My first-born daughter is turning 18 years old, plans are mounting for her heading off to college next year, and I am dealing with a wave of nostalgia. I ogle toddlers and tell their parents random stories about my girls when they were that age. I look wistfully at the incredibly cute size 2T shoes and socks.
But when I ask my daughters if they remember when we went here or there, or saw this or that, they usually say “No.”
No? How can they not remember the dragon boat races in Queens, or riding the Staten Island Ferry? What about all those trips to the Brooklyn and Manhattan Children’s Museums and all those playgrounds we explored in parks?
Nothing. Nada. Neither of my kids has more than a hazy recollection from those early years when I made a point of dragging them all over the place, riding in the first car of subways to look at the tracks, eating crepes in SOHO, seeing the Junie B. Jones play in the Village.
Was it worth it? Or should I have just plopped them down in front of the TV for the first five years of their lives, saved myself the trouble of packing all those necessary accoutrements, and started doing things with them at some later age? Have they gotten anything out of those early excursions?
I desperately want to believe schlepping them around in a stroller and backpack, picnicking on the Hudson and listening to lunchtime summer concerts in the World Trade Center plaza made a difference, shaped them into adventurous, interested, curious kids who will take that into adulthood.
Honestly, though, I don’t know, in part because they don’t either. They act as if some alien zapped them with a memory-erasing ray gun and those early years have been wiped away. So much of early childhood is like that — it obviously happened, but there’s little evidence except for random photos, the occasional surviving souvenir, and the sentimental memories of parents.
I want to trust I did something, had some influence, but there’s so little proof. I just have to have faith that it made a difference even though the experiences have disappeared from the narrative of their lives.
Not so long ago, my younger daughter dragged me to a Tim Burton exhibit and my older daughter started finding music to hear with friends. There we were, exploring, finding things that peeked their curiosity, heading out into our big city to discover. I wanted to claim responsibility for this instinct. Here was the proof of my influence, right?
Who knows? They have become young women who want to do things and go places. Whatever got them to this point, I’ll take it.
And all that time and energy dragging them around town wasn’t wasted, no matter what.
You know why? Because I really liked the New York Hall of Science and all those plays about fairies and animals.
And I’ll always remember having fun with my kids.
We made memories together, whether they remember them or not.Read The Dad every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.