As loving parents, we strive to provide our kids with not only their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and such – but also intangibles such as love, happiness, and positive memories. Of course, the term “positive memories” is wide open to interpretation and can mean lots of different things to different people.
Often, those memories aren’t even what we, as parents, think are worth remembering.
Over the weekend, I got to wondering about what memories my 3-year-old son will end up with – and if they’ll be the ones I expect.
The joys of yard work
He may only be 3, but that doesn’t stop my son from helping me outside. And it’s not just that he wants to help – he actually helps me. When I’m cutting down branches from overgrown trees, he’ll pull the branches out of my way and toss them in a brush pile I’ve shown him. If I’m splitting firewood, he’ll gather up the small pieces of wood and set them aside for kindling.
This weekend, I was raking leaves (this time of year, it feels like that’s all I do!) and he wanted to help, so I gave him a small rake and let him do his thing. Once I had piled as many leaves as I could into my wheel-barrow, I would pick him up, set him on top of them, and give him a ride all the way over to our compost pile near the edge of the woods.
To him, this was the most fun thing in the history of fun things…and so I had to do it all afternoon, every time the wheel-barrow was full. He didn’t realize it, but he was helping me by keeping the leaves from blowing away. I didn’t realize it, but I just might have been giving him a lasting memory.
‘Quality time’ is relative
The reason I say it “might” be a lasting memory is because I have learned – through having two older daughters – that kids remember what they think is important, not you. What a parent might feel is an earth-shatteringly colossal event may not even appear as a blip on their children’s recollective radar.
I have friends who have taken their one- and two-year-old kids to Disneyland, ice shows, and live children’s theatre performances…and I can’t help but wonder what the kids think. Now, don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with anyone doing any of these things. I just doubt that the kids will have any lasting memory of these experiences either because they’re a) too young to be able to remember them later in life, or b) the events simply won’t have as much impact on the kids as their parents think.
With my two girls (well, ok, technically they’re women now, but don’t remind me), many of the things they recall I barely remember. More than once, I’ve been part of a conversation that went more or less like this: “Remember the time when mom said ‘blah-de-blah,’ and then you were like, ‘blah-de-blah-de-blah,’ and then she did ‘this’ and you did ‘that’ and then something happened and then something else happened and then you were all like ‘blah-de-blah-de-frickety-blah?!’ That was so funny!!”
And I’m sitting there, staring, wondering where I was when this hilarious incident supposedly occurred.
It may not have been the Ice Capades, but it was certainly memorable…whatever the heck it was.
A matter of perspective
A few years ago, country singer Phil Vassar and I were talking about kids (he has a couple of girls, too) and what it’s like being a parent trying to keep up with them while time flies by so quickly. He related a story about how he and his family had an opportunity to meet President George W. Bush while he was still in office.
Phil told me that he was asking the girls a couple of years later what they enjoyed about their visit to the White House – and they didn’t remember any of the supposed ‘highlights.’
He asked if they recalled meeting the president. No. He asked if they remembered what the White House looked like. Not really. Did they remember anything that happened while they were there?? Wait, one of them said…she thought she did remember something. That was the place that had the tall, fancy vase in the corner with the pink flowers that smelled so nice?
And poor Phil was the one who ended up scratching his head, trying to remember this completely random fact that was his daughter’s most captivating – and possibly only – memory of meeting the President of the United States.
Proof again that what we think is important and what our kids think is important are two totally different thinks.
Wheel-barrows, leaf piles, and fire trucks
When I rake leaves, I don’t just let my little dude ride in the wheel-barrow; I let him jump into the huge piles I create. Yes, it’s more work for me, having to re-rake and re-rake many times over…but it’s fun for him, and I hope it will be something that he remembers when he gets older. I have to admit it’s also fun for me, watching the little nut roll around in the leaves and toss them in the air, laughing hysterically as they fall down around him and on his face.
He also loves trucks – any kind of trucks. If it’s got a motor and wheels, he wants it. He may only be 3, but he knows the difference between a skid steer and a Bobcat, and the difference between a forage harvester and a combine. The day I brought him to the fire station to look at the engines close-up was a day I’ll never forget, mostly because I don’t think he blinked once, the whole time we were there.
Will it be a lasting memory? Who knows…but he enjoyed it, and that was good enough for me.
After all, ultimately it’s not about the memories, but about the experiences themselves. And rather than second-guess myself, I’ll just enjoy my time with him and his siblings and provide them with as much happiness, support, and love as I can and let them decide what’s worth remembering.
You know, I here there’s a monster truck show coming to town…
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