A trail of stardust
Then and now as reflected in old family photos
I looked up at Rael and patted the seat next to me on the couch. For my Mother’s Day gift, I’d asked for a couple hours together looking at old family pictures. My memories of the kids’ childhoods are disturbingly fuzzy, but Rael has excellent recall and can spin the tale of an entire afternoon out of a single snapshot. When he narrates our family story, my memories peek out from behind the curtain and tiptoe back into view.
This is Parent of Adults by Asha Dornfest, a newsletter & community about life after the kids grow up. Weekly posts are free — become a subscriber to receive them in your inbox.
Looking at pictures used to mean paging through photo albums, but now our photos are scattered among hard drives, mobile devices, a few yellowing albums and various forms of cloud storage.
It took some cursing and fiddling with laptops and cables and backup drives for us to even begin. But soon we were huddled on the couch, swimming back through 25 years of family life.
There I was during my first pregnancy. (“That woman has no idea,” I thought.)
There were Sam and Mirabai as stunned newborns.
There they were having their first baths.
Then they were rambunctious, wide-eyed preschoolers.
Then trudging off to elementary school with backpacks slung over their shoulders.
Then gap-toothed in Disneyland, and on their first camping trip, and on the basement carpet playing with plastic animal figures.
There were Rael and me with our dark hair and smooth foreheads, making our way through the chaos and monotony and joy of it all. We looked so young. Our parents — new grandparents then — looked young, too.
The photos don’t show that it took all my will to make it to the end of some of those days. But looking back now, it seemed so simple.
I remembered how physical parenting used to be. The weight of a baby in the crook of my arm. The bubblegum scent of brushing their teeth, the heat rising from their damp foreheads as they fell asleep.
It was so easy then. It was so hard then.
I remember longing for even a millimeter of space between their bodies and mine, a moment to breathe. I was desperate, claustrophobic. Now Rael and I sit curled on the couch as the evening rolls out ahead of us. We have nothing more to do than remember.
Now we’re looking at pictures of the kids as gawky middle schoolers. There’s a prom, and high school graduation. I remember my heart bursting and breaking at the same time.
Teenagers bring a raucous, unruly energy to the house; a tidal inflow of ideas and music and movement and emotion.
I’m still grappling with the absence of that energy. The feeling is distinct from missing, because I don’t want to turn back the clock. I’m grateful for the calm, but I’m still not sure how to fill the space I thought would never come.
The greatest thrill of my life has been to watch my kids grow into adults and release their energy into the world. The excruciating splendor of it. A trail of stardust connects then and now. I see it right there, glinting, in the spaces between the pictures.
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