Earlier this month, I drove with my brother, Chris, my sister, Gina, and her husband, Jonathan, to Lincoln, Nebraska, where we all grew up. We went with the middle-aged dream of running the Lincoln Half Marathon to somehow prove to ourselves that we are in the best shape of our lives, literally outrunning age. Well, I’m sure subconsciously that’s what we thought. In reality, we were painfully reminded of our age or, as my sister Gina stated when she stumbled across the finish line at Husker stadium drenched in sweat, “I didn’t respect the miles.” (Also, we forgot about the humidity. Thanks for the reminder, Nebraska.) Middle-aged delusions aside, we just wanted an excuse to “go home.”
The course of the half marathon took me through the neighborhood I grew up in. Suddenly, along with the adrenaline of the race, the humidity, and the familiar smells of the lilac bushes I had forgotten, I was smacked in the face with memories coming at me at lightening speed: I used to ride my bike to the top of this street to catch up with my brother . . . I spent countless hours looking up into these trees for squirrels and wondering what my life would be like in the future . . . That’s my paper route street . . . . We used to sing at that church for swing choir all the time . . . I know every inch of that house—I had so many slumber parties there . . . I used to catch minnows in that ditch . . . My mom took us to sketch at that garden . . . and a million other little thoughts and memories. And as I thought about those memories, I could feel them. I remembered my thoughts, what I wore, how it felt, what I thought about, and I missed it. I missed being the 6-year-old version of myself, or the 12, or 17.
But these days, I don’t see memories. I see socks. Literally. They are under beds, on the floor in the bathroom every morning, in couch cushions, in the car—literally everywhere. It drives me crazy and Topher, my husband, always tells me that my kids don’t see the socks. I’m furious about the injustice of this, but I think he’s right. I think they literally don’t see their socks because of a lot of reasons, but mostly because they’re kids and they’re seeing other things right now. As a mom, seeing the socks (and all the other important, but small things we worry about teaching our kids)—that’s my perspective. I wonder what my kids will remember and what specific memories will shape them as the years go by, but I have no control of that. Feelings leave physical imprints, and going to my hometown reminded me of that.
Going back in time reminded me as a mother to treat my kids’ experiences with a little more reverence. Socks don’t matter. Feelings of wonder, joy, security, and love matter. Sometimes I don’t want to see memories, because they are a painful reminder that they’re gone. I’m busy trying to “live in the moment” and not wish away the hard times, but never looking back means I’m losing out on seeing the big picture, too. Remembering how much love and wonder I had reinforces my resolve to give that to my kids now.
My brother, Chris, told me he feels the pull to go back to Lincoln once a year because it’s his touchstone. He visits the places we went as children and teenagers, and, for him, where he went to college and medical school, as a way to remember who he is and to refocus. I relate to this pull to go home, although it doesn’t feel like home to me completely anymore because my family isn’t there. It feels like a memory and the adult version of me doesn’t belong there anymore. Had my kids come with us to visit Lincoln, they wouldn’t have the same experience as I did because this place holds no memories for them. They are creating these kinds of memories in a different place, in a different time, with a different perspective. And it makes me wonder what they’ll remember of their childhoods and if I’ll ever get a peek into their treasured perspectives. I don’t know. But when I rounded onto Sheridan near Park Avenue, and smelled the lilac bushes of my childhood, and saw my sacred childhood home, I cried and thought, “Grateful, grateful, grateful!”
My husband got me a lilac bush for Mother’s Day. He heard the emotion in my voice when I had called him the week previous, describing the race and the experience of going back to Lincoln, and he wanted me to have a little piece of it at home. When my kids are grown, they will remember how they felt when they see the house they grew up in. They’ll have feelings when they see their old schools, neighborhoods, and places we went as a family. But for now, they are still wondering about things, forming opinions, holding the physical memory of feelings, and it’s all being stored up. And it will shape them into adults. It’s happening for them now in a critical way. It’s the accumulation of all of these events, people, experiences, choices, and feelings that make us who we are. And I want them to feel “grateful, grateful, grateful!” about their childhood, too.
We love Lisa Valentine Clark's newest book, Real Moms: Making It Up as We Go. As moms, we improvise. And we make a lot of things up as we go along because, let’s face it, no manual is ever going to cover all the bases a real mom needs to touch. But if laughter and perspective and a renewed energy to face the day are what you’re after—if you too are a “real mom”—this is the book for you!