One day, I was watching my sons paint. We like to paint, and we’re serious about it. I let them use acrylics, and paint on canvas or cardboard so they get vivid colors. I throw down towels; I have special take-out containers I use as palettes and old sippie cups we use to clean brushes. They take off their shirts. But still, a mess ensues.
My youngest looked up at me over his scrawl of a dinosaur, blue paint smeared on his nose, a grin spread ear to ear. And I thought: I want to keep this forever. I want to remember him just like this, freeze this perfect childhood moment in amber.
Then I realized that I could. I could write it down.
I remembered that once upon a time, I used to write down the things that happened during a random day in high school. We’d had a trampoline in gym that day, and I wrote down the way one of the Catholic school nuns came in and watched us jump, the smile on her face, the wistful grin that said she was remembering her childhood and wishing she could join us. It was a fleeting moment, a moment I’d never remember — except I’d written it down, and so I’ve never forgotten it.
I could do that for my life, I realized. I could take those moments, those fleeting moments of beauty, and freeze them in time for myself. I could keep them somewhere special, somewhere I could flip through them at will. Somewhere that the moment would never go away or be forgotten or get lost. I could write it down.
So I got a pretty notebook, one with sparkles. I found one of my favorite pens — the kind that writes in bold black ink that my kids are always trying to steal. And every day, before I went to bed, I tried to remember at least one moment, one single moment, I could hold in my hands and say, “That was beautiful.”
It didn’t have to be grand. It didn’t have to be perfect. It just had to hold some kind of special shine. I think of my youngest son, running down the wooden bridge from the splash pad. He is wrapped head-to-toe in a towel and yelling, “Wutini!” over and over, which he swears means “Let’s go” in some Star Wars language. Or I think of collapsing into bed with my husband after he comes home from work, the perfect way my head fits under his chin and our legs tangle together. I think of him texting the line, “You are my favorite thing.” Or the concentrated furrow of my middle son’s brow as he explains the intricacies of his Lego endoraptor toy.
At first, I had to go back and think hard to find those moments. But then something began to shift. I began to look for them during the day. When I dumped my extra change in the Starbucks’ tip jar, I noticed the smile on the barista’s face. I saw the way my dog followed me into the kitchen when I went to make the coffee, the way he tangled in my legs until I stopped and paid attention to him. I looked over my sparkling kitchen and saw, not the relief that my husband had done the dishes, but the love that went into the cleaning. Is this the moment I’ll write? I would think. Is this the one I’ll decide to keep?
Some days the moment was big: when I came to pick up my son from theater and he was still on stage. They call the name of the lead part and he responded, caught my eye. “Are you JoJo?” I mouthed. He nodded and beamed. I wanted to bottle that look, that moment, forever.
After I started writing these things down, I noticed that my life was changing, slowly. I was starting to slow down. I was starting to see the beauty around me, the lovely in the ordinary. I was paying more attention: listening to my kids more, even when my four-year-old was babbling semi-incoherently and I had to strain to understand. I was following them when they followed caterpillars. I was actually caring when my middle son tramped inside, excited, to tell me he’d caught the treefrog that lived on the grill cover again. Just the act of saving those moments was teaching me to savor them.
I felt more connected to the world around me. I was starting to think less about what people thought of me and more about what I thought about the world. I was just — well, enjoying myself more. And from someone who has several mental illnesses and for whom life can be a struggle and a burden, this was huge.
And when life did become that burden, I could pick up my book. I could flip back through and remember. Those moments reminded me that everything wasn’t bad, wasn’t terrible, was worth more than it felt at that moment. And it doesn’t save me, and it doesn’t make everything okay, but it gives me something to hold onto. And in those moments, any life raft is a welcome one.
So every day, I look for those moments. My sick son holds his beloved dog for comfort. My oldest son’s voice drifts in from the kids’ room, and he’s reading the two youngest The Book with No Pictures. I lay my head on my husband’s chest while we watch The Magicians, and surprise, it’s a musical episode where they all sing my favorite David Bowie song. I sing it loud the next morning while I wash my face. No one hears me. It feels good. It probably sounds terrible. I don’t care. Because it’s beautiful nonetheless.
I think I’ll write it down.