-like, one of the first things I think is “one day he won’t do that any more and I’ll miss it.” This blog is largely about my need—perhaps even compulsion—to document as much of his life as possible so that I can somehow hold on to it a bit longer.

I used to marvel at vacationers in San Francisco who seemed to spend their entire trip viewing the city through the lens of a camcorder. “Put down the camera and just enjoy the place!” I’d always think. To me, it looked as though many tourists were preserving memories at the expense of actually making them.

I’m not doing that with Simon, heaven knows. I’m enjoying the heck out of him. But it would be nice if I could temper my proactive nostalgia with the happy anticipation of what my relationship with Simon will be like when he’s an older child, a teen, and an adult. I wish, in other words, I could find a way to live in the moment a little bit less, or at least be less aware of it.

2 Responses to “Proactive Nostalgia”

  1. bethnbobinnc says:

    Just know that each new stage has a joy of it’s own. I miss my “babies” but I am loving how much fun a Kindergartener can be. I’m trying to guess which of thier current “traits” will see them all the way through adulthood. My mother has always said that all of her children were just miniature versions of thier adult selves down to their quirky habits and temperments. If that’s so, we’re in for a fun ride with ours!

  2. Jessica says:

    Thanks Beth. I know you know where I’m coming from, so it really helps to get the view a few years out. And if our boys stay fundamentally the same as they grow up, then yes, I think we’re both going to have a lot to be smile about.

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