When lullabies were enough
If I remember correctly, when I was growing up, at age 7 I had one toy: a pack of cards.
Then I got one doll, which I immediately proceeded to doll up by giving her a haircut and make prettier with felt pens, much to the horror of my mother.
I was given a kitchen set made of wood that I methodically cooked in, and unfortunately, set alight. The rest are just snapshots of time - a vague memory here or an impactful scene there, the sad demise of my baby sister, the wailing of my mother, or the reprimand of a grandparent when we miss-stepped.
We did not keep photographs, my mother seldom reminisced about the past, because she too was moving on. Yet, I managed to save a handful of events in my mind, never things. I was not allowed to have too many things because apparently I never knew how to ‘keep’ them. Somehow, was it books, toys or favorite things - they always went away: they were either given away, stolen, misplaced or lost in one of our multiple moves over the first 25 years of my life.
Today, I was struck by the potential and depth of childhood memories, in an unplanned conversation with V. While tucking her in bed tonight, out of nowhere, she remembered our little condominium in Ann Arbor and started to cry. She began telling me how she missed the painting of castle and the tree in her playroom and the garden outside her playroom window. She added that she had been happy to see me paint that one in AA, with the tree and the butterflies and the clouds, remembered the paper kites I had taped over the clouds and had loved looking out of the window in the study and being outside on the patio or in the grass.
I reminded her that, that garden was tiny compared to what we have now, and she has new painting in her new room here. I offered her the promise, however childish it seemed that if she did really well at school and if we still had that place in Ann Arbor 12 years from now, she could have it when she went to college at University of Michigan. She smiled when I told her there was a new little baby girl there, who was going to enjoy those paintings. But, despite the comparisons, it seemed that she remembered more about that home than I expected her to, given that when we left that home, she was only 2.
Tonight, she was a very grown up 8, she proclaimed, sighing just slightly: "I loved that house, mamma. We had plenty of good times there. And I remember when we left. The big bunny (soft toy) was stuck in a laundry basket at the back of the big moving truck... but girl bunny (another soft toy) was with me in our car."
I reminded her, how, when we moved into a new place, we set up her play structures first, so she would be happy and comfortable. And she smiled at me knowingly, said ‘good-night’ and hugged girl bunny (yes, she still has it). But those eyes weary with sleep, spoke differently as they drifted for the day: that it was never going to be the same, and neither was she.
Our departure from Ann Arbor was almost exactly 6 yrs ago. And she was only 2 when we left there - it boggles me how can she remember so much from such a long time ago, but forgets to eat her lunch or bring back her homework at least once a week!!
I reflect, now, that even though life is fuller now, and that she is growing up, the simplicity of childhood is best left to those who live it, in that moment, then and there. One cannot return to those moments, even if they try their hardest, either while awake or asleep. I am glad we have some pictures of her childhood home – for now, even though she is still a child, she is a different child, than the one who left her first childhood far, far behind – that she visits through her scrap book, through her memories and what little I remember of those simpler bedtimes, when lullabies were enough.