Becoming a mother has turned me into a worrier. Not necessarily about the day-to-day things like whether its ok to let Shiloh chow down on almonds or whether Will will be alright when he flies around the corner on his scooter at 15 miles per hour. Those things don’t bother me much.
I worry about bigger things. Like global warming and whether there will still be avocados and limes in 50 years, whether we will still hear birds sing and whether people will still live in Florida. I worry about the hardships of refugees in Syria and around the world, and the growing inequality in the US. I worry about cancer and multi-drug-resistant bacteria.
I’ve known places where beggars don’t just go hungry, they actually starve to death. I’ve lived under polluted skies, hanging brown and ominous. It’s a panicky feeling to know that the very air keeping you alive may also be your undoing. Here in Milan I panic for different reasons. When the skies shine blue and clear I get agitated if we stay inside for too long instead of running outside to inhale deeply and cherish the breath. It makes me feel a little like a person without running water, desperate to fill up the bathtub and every bucket in the house whenever the taps do turn on.
And then I think, but I DO have running water, and a warm house, a machine that washes our clothes, and food in plenty. Green grass grows in the park near our house where my kids roll around without fear of anything more serious than dog poop. I get frustrated sometimes that my kids won’t sleep or that they cry when I try to wash the floor but then I think, seriously? These are my problems? How lucky am I.
Some days our living room looks like an army of dryer lint has decided to go to war with a legion of pulverized Cheerios. Some days I yell. Some days the most exciting thing we do is walk to the market around the corner to buy more yogurt.
Some of the moments I love the most are the ones I photograph the least. And the very most precious moments, the ones when one or both of my kids are snuggling in my lap, are the ones I have no ability to photograph at all.
Someone once told me that the reason we don’t remember our babyhood is because human beings are relatively coddled in our earliest years. Our brains only remember that which they deem necessary for survival.
I know the same will be true for my kids. They will remember strange, incoherent flashes of their earliest years, things like the smell of our rug or the way the water ran while I held them in one arm while washing dishes with the other. And yet, I find myself irrationally desperate for them to remember all of the moments that I, as their mother, will never forget.
The times when we all pile on the couch and snuggle and the kids give each other kisses and laugh and then pinch my nose to make me talk funny and then try pinching their own noses and each other’s noses and somebody probably eventually cries or rolls away from the group hug to go play with Legos and the moment is over as quickly as it began, like a giant soap bubble bursting, leaving behind a spray of a shining residue on our arms and faces.
The times when Will wraps his sister in a hug and says he loves her, when he wraps his stuffed animals in blankets and calls them his babies, when he tells me the sky is fantastic and asks to buy flowers for our house “to make it more beautiful.”
The times they run together in the grass, the times they hold hands and giggle. The times Shiloh won’t settle down for bedtime until she can give me a giant smiling kiss on the mouth, the way she likes when we dance around the room together, that moment when Daddy comes home from work and everybody comes running, squealing, to give him hugs and show him the pictures we’ve drawn.
I’m a worrier now because I’ve got more at stake. Because I don’t want my kids to have to remember what blue skies looked like, what birds sounded like, what it feels like to stand still in a field buttressed on all sides by cool spring breezes and the perfume of fresh blossoms. I want them to always see and feel and know these things just a few steps from their front door. I want them to put their own babies to bed in places as peaceful as this one.
As a kid I remember thinking that being a kid was the most wonderful thing in the world. I cried the day I realized I was no longer small enough to crawl underneath our dining room chairs, the day I stopped believing in Santa Clause, the day no one wanted to play pretend anymore.
Now, as a mother who loves being a grown up way more than I ever loved being a kid, I nonetheless find myself worshipping my children’s childhood even more fervently than I did my own. I get nostalgic for yesterday, for last week, for tomorrow, for next month. I want it all, all the time and forever. I wish I could bottle up all of the love and the giggles and the snuggles and twist off the cap sometime when my kids are teenagers and say “See! Remember this? Remember how we laughed? Remember how you held my hand? How you smiled?”
Or rather, I want more than anything that we don’t need that bottle at all. I want that we all still love each other forever the way we do now and that the world they grow up into is as crazy beautiful as this one–but better. A world in which they can work hard and be kind and do good and not be an especially privileged sliver of humanity for being able to do so. I want a world in which all people go to sleep at night wanting what they want, but always having what they need.
I want to be nostalgic for the patter of my kids’ tiny feet, for their childish giggles and soft warm hugs, but I want to live in a world with no nostalgia required for the big, important things beyond our front door. I want a world that knows more peace and less fear, a world in which the woods are still full of song birds and our lives are full of family and love; a world in which my children get to live lives as crazy beautiful as the one I have, getting to be be their Mama.