Friday, March 8, 2013

A Childhood Recovered


What is irreplaceable? Everything and nothing. Each thing quickly claims its place in the cosmos. No matter if it’s as grand as a whole nation or as small as your dresser table—it is a companion in your world and when it is gone, things are not quite the same.

And yet if there is one law in life, it is that it must go on and go on it does. Other things or people fill the hole and in the case of the more memorable things and people, colors are not as bright for a while— until they are.

One of the better things my wife and I did as parents was keep a journal of our kids’ development, writing letters to them telling them of their progress and the stories of their funny comments or poignant moments or big breakthroughs. As one might imagine, we started writing every week, then every month, then almost every year up to the teenage years when we just gave up and turned it over to the kids themselves. We glued in photos, had the grandparents write when they visited and imagined that the kids would someday enjoy reading about themselves.

My older daughter Kerala did indeed dive back into those pages to compare her baby milestones with her new daughter’s. She found it fascinating, funny, intriguing and heartwarming. We encouraged her to begin one for her little Zadie and she did. It’s a grand tradition.

But four years ago, when daughter Talia moved away from San Francisco, she lost her journal. It made me heartsick to think of it in some dumpster somewhere. As I said above, nothing is irreplaceable, but that journal felt like a precious heirloom, the thing I would grab running out of the house in a fire. Every time I would think of that lost journal, my stomach felt queasy.

Tonight, talking with 28-year-old Talia back in her old room while she gets her feet on the ground in her San Francisco return, she showed me all the work she did cleaning her room. And then casually said, “Oh, and I found this.” And there was the journal!!!

We sat down and read through it together and it was every bit as precious as I remembered it. We looked at her preschool class picture and she named every kid in the 40 kid group. (Then went to Facebook to show me what they looked like now.) But even more interesting was reading my predictions of her character, mild complaints about her strong willful nature and praise for her bright, surprising and inquisitive mind, her athletic and  rhythmic physical self and all of it still present in this young adult who I admire and love as much as that little girl. And of course, the same for Kerala.

Nothing is irreplaceable, but some things are more precious than others. And when they return unexpectedly after being “lost” for four years, it’s a joy beyond words. A whole childhood recovered in handwritten letters and printed photos gluesticked onto paper.

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