Saturday, March 14, 2009

Off the Record

Toby is curled in the fetal position.

He’s in bed, tucked-in for the night, and the room is all shadows, his moon light shining brightly enough to set the rounded curve of his cheek softly aglow. He’s lying as still as a glass-blown doll, and in this moment like every other, I fail to understand how he can look so delicate and so durable all at once.

“I’m a egg,” he tells me, and I can see it now: his dinosaur-patterned comforter is drawn around his coiled body like a stretchy, leathery shell. His legs wiggle slightly underneath like some reptilian creature depicted on the Discovery Channel. “I’m an egg with yellow stripes and when I hatch, I will be your pet.”

Ah. Well in that case: goodnight, my pet.

I kiss him, or rather, I try to, because he has an evasive thing going on these days, and retreat to the quiet of the living room. The second I sit down on the couch and reach for the TV remote, he calls to me.

I sigh.

I get up, I pad down the hallway, and I stand at the foot of his bed and ask him what he needs (what could he need, fifteen seconds since I saw him last?).

“Actually,” he says, as though we had never ceased talking, “I don’t have stripes. I’m green. All green, but not like shamrocks. Like…summer.”

Oh.

Must. Write. That. Down. (Then perhaps steal it unabashedly...Green Like Summer has a nice ring to it, no?)


*****



When I was young, my mom would tape record random conversations with my sister and me.

It wasn‘t creepy, I promise! It was actually a beautiful thing to do. She‘d pop a blank cassette tape into the deck (this was the 80s, remember) just as we were getting home from school, hit record, and effortlessly capture all the stomping of boots, zipping of backpacks, and slamming of cupboards doors as we procured snacks and sank down onto stools around the kitchen table to chat about school and friends and all other manner of childhood highs and lows.

The purpose of the tapes was to record these everyday moments for my grandmother, who would receive them in the mail, each one dated and layered in bubble-wrap and deposited into a manila envelope, but I happen to know that my mom loved to play them back just as much. The sound quality was abysmal, each laugh and excited interruption higher pitched than the last, the grating screech of chair legs against hardwood and forks against plates inevitably overwhelming the more melodic notes of girlish conversation, but it was hauntingly magical all the same: voices disembodied, caught and held at age six…eight…maybe ten before we began to protest, insisting instead on telling our secrets to pen and paper or friends on the phone.

Fast forward 20 years. With all the technology at our fingertips today, why do I not have anything like this for my children? I would love to have, for instance, Toby’s egg conversation entered as evidence onto the official record of his childhood. Oh, I try to document things, in my own way. Exhibit A: this very journal. I also snap photos diligently and take video when the event warrants the extra effort. But these big moments? They’re not what we’re in danger of forgetting, are they? It’s the little things: the random observations on the passing view out a car window, the early morning bickering on the daily commute to school, the recap of an average day over an average dinner, the subtle tug-o-war between siblings over the punch line of a joke or the momentary spotlight…these are the moments teetering on the brink extinction, aren’t they?

If so, here’s another little snippet of a conversation I wish I’d had the foresight to add to the official record:

(Car ride. Date: March 10, 2009. Music playing in the CD deck: Star Wars Overture)

Toby: You’re the very most awesome mom.
(A minute before, I had managed to catch his banana before it hit the floor.)
Me: (genuinely stunned) Wow. Really?
I think perhaps I crave his approval too much.
Toby: Mmhmmm.
Me: (hiding behind humor) I do try, you know.
Toby: Well, Mom, I’ve noticed.

One more, this one between Nate and his friend Conley, who was spending the night.

(Date: March 13, 2009. During: dinner. Eating: pizza.)

Conley: Which Harry Potter are you on?
Nate: Oh, five!
Conley: I’ve read all of them, and my favorite thing is--
Me: (arms flailing from the kitchen) Wait! Don’t tell them anything that happens!

(I’ve worked a bit manically to keep my kids away from all things HP on the internet and in movie theaters until they’ve read the books.)

Conley: Ok. But if you’re on Book Five, then has Harry had dreams about Voldemort?
Nate: (nodding happily) Uh huh!
Conley: Have they started Dumbledore’s Army?
Nate: Yeah!
Conley: Oh, then has Sirius died?
pause
Nate: Whaaaaaaa?

Uh oh.

But writing all this down provides only a tenth at best of the effect of the audio recordings of my childhood. Lost here of course are those eerie but gut-wrenchingly familiar voices, captured in pre-adolescence, the sounds of the home, the road, the soundtrack of that particular place and time…the gentle drone of the TV, the noise created by a family of four (or five).

I bet those cassettes are still stored somewhere, at the bottom of a box filled with scrapbooks or schoolwork, or wrapped in tissue in the manner of Christmas ornaments. Fragile. Handle with Care.

In fact, I bet any one of you five bucks that my mom could lay her hands on one within 10 minutes. (I bet she’s already looking.)

I hope she finds them.
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