The Thinker

Time in a bottle

I fell in love all over again last week. Curiously I fell in love with my daughter, who I already love. My daughter is 26. Instead, I fell back in love with my daughter, ages 10 months, one, two and a half, four, five and ten. This was because those old dusty VHS tapes of her have finally been transferred to DVD. For the first time in more than twenty years in some cases I am seeing them again.

Our VCR died a decade or so back and we felt no compelling reason to replace it, despite a stack of videotapes. Most of the videotapes were movies or TV shows, hence junk. A few of them though recorded precious memories of life with our young daughter. I never felt rich enough back then to buy a camcorder but I did rent one from time to time. I first gave it a try when our daughter Rose was ten months, resulting in the cute little snippet of her crawling around the floor of our kitchen on a Saturday morning (below).

We have tons of scrapbooks documenting lots of her milestones, most very minor. A picture turns out to be a poor substitute for a video, which like Dorothy in Oz has the magical power to transport you back in time. For those families that record everything I doubt these recordings hold much allure. Given the slim few hours I have of our daughter from those years, and seeing it again so many years later it is hard not to be transfixed.

I don’t look much different. I was younger and not quite as wide and perhaps with a bit more hair. My enchantment comes not from seeing myself, or our old neighborhood or even snippets of my parents, now both deceased. It’s mostly from being transfixed by just how inexpressibly cute our daughter was back then.

Parents generally form a love bond with their child. It’s hard not to given how much time and attention children require and how focused they are on you, as you are literally their path to survival. Over time we forget the bad stuff: the temper tantrums, the constant ear infections, getting in trouble in school, etc. Blissfully, only the good stuff remains. As children our kids are naturally innocent and if raised right they are trusting too. Watching these videos again though I had forgotten how much I enjoyed being a father. This was perhaps in part because I was stretched rather thin with a full time job and many other responsibilities. But certain rituals were sacrosanct, such as bath time and reading to my daughter before bedtime.

The intimacy of our connection was special but ultimately fleeting. At story time she would snuggle up close next to me on the couch. I’d wrap my arm around her and hold a book in the other arm. She would help turn the pages. Tucking her into bed followed. We’d watch her almost coo like a dove as she snuggled up to her stuffed dog and generally fall happily asleep. These sorts of routine moments got sporadically captured on video.

Rose was always an interesting child but for me she was most adorable at age four, with her big doe-like eyes, her utter transparency and her relentless curiosity about how the world works. She could believe in Santa Claus with complete innocence, take delight in trick or treating, get enrapt in a book or a toy and liked to impress her parents. In the videos I can see things like her throwing kisses to us while at a ballet recital or singing off-key at her kindergarten graduation.

If in the afterlife I find that time is like a camcorder I would like to go back and replay those events. I’d want to feel again the softness of her baby hair when I kissed her goodnight, the urgent intensity when she held my finger while noshing on her evening bottle and her squeals of delight when we finished reading a book together. I’d like just one more time to read her Dr. Seuss.

Those events were instrumental in the woman she has become. Writing forms the center of her life today and she is working to get professionally published. Now she has an active community of followers interested in her fan fiction. Meanwhile she lives independently with her cat and does closed captioning for TV, generally at hours when everyone else is asleep.

These memories are precious but for me they do answer the question of why are we here. We are here to enjoy life as best we can, improving it for future generations if possible. We are basically here to love and connect and one of the strongest connections is the love between parent and child.

On February 1, my father passed away. He went rather gently as these things go. He knew his time was short. I imagine as he lied in his hospital bed he too rifled through memories of many episodes like this in his own mind until death gently took him. When my time comes I hope to do the same: to succumb to eternity nestled in the memories of the loving connections I was fortunate to have through life. This is what makes life worth living. All the rest is ultimately meaningless.

 

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