My oldest daughter and I were talking a few weeks ago and our conversation had me thinking of a trip we took with her and her sister years ago to Virginia. I asked her if she remembered the trip and she could only produce one memory. She seemed to think fondly of a city and loud construction going on while we explored. I was struck by her memory, and it’s had me thinking about what we remember. My 10 year old remembers her almost 3 year old self in awe of a jack hammer on a busy street, but the crazy part is that isn’t what happened. She remembers wrong. The real story is one of a plan gone south. Here’s what really happened.
We were in Richmond, Virginia with her 14 month sister, and a baby brother tucked neatly away in my tummy waiting to make his appearance a few months later. This big city adventure was the middle part of a family vacation we took while my husband was in seminary working at their library. He was attending a library conference and we were in the city joining him. It was our ticket to get 3 of us free to Virginia, but the cost was that he was busy for those few days in the conference leaving me and the girls to keep ourselves busy. It was the least exciting part of the trip which had included a day in Williamsburg before, and several days at the beach after.
During one of our days where my husband was at the conference, I took the girls to the library. It didn’t take long for me to realize that walking there probably wasn’t the wisest course of action. I’m not street smart. I’m barely suburb smart. Downtown Richmond was busy, loud, and a bit intimidating. As we left the library a library worker asked me if I was walking with the girls. I explained we were staying just a little bit away and we were walking. He warned me about the safety of the city and said it wasn’t smart to be alone on this side. It was an odd warning and I had no solution. Robb was in a conference. Our car was in the hotel garage. We needed to get back. The girls and I would walk.
While walking back and feeling tense, we came across some jackhammers working furiously to undo the street. It was unbelievably loud and my youngest, who suffered from sensory integration disorder, couldn’t take the noise. She went into full sensory meltdown. My oldest seeing her mama’s fear and tenseness, and hearing her sister screaming at the top of her lungs, began to cry too. I could barely talk to her over the noise. The sound was deafening. I told her it would be over soon and we had to be brave and walk past the workers and yes that meant we would be close to the noise. She didn’t want to and her tears along with her sister’s terror were haunting to me as I forced us forward. This moment was no Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street exploring the city.
We made it to the hotel. I gave her her first manicure while sister slept that afternoon. I used to have a picture to prove it, her and I sitting in the bathroom with painted nails. I took them to a museum on the “safe side” of downtown and we walked through the exhibits and I read her history about George Washington and the other leaders. Eventually, we left the hotel and traveled to our “real” vacation in Virginia beach. There were ladybugs sightings, wave running, sand castle building, dolphin spotting, and family bike riding days.
She doesn’t remember the beach. Instead, she remembers that city scene with jack hammers and crying children – however, she remembers it with a twist.
I often think about my kids. I try to think of what I could teach them, say to them, how to encourage them to have wonderful childhoods that grow them as people and show them the wonder of Christ. I pray over our school, I lay in bed and think about their parties, their friends, their struggles, and their gifts. Homeschooling means that 99% of their life takes place with me right now. I’m an active participant in most of their memories. But when these years are past, much like the last seven years passed, what will they remember?
Obviously, a three year old remembers far less than a 10 year old. Her memories are bound to be a bit more accurate and a bit more detailed. Or will they? When I think back to being 10, I can’t string many of the days together. I have some memories, but mostly impressions.
It’s the big picture. Life isn’t in those details of the minutes of our lives. We will mesh them together as we look back, pick out what we liked or feared and view it through a biased lens of what we want to see.
And we need to know this as moms and dads. We need to remember this when things go wrong.
Sometimes you will end up on the wrong side of town with a street being torn up, and your child might just remember you as a great explorer who took them to see something unusual and fun. They won’t remember the tears, the fear, or the worry.
Sometimes you will spend lots of money making memories on a beach that only you and your spouse get to keep. It will be lost on your children. Or perhaps be the unseen foundation of impressions they had of you and your family life.
It’ isn’t in the details, it has to be in something bigger than them and that’s why it’s a good reminder not to put too much stock in things going the way we plan. We do get to plan, but the Lord directs our steps, and while He cares for us tenderly, we certainly won’t remember all the steps.
What do I want my children to remember? I want them to remember laughter, love, kindness and fun. I want them to know theology and remember our life built richly in the Bible and with the people who love God. We take so many steps in this each day and each season. It’s not about the steps. It’s not about what we remember. It’s about the One who remembers it all and loves His children with an everlasting love.