Some of our children’s memories will sparkle and glisten while others fade. I like to imagine the sparkling ones as scenes in a snow globe that come into clear view after it’s shaken and the snowflakes settle.
This morning, a scene of me as a young girl in long pigtails sitting on the front doorstep of a red brick house playing jacks appeared. As long as I had my little cloth pouch with ten six-pronged jacks and a rubber bouncy ball in my pocket, I never had reason to be bored.
I’d pull the pouch open, pour the jacks onto the surface, and start with a round of “onesies.” I’d throw the ball up in the air, scoop up one jack, transfer it to the other hand, and catch the ball after one bounce. Up. Scoop. Bounce. Catch. After I scooped all ten jacks, I’d move on to the “twosies” and work my way up to the “tensies.”
This memory is so strong, I can practically feel the heat of the sun pounding on the back of my neck, smell the water and boat gasoline from the small lake on the other side of the house, and hear the distant hums of a neighbor’s lawnmower.
Memories are rich and complicated. They get all tangled up with what we were emotionally attached to back then and what’s important to us right now.
What is it about that particular memory that sticks with me? I’m not sure. At the time, my eight siblings and I were still under one roof, with the four of us youngest sharing one bedroom. Maybe my brain circuits attached themselves to the solitude of the moment and swooped it away into long-term memory.
I certainly have memories of playing with others, too. Simon Says with neighbor kids at the bus stop. Marbles with classmates on the paved slab at recess. Ping-pong with my siblings in the basement. Oh, that basement in the red-brick house was a feeding ground for make-believe. The cedar closet filled with vintage clothes. A red leather upholstered bar stocked with paper and markers instead of gin and vermouth. A couple of school desks and a chalkboard.
I often wonder which scenes will appear most clearly in my children’s snow globes after the snowflakes settle? They’re already 15, 12 and 10. I’m halfway to an empty nest. Have I provided enough opportunities and materials to foster a sense of play and imagination?
Will they look back and remember afternoons sledding down hills, running through sprinklers, selling lemonade to neighbors, drawing with chalk on the driveway, rummaging through cupboards for glitter and glue, riding their ripsticks in the cul-de-sac?
If so, will I, their mother, be in any of the scenes? Will I be sitting crisscross applesauce next to them on the living room floor playing Apples to Apples, or will I be in the next room in front of the computer? Will I be whooping and shrieking as I jump into a pool, too, or will I be in the background sitting in a lawn chair?
I don’t think our parents worried about that sort of thing, but I sure do. We parents today put more pressure on ourselves to braid ourselves into the daily activities of the next generation.
Some days I’m Fun Mom, packing toboggans in the back of the truck, judging smoothie challenges, untangling the hose and attaching it to a Slip-N-Slide. Other days, I’m glued to my laptop, gone helping my parents, or hiding away in the pantry eating out of the Honeycomb box. I do my best, but I have my limits. I simply can’t be all things to all people at all times.
I err. I fall short. I worry my kids’ snow globes will have more scenes from iCarly or American Ninja Warrior in them than scenes of sledding down hills and flying kites. But God willing, I still have time. I still have time to weave those whimsical memories into their fabric and be the kind of mother they’ll remember stopping to catch snowflakes on her tongue.
Actually, what I really ought to do with the remaining time is drop a small cloth over those imaginary glass domes in my head, live and let go a little, and give them space to find their own way out of boredom.
It’ll never be perfect no matter what I do. Despite all my foibles and flaws as a mother, I’m pretty sure they’ll look back and have plenty to smile about.
Maybe, I’ll teach them how to play jacks tonight, although there’ll probably be a little eye-rolling when I suggest it. I bet they’ve never played a true game of jacks now that I think about it. Since the front doorstep is cold and icy, we’ll find a spot on the kitchen floor.
Up. Scoop. Bounce. Catch.
Up. Scoop. Bounce. Catch.
That’s it. You got it.
This post was written as part of the 28 Days of Play Series over at You Plus Two Parenting.