A Look Back

On New Year’s Day I had a flashback. We were at Salmon Bay Park with the girls, ringing in 2010 as we pushed them on the swings and listened to them squeal across the tire-tipped zip-line in elated terror. As we played among the other parents and young children, a couple walked up and stood at the edge of the playground. They held hands as they strolled, and the mother held their newborn in a carrier on her chest.

This couple had no older child, just the baby sleeping in a bundle of fleece. But they had walked to the park, where they stopped and stood, then sat on the wooden bench. There, with faint smiles on their faces, they watched the children screech around the merry-go-round and pound their fists into the sand. It might have seemed to someone else watching that the couple was out-of-place, maybe waiting for someone to meet them — a grandparent to come along with the other child, a preschooler who had true business at a playground.

But I felt I knew just why they were there, gazing dreamily at the playsets and blur of small sneakered feet rushing past.

Nearly 5 years ago, my husband and I made a trek to a different playground. That park was three blocks from our tiny city house, and as we walked slowly I pushed the complex pale blue stroller/car seat/carrier combo that held our week-old daughter. We had decided to take her to the park to celebrate her 1-week birthday. I chuckle now at the sweetness of it, the new-parent excitement and innocence that brimmed in us as we set out that day, so eager for that first trip to the playground with our first child. Of course our baby, snuggled into the contraption, the sun shield covering her completely, slept right through her visit, and it would be nearly two years before she could understand and fully appreciate the fun a playground has to offer.

But we couldn’t wait, so eager were we to experience the moments of childhood we imagined as miraculous through a parent’s eye. The world had changed so much with the birth of our child — holy cow, we were mother and father! Suddenly the gap between the magic of our own childhoods and the responsible monotony that adulthood sometimes dictates was bridged. How long had it been since we went to the playground? A decade? Since we sat down and dug in the sand with a plastic shovel, pumped our legs as we swung higher and higher into the sky? We realized, a little embarrassed but mostly enchanted, that we could do these things once again: Mud pies, glue sticks, Disneyland, hula hoops, hide-and-seek — we would get another chance at all of these as we held our child’s hand and showed her the wonder of life. And, one week after her birth, the fantasy had begun and we just couldn’t wait.

On New Year’s Eve, at the end of a decade, we both reflected upon all that has changed over the past 10 years. Where did the time disappear to? Is it possible that our newborn daughter whose cheek caught the summer breeze in the park that day is now a talking, jumping firecracker ready to start school? And that our second daughter’s babyhood came and went while we weren’t looking?

In that couple, pausing at Salmon Bay to marvel their life and the possibilities it holds, I saw how fast time passes. How excited we are to keep moving forward and pushing ahead, to get to the next thing, the next stage, so we can see how it is, how we like it. Then we plow ahead once more.

As a parent I want to try to hold every stage, every moment, in my mind and taste it with my memory. But I forget. I rush. I obsess over the next thing, the next phase. I itch to push ahead. What I would give to just peek into my daughter’s stroller that warm day at the park years ago, to see her wrinkled cheek and the dark patch of hair. To hear her whimper-breath, which knew nothing of swings and climbing walls but everything, everything about life.

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