At some point in my life, unbeknownst to me, I was appointed the family historian. As a child, I had a “mind like a trap,” as my mother would say. I remembered everything. Which year did we get to ring the dinner bell at family camp? What was the name of that one roller coaster at Great America– you know, that one? Who was Laura’s best friend in third grade? Ask Erin. My parents willingly exploited my memory, and it became a family custom, whenever a date or name or dress color was in question, to “Ask Erin.”
Today, the whole family is together for our one weekend of the year, trying to fit twelve months of laughter and memories and family drama into two and a half days. My parents’ small house is filled with people– half of whom are under six. There is noise and movement and laughter and wiggles and tears and lots of hugs to go around. “Erin,” my mom says suddenly, “how old were you when–?” I look at her blankly. “I have no idea.” My sister is confused. “But you always know!” Not today. (In fact, I can’t even remember how this conversation actually went or what the question was, that’s how bad it is.) Once upon a time, I could remember everything. Today, not so much.
I have a theory about the parts of my brain that seem to have been mind-wiped in the last few years. Actually, I have a couple theories and they both blame my children. As a mom, my brain is so full of my children. Birthdates, weights and lengths and heights, first words, likes and dislikes, shoe sizes, allergies, favorite toys, potential hiding spots for favorite toys, friends’ names, teachers’ names, their names, my name— all these things get crammed into our brains, along with schedules and shopping lists and phone numbers and where I set the keys, until there is just to room left. At which point, my brain just loses some of the information that is irrelevant to the daily task of keeping track of life. Information that is irrelevant pretty much always, except when my mom turns to me and wants to know who it was whose foot went up in the air when she got baptized at our old church. This theory, that my brain just got too full and so it started an automatic erasure program, is probably the truest and most logical.
However, I do have another theory, and it is my personal favorite. I am convinced that when Ryan was born he stole my phenomenal mental powers (note: slight sarcasm has just been utilized). He remembers everything, especially that word I didn’t mean to say or the story he wasn’t supposed to overhear. He is his generation’s family historian, I am sure of it. Twenty years from now, someone will turn to my elder son and say “Ryan, what year was it when Grandpa got into the wading pool to play with the kids?” And he’ll say, “Oh, that was when I was five, right before I started kindergarten, so– 2008.” And everyone will nod and agree and remember that moment, except for me. Because his powers of recall were stolen from me, I tell you. I’ll be lucky if I can remember my own name twenty years from now.
Which is the reason I am writing this at all. It seems my memories fade all too quickly these days, replaced by school supply lists and playdate information and how many seconds you’re supposed to scrub your hands when you wash. But I don’t want to forget these moments, when I am together with all these people I hold so dear and precious. I want to remember.
I want to remember the sight of Ryan’s bleached-blond hair amidst all the brown-haired cousins.
I want to remember the feel of two nephews and one niece all trying to pile into my lap for a kiss and a snuggle.
I want to remember the taste of the s’mores my sister and I make as we have a little heart-to-heart by the grill in the backyard.
I want to remember the sound of five little children laughing and talking and playing and settling in so comfortably as a family, even after a year apart.
I want to remember the serious look in AJ’s eyes as he solemnly agrees to my claim that I am the most beautifullest Auntie in the whole, wide universe.
I want to remember laughing till I can’t breathe, listening to my mom and sister tell stories of all their misadventures. Let me tell you, if I had half the crises they do, this blog would be the funniest place on the internet.
I want to remember Megan’s sweet-smelling hair pressed up to my cheek as we hide under a blanket from her brother.
I want to remember the sight of Sammy determinedly trying to fix the plastic race track, in spite of his older cousin’s decided opinion that someone only three and a half can’t do it.
I want to remember Drew, as the boys are posing for pictures with the little brothers sitting on the big brother’s backs, solicitously asking Ryan if Sammy is “sitting on your private parts?”
I want to remember sitting in lawn chairs as dusk settles around us, singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” with Laura.
But mostly, mostly I want to remember that in 2008 Dad got into the wading pool with the kids and had a water fight with them. Because this is an answer to a specific prayer I prayed a couple months ago, when Daddy was having heart problems and not responding well to his treatment.
There was one night, after a conversation with my very discouraged mother, that I realized my dad was in pretty bad shape. And I began to wonder if my kids would grow up with him in their lives. As I laid in bed that night, I prayed that God would heal my father and encourage him, and that my kids would have Grandpa Cobb in their lives for many, many years to come. I prayed that they would have sweet memories of my dad and special times with him.
Let me say right now that I believe God answers prayer. Shortly after that phone call and that sleepless night, Dad turned a corner. And now– now he’s sitting in the wading pool, surrounded by his five young grandchildren, dumping water on any who venture close, and being dumped on– five against one. He is drenched; he is cold; his lip is puffing up from a smack with a bucket. He is having so much fun, and he is so happy. So are we. Never mind the tears in our eyes. Mom, Laura, and I are showing our happiness in true family fashion, with red faces and tears and laughter at the same time. I want to remember this.
Later on, Dad is engaged in the all-important family tradition of making ice cream with the grandkids. They are lined up– five little sun-baked bodies with that one blond head sticking out amid all the brown ones– putting ice in the machine under the supervision of Grandpa and the ever-watching eye of the camera. Dad thinks it’s morbid that we’re all taking pictures of him “like I’m on my deathbed.” But no, these are not pictures taken in a sense of hopelessness, or morbidity, or even bittersweetness. They are all about life— life, and family, and love, and hope, and joy. They are all about remembering this precious moment– this answered prayer– this poignant picture of God’s unfailing faithfulness.
And I never, ever want to forget.