The other night, I sat by my 15-year-old son on the couch.
He was deep into studying for a calculus midterm, and I was deep into trying to clear space off my hard drive.
“Jackson,” I asked him. “What is taking up so much space on my computer?”
My resident computer expert (every family needs one) began to pull up files, trying to uncover the perpetrator. The first thing to pop up was a movie file, nearly two hours worth — a huge space-grabber.
“Let’s make sure to watch it before we delete it,” he said, opening the tab.
Up popped him, Jackson, as a 6-month-old. It was his first Christmas. His blue eyes stared at the screen, all wonder and amazement. Outside, the bright waters of Miami Beach reflected light through the window. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang joyful carols on a CD player in the background.
We clicked the movie forward a bit. Jackson, now 9 months old, rocked back and forth on his knees. We’d bought our first condo. Knowing nothing, we feared we’d overpaid by thousands. My husband, Seth, looked about 14 years old. We were babies having babies.
I’m not sure how these videos came to be on my computer, but I hadn’t seen them in 15 years.
The calculus test was forgotten. Jackson set aside his books, and we continued watching.
We watched him take his first bites of rice cereal and mashed peas. His first steps. The soundtrack to our lives — James Taylor, Louis Armstrong and Paul Simon — played constantly in the background. (“Mom, you’re exactly the same! So are your musical tastes.”)
His first birthday. Our “new” condo had a broken oven, so the cake was store bought and enormous. Jackson smeared frosting on himself and on Seth’s face. He was delighted with this moment, this life.
All of this was filmed before we kept cameras in our back pockets. These moments are rare — they involved analog tapes and a large black camera bag.
There are not enough of them.
Jackson and I watched for almost an hour. We laughed, our arms around each other through the whole thing.
And then I went to my room and cried. I look back on those early days as if "through a glass, darkly." I didn’t know anything about being a mother or running a household. I was half a country away from family, perched on the sand like the foolish man.
Seth worked nights at the newspaper and studied for a graduate degree by day. We bought a condo with dirty pink tile on a zero-down loan, not even knowing we needed money for escrow.
I had a son who didn’t seem like the other kids. He was somber when they laughed. He broke the sprinkler system while they played in the sandbox.
I knew nothing. Nothing.
But that was the beauty of it, wasn’t it? It was our Garden of Eden. We were children set forth to create order out of matter unorganized, to learn through our own experience.
Seth jokes that chiseled on my tombstone will be the epitaph "No one tried harder."
Because I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I discovered how to cook. On Christmas Eve, I constructed a paper chimney on the wall so Santa had a soft place to land. I scrubbed the pink tile, night after night, on my knees, with a toothbrush.
I learned, misstep by misstep, how to parent (although we all know this process is ever-evolving). That foolish condo purchase ended up being the single greatest financial decision we ever made because we sold right before the bubble burst.
The discovery of parenting is a series of unfolding realizations: They will grow out of this phase and that one, they will struggle with this issue and that one, they will throw tantrums and offer kisses, sometimes in the same breath.
You will lay down rules and they will disobey. You will instruct them and guide them and correct them, and in the end, they will be exactly who they were all along, who they were meant to become. It will both delight and puzzle you.
That’s parenting. That’s the journey. Along the way, your children teach you far more than you teach them. They hold a mirror to your face and show you exactly who you are.
I am such a believer in it, the process of parenting. The way in which we journey through life as families and into old age.
I am trying to put into words what I cannot, but there you have it. Most of us don’t get to see a movie reel of our lives, but I saw a glimpse of it with Jackson, as we watched the first year of his life, saw the memories fade to black.Comment on this story
I would do it all again. And I would tell my jittery, smooth-faced self: Just keep going. Come to each day ready to learn. Trust that the days of strolling to the park and the beach and the library, of reading the same board books and wriggling slippery bodies into the bath, the monotony of simple tasks — trust that all of it will build into a larger picture.
Because he broke sprinklers, my son is now doing calculus. Because he blazed his path through childhood, he will blaze his path into adulthood. The investments I made in parenting, knowing nothing, but trusting in the process, are the best investments I’ve made in my life.
I sit on the couch with a great big boy of a man, realizing that my hard drive is full because my life is full.