When I was little, my grandmother took care of my cousin and me one day each week. I remember the highlight of my week would be sitting in the McDonald’s inside the Morris County Mall, comparing french fries.
“Look at how long this one is!”
“Mine’s really wiggly!”
“How many little crispies do you have?”
As I look back on those moments in my memory, I see the restaurant, our gray linoleum-topped table, and the red booths. I can picture my cousin, sitting across from or next to me, and I know that my Nana was there, watching our every move and cackling. I can hear her voice, and I can imagine her presence, but I can’t see her in my memory.
It’s been 22 years since she passed away when my cousin and I were Juniors in high school. I have plenty of mental images of her in my memory from later years. I can glimpse her sitting on my parents’ couch when they’d come over for family dinners. I can see her in her brown armchair, trying to peer around their giant goofball golden retriever who thought he was a lap dog. And I can see her in her bathing suit as we’d swim in their huge pool in their yard.
But no matter how hard I try, I can’t picture her from those days when she took care of me in preschool and Kindergarten.
I know this is because I was so young. Young children can’t retain as many distinct images in their memories as older kids and adults can. My mom reminded me of that recently when she mentioned some of the things she had done for us as kids. She was almost put off when I admitted that I couldn’t remember half of it.
“Just you wait,” she told me. “One day you’ll realize that everything you do for your kids now will be forgotten, too.”
It’s a bit of a rude awakening to acknowledge that she’s right.
My kids may not remember all of the work that went into planning birthday parties and family vacations. They won’t recall the particulars of potty training, trips to the ER and worrisome doctor’s visits. And they, too, may not be able to picture us in their minds when they remember moments from days spent together.
Now that my mom is retired, she takes care of my daughter one day each week. They come home with stories of picnics and playgrounds. My daughter now sits at McDonald’s next to that same cousin’s children who are with their grandmother, my aunt.
It is bittersweet to recognize how everything comes full circle. In my preschool days, I was the center of my own universe. Now, my daughter is the center of hers. As parents and grandparents, we simply get to orbit around their rays of sunshine and bask in the glow when they shine their light our way.
I watch her, as I’m sure my mom and my Nana watched me, and I love how she sees the world. I love her discoveries, and I adore her declarations. She makes me laugh every single day. I don’t need to be imprinted upon her memory because she will forever be imprinted on mine.
Someday, my daughter may look back on her days with Nini, too. She might remember what they ate, what Happy Meal toys they played with, and where they sat. But she may not be able to picture my mom or my aunt, sitting there with them, cackling like their mother at their grandchildren’s antics. She won’t remember skipping through the door, bubbling over with stories from her day, or the way she leaped into my arms when she came home.
But that’s okay. Because I will.