I wake up around 5 a.m. most mornings, whether it is a weekend or not, and in about two hours our oldest, Riley, will be up and roaming the house looking for me.
It’s 6:15 a.m. now, and I’m typing feverishly to get these thoughts down before he wakes up.
On weekends he will find me in the den, reading a noir novel, burning incense, covered in an afghan my mother made years ago, one of many she has knit at my request, and now at the childrens’ requests too.
She must spend her spare time choosing colors, unspooling yarn, and slowly twisting hand over hand, teasing a blanket out of cotton or wool while she watches her evening shows, Dancing With the Stars or The Bachelorette.
Our oldest son will often creak the door and shout “I’m here” far too loudly for this early hour and request a bowl of ‘peanuts,’ which are actually mixed nuts with rice snacks tossed in.
Then I’ll build him a fort by tossing the afghan over some foot stools.
Maybe I’ll make it through a few more lines in a detective novel before my son blurts out ‘excuse me, excuse me’ and asks that we play ‘Where’s Riley?’, which consists of me tromping around the room and wondering aloud where my son might have gone until he pokes his head out from under the fort and shouts ‘I’m here!’.
I want to bottle these mornings, these days, these evenings. They should last forever and never dissipate like memory inevitably will. I want to believe that these children will stay this age and we will never grow old, weak or sick.
It is all of this that leaves me wringing my hands over preserving what I can so our children will understand what this time was like when they were young.
We have plenty of jobs as parents, but early in our kids’ lives they boil down to the basics: keep them safe, healthy, stimulated, and well-fed. But it is the documentation of what seems inconsequential in the moment that concerns me most.
I obsess over photos, their organization, how best to save the digital format, and much of my time throughout the day is shot through with a sense of failure as a parent for having not made enough photo albums, not having written enough about each child for each child, for not having recorded enough of their small voices.
Adding to the urgency, everyone reminds me how quickly this time will evaporate.
We’ve been given birthday books for recording who arrived at each party, what the theme was, and what gifts were received.
There are medical checkup books to document head circumference, weight, length, height, and percentile. There are first-day-of-school books, and journaling books, and cleverly packaged stacks of envelopes for parents to write regular letters to their future-adult-children.
I have all of these books.
They sit half-used and stacked beside my desk, crying out for attention. Should I hand write my letters to the children or is it okay to type? Did I miss the chance to document our semi-annual interview with our 4-year-old to find out his favorite food is still pizza?
My mother kept photo albums for me and my sisters. She labored over placement of each photo, recorded the date and location, made them in duplicate, and when my youngest sister was born, in triplicate.
I am reminded of how diligently my mom preserved my elementary school projects when I carry the overstuffed boxes from the attic of one house to the attic of the next.
And now the burden of preservation lies with me.
I’ve taken to archiving photos from mine and my husband’s phones into folders organized by year. I buy external hard drives and regularly back them up. Then I buy more hard drives, and I back those up.
I created email addresses for each of our kids and I email them every few months. I will attach a special photo or video, this one of our son’s bloody mouth after he lost his first tooth from a fall in the driveway, and at the end of almost every email, I am crying.
My mom’s own obsessions have shifted from photo books and school projects to afghans. Every knit preserves a moment that she has given, selflessly, to me and my own children. And for all of the photos that have faded and ‘first books’ and dusty construction paper creations and so much else she has saved and given me, nothing keeps me as warm as the soft cotton of her afghans.
It is now 6:50 am; I hear footsteps across a room and the rattle of a doorknob. Riley stumbles in, I pick him up and sit him on my lap.
While he watches me type this he asks ‘why do you draw like a hermit crab with your fingers’, he doesn’t know about typing yet, and I have to thank him for that while I close my computer to get him his “peanuts.”
Alex Rodgers is a contributing writer for Central Penn Parent operating under a pen name. Central Penn Parent’s editors know the writer and have agreed to keep his name anonymous.
Alex and his husband are the proud and exhausted parents of three children under 5 years old. When he’s not chasing after kids, Alex escapes to his professional job in Central Pennsylvania.