I saw you at the park today. The weather was so spectacular I’m sure it was just begging you to take your little one there. You were both sitting on the merry-go-round—not spinning, just sitting. You glanced over at your other kid, who was happily swinging from the monkey bars while you sat with what looked to be a 2 ½-year-old. Your quiet daze also held a million lists in your head, to-do lists, grocery lists, plans for rest of the day’s activities, and, and the days and week and months after that. You wiped your little one’s nose, handed her a snack and a drink, then looked away for a few minutes at nothing in particular.
I watched all this happen, an ordinary moment in motherhood on an ordinary afternoon on an ordinary day, and I wished for just a moment I could tell you something—just one vital thing. If I didn’t think you would assume I was some crazy playground stalker, I would have approached you and said this:
Freeze this moment in time.
Just freeze it.
Push away the lists, the plans, the future, the demands. Like invading cobwebs, sweep all of that nonsense to the back of your brain and put this moment in the front. Reserve and guard a special place in your memory bank for ordinary moments like this one. Just snap a mental photograph right this second.
I need you to look at the face of that toddler. Look harder, deeper, longer, and take a lucid snapshot of the sweet curve of her perfectly pink lips and the high-pitched giggles that spill out. Remember the wisps of baby-fine hair that you just pushed back behind her ears, and take note of the feeling of her letting you do that. Notice the tiny baby teeth that peek out when she shoves a Cheerio in her mouth, and the chubby, puffy fingers holding her sippy cup. Memorize those long eyelashes, plump cheeks, and the way she stares back at you, as if you are her world, and you are.
Recall this very moment of nothingness, and in your mind give it the highest priority you can.
Because years from now, that toddler will be talking about things like dorm-sized microwaves and cap and gown order forms, career choices, and politics. It will be another regular day between you and your teenager, but while they talk, you will desperately be searching your memory bank for that moment sitting on the merry-go-round in the park, on that ordinary day, doing ordinary things.
I search my memories more frequently lately, squinting my eyes and trying to think back to those ordinary toddler days, and my son’s pudgy cheeks and tiny teeth. I am hungry to remember with clarity his baby-fine blond hair and fat cheeks, his smooth perfect skin and plump lips mumbling silly one-word demands. I keep probing my mind’s memory files, but I can’t find it. Often I will catch a quick glimpse of him as a squealing 2-year-old, a flash across my screen of recollection, but it leaves just as quickly as it came. It just leaves, and I can never get it back.
I wonder what I was doing and thinking all those years ago, early in this journey that is motherhood, while we sat on a merry-go-round at a park and shared Goldfish and juice. I don’t necessarily want to go back there (I’m long past the days of my ovaries nagging for another child), and I’m embracing my son growing up, realizing it’s all part of the circle of life.
But I do wish for one thing: that I would have frozen more ordinary moments in time. I would have forced more mundane thoughts out, and put more important ones in. I only wish back then I had known what the important ones were.
My wish for you, as I sit here from afar and watch your ordinary moment unfold, is that you realize it is not ordinary at all.
It is extraordinary.
Freeze it. Mentally capture it. Bank it. Highlight it. Put it in a sacred place in your mind, because I know for a fact that you are going to be looking for it one day, and I want you to be able to find it.