What do you remember from your childhood? Tom Petty said, “I’m not really sure but it seems I remember the good times with just a little bit more in focus.” Do you? Or is it the trauma and difficulties that are really clear, remembering them in vivid detail? I am a visual learner but some hard things have made it really difficult to bring childhood images into focus. I remember really good trips to Disney which has made it my Happy Place ever since. My parents seemed to be different there. Away from their difficulties they could spend real time with us, distracted only by the magic. They smiled more, we laughed more. This is in sharp focus for me.
I also now realize, as an adult, how much they tried to keep from me. I know it was not appropriate for me to know most of it, but I felt it all. I am a highly sensitive person. Nature or nurture? Probably both. I felt a lot of things growing up and had very little training in how to deal with them. I think this is why I love Mr. Rogers' mission so much. Fred said, "“Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” I try to share what I can now with my teens. I know they can read me like a book. I wonder what memories will be in sharp focus for them. I think we as moms try very hard to engineer all these memories for our kids. I don’t know that older generations did it as much as we do.
Take for example, free play, I think (and am convinced by much research) that playtime is very formative for young brains and experimenting with your world is a good gift to give children of any age. Give and take in playtime is great for building relationships. We work so hard and often pay for structured playtime but I wonder if it is the best way. It seems this current pandemic and our long quarantine time has shown us what are the more necessary things. One thing I feel it has revealed is the need for the arts in our lives for restoration. I am willing to bet that you listened to music, watched a show or other broadcast of some live entertainment. If not, I am sure you did something creative. Designing your space differently or making something from scratch is creative and restorative. So if you have read this far you are probably waiting for me to get to the part about your newborn. Well, I do ramble but I also have a purpose for this topic. It is this, I want you to build joyful memories starting now. A big smile when you pick them up from a caregiver, no matter how your day was, is a start. Begin a bedtime song tradition with your newborn. Each of my three daughters had a song all through childhood, my 12 year old is the only one who allows me to still sing it. It is not a kids song. I sing a little piece of a Frankie Vallie song to her, “who loves you pretty baby, who’s gonna help you through the night, who loves you pretty (baby), who’s always there to make it right?” It became part of our bedtime routine and it was a comfort and a signal to get ready for sleep and something just between us. You don’t have to be a good singer, it can be a song most wouldn’t sing to a baby, or you can pick something other than a song. I have another thing I do with my middle daughter. It was really cute until Mother Gothel in Tangled did something similar and kinda ruined it for me. We then adapted it as my daughter got older and we still say it sometimes,
Me: “I love you.”
Middle Daughter: “I loved you first.”
Me: “Can’t be, I loved you the minute I knew I was having you.”
MD: “I loved you before that. You loved me first tech-nic-cally, but I loved you first for real-ly.”
And I let her win.
It just kind of grew from a game we played. You will find your own ways. As you change a diaper, maybe you sing, "Head, shoulders, knees and toes." And it makes the change a little easier because it is a distraction. Find the joy in the little moments and one day you will have a memory and so will your child of the fun things you did in the day to day. They will be a little more in focus and maybe the harder ones you could not orchestrate will be in the background. Maybe mask wearing and long days at home without friends will be in the background. But long uninterrupted time with mom or dad was a memory in sharp focus, when you had time to play and smile and laugh with them. Hang in there, I see you and your valiant efforts to take care of your children. It will bear fruit in time.
Paula is a single mother of 3. Follow along on her journeys of motherhood and her fulfilling work as a postpartum doula