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The Tyranny of Memory Making

I keep a journal, separate from my own journal, where I write down the memorable parenting moments—in case I forget. The names my daughter has called herself over the years and the names we’ve called her. That time we had to drive to the float plane terminal because it was the only way we could reassure her that her imaginary friend had arrived safely. That time her infant projectile poo landed all over the wall.

I make photo albums of our trips, our sunny weekends, birthdays, Halloween. We look through them and she remembers—or at least remembers the stories we tell her about the photos. When a friend visits from out of town, she doesn’t remember them unless they feature in an album.

And yet there are so many times I think that one is worth writing down and we go to daycare, I go to work, she throws a hungry-before-dinner tantrum, we cajole her into the bath and pass out beside her in bed, only to wake up craving evening TV, prepping lunch, washing dishes, scrolling Instagram on the couch.

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Then the next day starts and somewhere between laundry and meetings, I think what was that thing that happened yesterday? Or I get overwhelmed with all the memories that aren’t in albums, how I’m already two holidays behind in printing the photos. How I’m not sure where to put her art, and how that cute fold-out dragon she made for Lunar New Year is now crumpled on the car floor mat covered in mud.

Yet treating life like an artifact, a page of a scrapbook, a journal entry I can look back at and smile makes me anxious. It makes me feel like I did when I was a teenager about to graduate and everybody told me that high school was the best time of my life, as if I was on the precipice of a downward spiral.

I feel this mostly in the summer, when there are so many memorable, fun adventures to be had. I feel torn—the beach, camping, paddleboarding, festivals, days at the lake. Every year I overbook us, and every year we are relieved when the crispness of fall means that we can stay home without feeling like we are wasting a summer day.

In the fall, the moments of “you only get 18 summers” and of “this is what they’ll remember” pass. In the fall, we can clean the house, play in the living room, make cookies, be entirely unmemorable and unproductive in our autumn laziness.

The other day, my husband picked up my daughter’s skating “report card.” Where do we keep these? Do we have a spot?

I lashed out I don’t know!

It’s not a big deal, he responded, I was just asking.

But it is a big deal. How could I not have an archive system for our daughter’s love of her Pedalheads teacher? How could we forget the names of the kids at her first daycare? How can we not laminate her cute little stick figures with super long legs before she starts to draw proportional humans?

All this focus on preserving and enjoying and being in the moment is exhausting. What does my life mean if the super cute part of parenting is fleeting? How can I be at peace with living and not memorializing and not needing to create fun and memories all the time. How can I live with mundane and boring and uneventful when life is fleeting, and precious and could end at any moment?

Soon, my four and three-quarter year-old will be gone, replaced by an older, different version of herself. Soon, she will stop talking about her imaginary friends. Soon, “squishy cat” won’t be her favourite toy anymore. Soon, she will be a different person who I will love and get irritated with in different ways. Soon, I will need to be okay with this phase passing, as hard as it may be.

I need to trust that beautiful passing moments can still be beautiful without documentation, without “making the most of every minute,” without “seizing the day.” In mourning the passing of each phase, I need to remember that these moments are just temporary gifts; they will be replaced by different types of memories and that is not a tragedy, it is simply life. And with that, I take a deep breath, dig my toes into the sand and watch as today’s kingdom washes away with the tide.

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