The Insistence of Memory
The anguish of missing special moments
Muffin and Squeaker turned two years old this week. Their birthday observance included a party for them last week attended by lots of family and friends, many unexpected presents that they are already starting to enjoy, and special treats on their birthday itself. (Plus a doctor’s appointment.) All the celebration got me thinking about how much our family has been through over the past two years and how much I worry that we’ve already lost some of these cherished moments.
Anyone who has read my fiction knows that one of the themes I continue to explore is memory. I’m obsessed with the way the present remembers the past and how the future will remember the present. I’ve placed historical family archives in storage under lock and key, and I continue to try to reconstruct our family tree with the scraps of information I have.
With the birth of our children two years ago, I became even more obsessed with recording as much family history as possible. Only now what I was recording was history as it was happening. And every day that passes, I regret what I’ve missed.
This literally goes back to the day they were born. Originally, Muffin and Squeaker were supposed to be born by C-section on a Thursday. When the C-section was moved back to Sunday, I found myself rushing out to buy a new digital camera. I took many still pictures of them when they were born (pictures that we will always keep private). But months later I discovered that the camera included the option to record video. I began to record Muffin and Squeaker’s antics with motion and sound, but I metaphorically kicked myself for not having recorded their birth the same way.
It’s not just pictures and movies I obsess about but other record-keeping as well. Every time we take the girls to the doctor, I record their heights and weights. Every time they say a new word or phrase, I want to jot it down in a notebook, even though I know there will come a point when they have so many words the daily list would be impossible.
At the advice of our friend Beth, last year Nomi and I bought two copies of “Your Birthday Book: A Keepsake Journal” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a scrapbook that allows us to record aspects of Muffin and Squeaker’s life once a year. Obviously, we’ve only filled out the pages for one birthday so far, and we will soon do the second. You would think that the book offers me some sense of relief. But it turns out that the author also had a book to record everything from baby’s first year, and I didn’t discover that book until it was too late. If only I had known about that other book before they were born, I could have recorded so much more.
It’s also difficult for me because the girls are twins. Even before they were born, I was worried about telling them apart. I don’t worry about that anymore, but I do worry about not remembering their individual actions, milestones, or personality traits. I don’t want Muffin years later asking me to tell her stories of what she was like as a baby only to have me relate tales of what Squeaker did instead.
Last July, I had planned to write Muffin and Squeaker a letter for them to read years later, telling them all about what they were like. Time slipped away from me, and I never got around to writing the letter. It meant that I failed to record such things as how they liked to be burped (Muffin over my shoulder, Squeaker sitting on my lap), and I find I no longer can remember those details so vividly. I’m trying to find the time to write a letter for their second birthday. But I worry that I won’t.
Is this weird? I tend to think I’ve come to it naturally, as both of my own parents were gone by the time I became a parent. I’m one of those “parentless parents” that writer Allison Gilbert discusses in her recent book. It’s made me more keenly aware of what I no longer know about my own life at their age, and what I can never find out. I don’t want my children to miss out on that knowledge for themselves, as I know they will remember little of what their lives are like today when they are older.
Not wanting to end on a maudlin note, I think I’ll change my perspective a little and take a lesson from myself from years ago. When Nomi and I attended my first World Science Fiction Convention, in Los Angeles, we had to miss the first and last days of the convention because I had to work. At first, I was distraught at missing out on so many events going on both days, but then I turned my perspective around. What was important, I decided, was not what I was missing, but what I was gaining by managing to attend the rest of the convention in the first place.
So, when it comes to Muffin and Squeaker, instead of focusing on the moments I am missing, I’ll try to focus on the moments I am able to capture.
This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.