One day this fall, I spent several hours watching home videos. It started with one, but like Lindt Truffles, cashews, and handbags on clearance, you can never stop with just one. Each video I watched made me more nostalgic, filled me with more longing for simpler times, times when the kids were littler, when their problems were easily solved with a kiss.
I wanted to transport myself Star-Trek-style back to the moment when Wanda discovered the faucet, when Magoo learned to talk on the phone, or when all the kids were gleefully unwrapping their trip presents on a road trip across Montana. Beam me up, Scotty! Let’s do childhood again. And again. And again.
What struck me as the day drew to a close, besides the fact that my family was hungry and the whole house smelled faintly of sour milk, was that the videos I loved the best, the ones that made me cry with joy and hit rewind over and over again were not huge moments. They weren’t the Nobel Prizes of my children’s elementary careers. The films I treasured the most were taken at times when I probably wondered why the camera was running at all. The quiet tiny moments of my family simply being were the memories that took my breath away.
One swing out of a thousand.
My first plan of action after gorging on home movies all day and realizing that the tiny moments were what brought me the most joy was to begin videotaping my kids at all times and in all things and in all places. Not a moment of their childhood would go unrecorded!
It took me about three seconds to realize there were flaws in this plan. First of all, I refuse to wear Google Glass – RE: I am not that dorky yet. Second of all, my phone battery would never last long enough. Thirdly, I do not have an NSA-style data center in which to store all the data. Fourthly, if I were constantly recording my children, I would never have time to watch the old movies. And fifthly, it was the worst idea ever.
Sometimes I wish I could just live inside these home movies, I thought.
And then it hit me – YOU DO! I do live inside the home movies. Every minute of every day, I could be reveling in the joy of my life, my family, my children, their weird quirks, their cute mispronunciations, even their tantrums and timeouts. The moments I whip through today are the same memories I would watch with rapt attention three or five or fifty years from now, were they recorded on video.
So, if they would mean that much to me then, why do I rush through them almost blindly now? Have you ever had a day where you went to bed and you weren’t sure if you’d even made significant eye contact with any of your family members or friends? I have.
If I look at my life throughout the day from the perspective that it is full of moments to be cherished, then those tiny flashes of magic will be recorded on my heart. I’ll be able to recall them when I need a boost, when I’m dwelling on the negative, when my life seems too hard or too mundane.
I took this idea for a test drive. The day following the home movie overload, I lived my life as though it were the most treasured home movie in my collection. I stared in rapture as my 4-year-old attempted and attempted and attempted to zip her coat. Then I helped her finish the job. I looked into my 8-year-old’s eyes as he told me about his day and his retelling of events grew more and more animated as he sensed that I was really listening and that I was thrilled by every detail.
I brushed my 10-year-old’s hair, paying attention to how its smooth strands felt between my fingers, stroking it a little longer than was necessary before pinning it up into a ballet bun.
This can all sound super cheesy and trite. Be present. Love the forts and the messes and wax poetical about brushing your toddler’s squirmy teeth. I’ve heard it a million times and it never sunk in. BE PRESENT FOR YOUR LIFE.
What I needed to make it real for me was context. What I needed was a day spent pining for years gone by and wondering if I had enjoyed them as much when they were happening as I did when I was reliving them, knowing I hadn’t.
Deciding that these moments matter in the present gives them weight. Deciding to pay attention to the details makes the details important and infuses them with joy.
Am I going to stop recording things like a madwoman on my cell phone camera? No. But I don’t have to record everything. If I show up for all of it, really show up without multi-tasking, I won’t need fifty thousand terabytes of home movies to watch. I’ll be too busy living.