I often try to think back on what some of my earliest memories were as a child. It’s hard to tease apart which memories are real and true versus what my brain has put together from glimpses of photographs and home videos. But, what I do know, is that the vast majority of my happiest times as a young girl were spent on and around the beach. The summer after my parents divorced my mother packed up my brother and me and we spent almost the entire summer at my grandparents’ small Cape house.
That summer is a blur of half-memories I hold dear to my heart.
The house sat nestled behind a wooded area, right next to a small cemetery. At night you could hear the peeper frogs calling to one another from the trees in the woods. Our cricket friend who drove us all crazy from somewhere under the fridge would begin its nightly taunting, and as we began our bedtime routine the cemetery that we walked and played in during the day would start to come alive in my imagination.
I lay in my creaky bed and squeezed my eyes tight as the fan blew around the humid air in weak gusts that barely reached my face. If I opened my eyes I feared I would catch a glimpse of the cemetery through the window; the ghosts and goblins who came out at night would be notified of my wakefulness and sneak in through my window. I hid under the thin quilt pulling it up over my head disguising myself or perhaps using the cotton and batting as armor.
Just as I began to feel the urge to come up for air from underneath my fortress, the bedroom door creaked open. My whole body sighed in relief as it registered that the figure in the doorway was my mom. Suddenly the warmth of the room shifted from oppressive to calming. She knowingly made her way across the room and lay down with me in my bed. She nestled me in close and I rested my head on that perfect spot between her chest and her shoulder. Her arm hugged me in tight and my head rose and fell, rocking me in sync with the rhythm of her voice.
We talked, just the two of us.
It seemed like hours in my 4-year-old memory, but what was likely only fifteen minutes or so. My older cousin’s ice cream truck was parked in the driveway and my mom and I came up with all the different scenarios we would use to sneak into the truck and eat all of our favorite treats. I came up with a detailed plan to drop in from the roof of the truck suspended from a rope, like in spy movies. My mom assured me that perhaps going in through the back door may be more effective. We ranked our favorite treats, listed what we would bring home for my little brother, and laughed as we pictured ourselves surrounded by ice cream and candy hiding out on the floor of the ice cream truck. In those moments, the window was no longer an invitation to ghosts and goblins but a portal to our secret mission.
She snuggled me close and kissed my head as I drifted off to sleep, feeling safe and secure in her arms with visions of our ice cream heist fresh in my head. The next morning, sitting at the breakfast table with my mom, grandmother, and cousin, my mom and I locked eyes and giggled – my cousin had no idea of our secret plans. I suppose that was my very first inside joke. This is my oldest, truest memory.
Now, as a mom myself, I think my subconscious was banking that memory as a lesson in my own motherhood.
You see, I came to find out many years later that that summer was one of my mother’s very hardest chapters of her life. A young mom of two, newly divorced, trying to keep everything together for the sake of herself and her kids. I can imagine that in a lot of ways she felt pulled in so many directions. Yearning to stay present for her babies, but also trying to make sense of what her life would look like going forward. Going through the motions to give her children the beauty and wonder of a Cape summer in the midst of so much heaviness.
But I don’t remember any of the heaviness.
I remember sitting in the bike trailer with my big bell helmet on next to my brother, watching my mom’s strong calves peddle back and forth as she towed us down to the beach to play amongst the waves as our morning activity. I remember laughing with my mom as the sun kissed our backs, and the crabgrass pinched at my feet as we ran in and out of the kiddy pool rinsing off from the beach. I remember the warmth of my mom’s skin as she snuggled us in close, sitting on the front steps as the night air cooled, listening to the lullaby of the peeper frogs and crickets. I remember the bursts of warmth, joy, and security I get every time I hear the song of an ice cream truck in the distance, conjuring up my oldest, truest memory.
This current chapter of life is heavy, in so many ways. It can sometimes feel as though we are never doing enough to be the mothers our children need and deserve. But from my mother and her chapter of heaviness, I have learned that our children do not need someone who is constantly “on”. They need periods of meaningful connection, the reassurance of safety and security, and a touch of humor and whimsy.
That is how the memories are made, especially in the midst of uncertainty.
On the nights when the heaviness feels particularly difficult, the day seems like a blur, and you question if you did enough, or if you are enough, sneak into the rooms where time seems to stand still. Rock in the chair, snuggle in the bed, let them nestle into that perfect spot between your chest and your shoulder, and make an oldest, truest memory. The laughter, and the warmth, and the security will tip the scales on the weight we are all carrying right now. In the making of the oldest truest memories, we are banking lessons our children will be able to call upon in their inevitable moments of heaviness.