Snapshots by Annie Flavin
I take a picture of her
in my mind.
I record her words
in my heart.
If I can, I snap a picture.
If I can, I write it down.
I do this for the day
she yells at me,
or mumbles under her breath
if she’s learned anything at all,
“I hate you”
or “You don’t understand me”
or “It’s not fair”
in ten years.
let it be ten years
before that is here.
It will still feel like it is tomorrow.
I do this for tomorrow
when she melts down into a puddle of a child
before nap time.
I do this for myself so that
I can calmly scoop her up
and into my arms
I remember her.
in her pink tutu and ruby red slippers,
frolics down the street
brushing the blond wisps of hair
out of her blue moon eyes.
“Mama, I love you like a rainbow loves.
Big and colourful, and so big.”
Hop, skip, twirl.
Light, free, joy.
The sun shines brightly
on what’s left of her blond pig tails.
I use these snapshots to pad my heart.
For all of the tomorrows to come.
I read this poem this week and a big knot of a thing jumped up into my throat and gripped onto all the space there. “Mama, I love you like a rainbow loves. Big and colourful, and so big.”
Hop, skip, twirl.
Light, free, joy.
“Mummy, stay with me”, she says, and I relent. I snuggle down with her and pick up another book because if I know anything about life, it’s that this is it. This moment. She slides her left arm over my chest and rests her head on my shoulder and I catch myself inhaling – like a reflex – because the smell of her hair is where I can smell the smell of her the strongest. And right then, I feel it: the pink tutus and the ruby red slippers and the mama I love you like a rainbow and what’s left of her blond pigtails– I feel all those things slide from the poem in my mind and wedge themselves into my heart, and I lie there smelling her hair not just knowing but FEELING that soon, these things will be gone. Replaced, maybe, by other good and beautiful things, but gone nonetheless.
I will always be sentimental about these things. I will always take a lot of photos and prioritise my life so that being there to witness and savour my children’s childhood is high on the list. I, too, take these snapshots to pad my heart for the tomorrows to come, because I know like I know the sun will go down tonight that I will miss the mispronounced words and the hands searching for mine and the unicorns and rainbows, the skipping and twirling and hopping. I will miss these things like a lost part of myself because these children — these free, whimsical children….they change me.
But – and there’s always a but – it’s one thing to appreciate the days you are in, to document bits and pieces as a way of staying grateful, and another to grip like crazy to time, to record every new word, every enjoyable moment and every change like our lives depend on it. Buying into scarcity is not the answer…this won’t last…there is not enough…hoard and keep and grip on while you can….
“We are children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.” ~Pema Chodron
We build sandcastles not for their permanence but for the sheer love of the process itself – finding the perfect shells to adorn, moats to surround and leaves to embellish. We know that tide’s coming. We know. But we build anyway, because like the Tibetan monks who spends days and months creating mandalas only to have them blow away in the wind, we understand that the point is not is in the finish but in the middle.
My children are my sandcastles.
And so, as they grow, I work hard to take note of their loveliness, to enjoy them as much as I can. I work hard to be present, to say yes, to suck the marrow even on the bad days. And I prepare myself as much as I can to watch these little sandcastles I’ve built dissolve back into the sea — to love who my children are right now, at three, at ten, at thirty…all the way to the end of Time.
Because the sea, with its tides and its currents, its pushes and its pulls, is a force greater than us. And if we’re smart enough, quick enough, we learn to swim — taking each ebb with its matching flow. We swim with our children, separated by tides and islands and a few stray boats, but it’s the same ocean. And once we’re afloat, moving, feet kicking, arms gliding, we get it. We finally, finally get it.
Time is not Fleeting.
Time is Forever.