Strawberry ice cream happiness. (at Burr’s Berry Farm)
The hardest thing about being a parent is the incessant, impossible-to-defeat nostalgia for the present moment. I don’t want any instant with the girls to end, I don’t want to forget any of it, I want to do more than record it—I want to freeze everything, to preserve it perfectly and eternally, to stare down time and forgetfulness and the damnable notion that any one piece of life is more valuable than any other.
We sit in a pattern when we go out to dinner. My wife diagonal from me, the little one to her left, the five year old to my left. This is almost inviolable. When I go out alone with the girls, we move a chair around to the side table so the little one can be closer to my right. The pattern is intact, with the hole of Mami’s absence appropriately magnified. Like so many habits, which as a child seemed a law of nature to me, this pattern began life as an improvisation which did not fail, and so lived another day. If we were to break it, chaos would result.
A few months ago, for reasons which now escape me, we switched sides of the table at our family pizza place, where we eat at least once a week. As we tried to settle in, both my wife and I realized at once that we had never really looked at the walls which were always behind us. After less than a minute of taking in the broad, bright murals of vegetable ingredients, sandwiches and pizza pies, innocuous if not delicious, we realized we could not sustain the discomfort. The pattern had been violated, we were in the wrong, and we switched back as quickly as we could, before things could really begin to go wrong.
Now, at this very instant, the weekend pattern is in motion. The girls are on the living room floor, playing, in this case building castles and machines with LEGOs. I sit at the dining room table, not really in the dining room (there is no dining room), but at the opposite end of the long living room, watching them, reading and writing. My wife is upstairs, sleeping in for a little while longer. I wonder if the conversation of the girls as they play laces through her dreams. They talk to the singsong rhythm of a song from Disney’s “Cinderella,” then shift into repeated nonsense phrases, bounced back and forth between them, then smoothly transition into singing a song from “The Little Mermaid,” then begin negotiating over the sole LEGO door we possess. Sure the surreal frayed line of dream logic made manifest.
I would not part with what is happening right now, even though I can clearly see it moving forward, slipping away. There will be lunch, there will be errands, there will be Christmas decorations to put up. Even now, the grocery list is beginning to form on the kitchen dry eras board. Even now, the first of several loads of laundry is in the washer. Even now, the little one is beginning to act temperamentally, presaging some sort of conflict which will end bucolic playtime. As is her habit, she has begun prodding her older sister, physically and verbally, testing her boundaries with me, and, at the outermost limit, gently tossing her Rapunzel doll to see if she will be punished for throwing toys. And the moment passes.
In the end, well, there is no end, but if there were, we would see that what is positive in the world is built out of small, quiet moments of a few minutes at the longest, each falling into the massive, accidental pattern, variations on the themes we stumble upon. This specific cluster of happenings, this morning’s program of castle-building, is unremarkable and would pass out of specific memory soon enough, without my trying to preserve it in these words. Yet, as it settles in the minds of the girls, as the days accrue, it will form a corner of their foundations, stacked solidly aside the afternoons at their abuela’s house, dancing around her short, dignified presence as she cooks and cleans, and those rare, fabled trips to the land of South Carolina where the rest of their family resides.
I do believe these bundles of time are the reliable bricks of life, and even if they will not remember this Saturday over any others, it will be essential in the construction of the house of their beings. And this house will be their shelter throughout their lives, their warmth in storms and cool corners in times of reflection, no matter the tempests outside. This is my consolation as Saturday morning dissolves, as the girls leave the LEGOS scattered across the floor and whirl onward to the next moment, dancing within the pattern.