There’s always that one story. The one childhood story your parents tell over and over. You’ve heard every minute and vivid detail of the story and you’re not sure if it’s a memory of your own or one that’s been implanted as a result of sheer repetition.
For me, it’s a story about my toddler days — how I would pick my clothes out, get dressed, organize my books and crayons in my bag, hold my brother’s hand and walk to school together. My dad always says he remembers the sound my payal made as I took those tiny toddler steps down the path. My mom adds details about my frock — how it was one she had sewn by hand, and one that I insisted on wearing often. They both laugh when they recount how talkative I was by the age of 3, eager to share everything I did at school each day.
I’ve heard these details a million times. When I listen to their stories, I understand that they are talking about me; but, truth be told, I have no recollection of this time nor do I make a connection with the girl they speak so fondly of. I don’t know the girl who wore her payal to school. I know she made my parents very happy; and so, for years, the stories brought a smile to my face.
Not anymore. Now, these stories bring nothing but tears.
I cry because, until now, I didn’t truly understand the depth of their happiness and laughter. Until now, I didn’t understand just how precious these memories are to them. Until now, I didn’t understand why these stories were told so often.
These unimportant narratives are more than just toddler tales — they are proof that there are two people in this world who know me better than I know myself. They knew that little girl — her laugh, her cries, her likes and dislikes, her little quirks and habits, the sound of her payal chiming through the house — long before my very first recollections. They knew the me that existed before I knew of myself. I don’t know all that much about the girl they speak of, even though she is me. I do know one thing for sure. She was a little girl who was — no, is — someone’s world. And, most importantly, she was showered with so much love as a child.
Parenthood is scattered with epiphanic moments, and this is one. I see the door revolving as I slowly enter the world of the storyteller. With a blink of an eye, I will be the one wearing a wide grin and teary-eyed as I recall scenes of my toddler chasing bubbles through the park. I will be the one who will tell him how much he loved being held at night and the silly, nonsensical lullabies I would sing. I will be the one who will tell him how fondly I remember his ‘All done!’ and ‘Goo-night, mommy’.
The thought that my son will not remember his early childhood breaks my heart; he won’t remember how much fun we had at the beach last week — the anticipation in his eyes as the waves slowly rolled in, his uncontrollable giggles when his feet sunk in the sand, or the fact he insisted on wearing not one but two pairs of sunglasses. He won’t remember when we ate lunch watching the flamingos at the zoo, or when we chased wild parrots and butterflies in the garden. He won’t remember the afternoon at the library when we read dozens of books in one sitting. He won’t even recall the rare moment we spent calmly walking hand-in-hand by the waters edge last Monday.
Each of these moments are precious little treasures in my heart. While it is sad he won’t remember any of it, it is also extraordinary. Extraordinary because these memories aren’t like the videos or photos stored on my phone or the cloud. They don’t face extermination as a result of a toilet bowl toss. These memories are forever mine. They are mine to close my eyes and think of when I want to experience the truest, most beautiful, and purest form of love that exists. They are mine to one day share with him so he knows how much he was loved.