I try to memorize the ordinary. A mother easily remembers the highs and lows of family life. A baby’s first smile, first steps…the bout with colic that lasted six weeks…we remember those things. We remember Scout awards, the Honor Roll, and—if she tells us—our daughter’s first crush. But in between the Christmases and the birthdays, the sprained ankles and the chicken pox, are long strings, year after year, of ordinary days filled with ordinary things.
On a February night in 1979 I sat nursing my four-month-old son. We were in the living room, the only ones awake in our old farmhouse. The clock struck midnight. I looked down at him. “He is your last baby,” I told myself. “Put this where you can find it again.”
I held my son in my left arm, cradling his head with my right hand. Snow fell outside. New milk trickled across my stomach. I felt the silk of his baby neck, and his soft hair under my lips as I kissed his head. I listened to him swallow.
Years later I resurrected that memory. The baby of the family, well fed for 17 years, was six feet tall and bench-pressing 200+ pounds. His language flew from high-tech to hard core. In his room, an amplifier was pushed to its limits, along with his siblings’ patience. Dual exhausts rumbled in the driveway.
But I’d taken a moment to impress forever an hour of infancy into my brain. That kiss on his head was as real to me as the grin I was lucky to get in passing 17 years later.
Today, in my quiet retirement from child-rearing, when the hum of the dishwasher and the gentle jingle of the dog’s collar are the only sounds I’m likely to hear on a fall evening in this old house, I close my eyes and listen hard for the sound of a vintage Camaro peeling into the driveway, and the thunderous bass of a massive, vibrating subwoofer.
I grew up in my father’s darkroom, relying on photographs to capture memories. And they often do. But when I look through the pictures I took of my children, it isn’t the lovely portraits that pull me back again and again. It’s the candids that caught them in mid-laugh or mid-leap—just doing whatever it is we do on an ordinary day…which often isn’t very much, but which can mean everything.