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Now & Then

“I designed this creature for it to be unstoppable.”

Jumba, ‘Lilo & Stitch’

baby eating strawberries picnic table

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I Get It Now

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It’s 11pm, and I’m eating my secret post-bedtime night cheese in bed. I spent the last hour brainstorming Nikolai & Mommy projects to do together this winter. Our possibilities are endless. We could go out in the front yard and poke rocks – a 2-year-old can find joy in anything.

I’ve missed a good chunk of his toddler years, and feel guilty for that. Our time together gets hijacked by party invitations, holiday nonsense, errands, work deadlines, and what feels like hours standing at the front door, calling them over to put on their shoes so we can finally leave for school.

So with my re-commitment to 1-on-1-time with each boy, I’m back to scheduling, brainstorming, and making lists. As much as Nikolai would love to poke rocks, it gives me comfort to have a plan B.

Glancing up, I see him across the room, his big puffy cheeks smeared with strawberries. It’s a photo from last winter, when we used to picnic together at the playground after his older brother got out of school.

Back then Nikolai used to repeat his name over and over, like a Pokemon. He’d say it when he got hurt, when he wanted something, when he was just happy and wanted to say ‘yay.’

I just now realized – he doesn’t do that anymore.

toddler crawling across the table

The opening ritual

This is something I tell collaborators when they’re trying to choose between a huge wall gallery and an album – the photos on our walls are easy to get used to. After a while, unless we make that extra effort to really look at what we see, we don’t get that ‘Oh, remember when?‘ trigger from a photo on the wall.

There’s something magical about the physical act of opening the cover. Choosing to pick up an book and flip through it is an intentional choice – there’s a ritual to it that opens my mind to story mode. It’s a mindfulness.

When I look at the photos I’ve hung in my own home, I don’t hold them close to my heart like our albums. I still love them – they’re great decoration. When I pass by an image of my grandfather and grandmother on the wall, I feel like I’ve secured something important for the future, for when I need it most. I feel like the storm and anxiety of what-if is tempered, and there’s a serenity there between all of my to-do projects and burnt dinners.

But most of all, when I glance at the photos on my wall, I see work, materials, finishes, color-calibrations, pixel density, and all the things I had to worry about to make that photo. It’s a hazard of the job, I guess.

 

toddler with dirty shirt smiling under a blue hatSeeing things

But this moment – just now, while my brain is focused on how little time I have left before Nikolai starts preschool and how I’m going to spend these last valuable toddler months, I get it.

Looking at those clear eyes reflecting the sky, that big round face and his crazy eyebrows, it comes together in a way that brings the feel of his skin to my hand – like, literally right where I tend to brush the sides of his face for crumbs and boogers. It makes me wonder if I’m just a little bit crazy.

I can hear his voice in my head (again – crazy?) clear and sweet. I can smell his little baby-hair smell, and feel his  hair on my lips, just a little sticky from ketchup and yogurt and whatever else finds its way in there within an hour of his last bath.

Pictures of my kids usually trigger a story, or a set of rituals we used to do. I remember stages with all the worry and difficulty and good parts. But I’ve never had this kind of sensory experience, and I don’t get that pang of nostalgia. They just haven’t been around long enough yet.

Looking at that photo now – I realize it was just last year – but it was so long ago.

When that photo was taken, he was still in diapers. He hadn’t learned how to talk. It was before daycare, when he was still nursing. It was so difficult to take a picture of him, and what seemed like a really big deal at the time – that I couldn’t get photos of him unless he was eating or pinned into a swing, is something I take for granted now. I used to get so many pictures of him hugging my knees like a koala, wondering how to get him off so I could get the ‘real’ memories of him doing his usual thing. I didn’t really think about how that was his usual thing.

 

toddler clinging to photographer's legs

Back then

Suddenly these stories, which this morning felt like a ‘now‘ moment – feel very much like a ‘back then.’

Time is slipping away from us. I was aware. I was more prepared than most. I tell you guys to prepare too. It always felt so urgent, and I try not to sound nuts shouting from the rooftops and writing and writing about how this thing is happening, and we’re going to miss our own stories if all we do is stay in reaction-mode. I try to keep the panic out of my voice when I tell everyone that if we don’t take a step right this very minute – it’s going to be lost.

All this time, it was something impending, not quite doom, but a looming loss, a silent, unstoppable catastrophe. And now in the span of minutes, it’s gone from something that is coming up to something that is actually happening right now.

As I said – it’s not a pleasant feeling. I am trying not to panic.

dad changing a diaper

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“You did your best with what you knew, and you worked with what you had, in the time that you were given. You were invited, and you showed up, and you simply cannot do more than that.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, ‘Big Magic’

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