I’d be worried about my qualifications as a parent if I didn’t get choked up at the sight of my three-year-old’s palm preserved for posterity in purple paint on a piece of construction paper. But I’m surprised that my son is showing that same streak of sentimentality already too.
The town where I grew up isn’t the same place as when my friends were playing army in the backyard or driving home from football practice. I’ve moved on, and now that the house where I grew up belongs to someone else, some other young couple starting a family just like my parents years ago, it’s fixed firmly in the past.
On my 34th birthday, a friend asked me what it’s like getting older in a big city, but it’s no different than in a small town or the suburbs. It’s about reassessing your own life, but with that comes acknowledging your faults and accepting regret. Aging is about understanding that you still have a lot to learn.
When I was a kid, I assumed my dad took pictures like this expressly to torture me and my sister. Now that I have my own kids I understand why he did this. He needed to take those pictures to remember being there, to make sure it really happened, because our real memory falls apart so quickly.
Who decides what to preserve as the true mementos of childhood? Parents usually do, and it tends to be the easiest things to keep: drawings that can be slipped into a file folder, blankets and stuffed animals that can be shoved in a closet. But what about the random bits and pieces that take up just as much of their attention?