One of my best memories growing up was my mom’s yearly ritual of making raspberry jam. The sweet, steamy smell in a kitchen scattered with stacks and stacks of flats of fresh raspberries, many huge pots bubbling at once. The buckets of sugar that went into those pots! All the rows of canning jars with their two part lids, the screw around part and the round center. Why did it have to be in two parts?
That jam had the most amazing taste, I could imagine I was Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm eating that jam. Like the raspberries grew right outside my window in a sunny patch of heaven. We would spread it on toast, with melted butter underneath and the butter and the jam would merge together in the tastiest salty-sweet combination. Long before chefs started adding sea salt to caramel, the salty butter-raspberry jam combo hit all those taste buds in the most delectable way. It was like eating a sunny summer day and she froze a lot of the jam so we could have that feeling all winter long.
She’d be sweaty and harried by the end of the day (my memory is that it took all day, and it must have) but at the end there would be this whole regiment of neatly lined up jars of jam. Loads of people got those as gifts and every one of them treasured the jam. In a time before eating sugar caused guilt it was a simply delicious experience, that jam.
Writing this makes me wonder what kind of memories I’ve given my kids. I wonder what they will reach back and think of when someone asks what was great about their childhood? What will they remember of me as a mom of young kids?
It won’t be raspberry jam or any of the other amazing things my mom baked (her peach pies were right up there with the jam). I like to cook but I’m not much of a baker, which is surprising given the amount I like sweets.
Will it be the afternoons we sat on the little couch on the side of the kitchen and had “Bookies and Cookies” time? I wonder if they even remember that.
I’d like to think they will remember all the nights I sat reading to them, first in a rocking chair and then on their beds. For years, every single night, even after they were skilled readers themselves. Even the times I fell asleep while reading out loud. (How do you do that? Fall asleep while words are still coming out of your mouth?)
Or the silly ‘Where’s My Spoon?’ game I made up, hiding a spoon in my sleeve or down the back of my pants only to make it magically appear. They were in awe of me then.
Or how often I let a pack of wild kids destroy the house in an epic battle of Nerf guns, Nerf bullets everywhere (we just moved and Nerf bullets came out from under almost every piece of furniture all these years later).
Or will they remember the places I took them, like skiing, something their dad doesn’t do? Or the beach, because I love the beach so much. I turn into relaxed mom at the beach. Permissive mom. Go-ahead-and-be-dangerous mom.
Like the time we got into a huge pillow fight in the hotel in Half Moon Bay – and how I stood laughing and defiant on the bed, face flushed, arms swinging wildly, while they stared at me in amazed delight (and a little bit of fear, I think).
That was the same trip I let them play on the beach in the pouring rain, let them jump over and over off of dangerously high sand dunes, while they continuously glanced at me to be sure I was really permitting this. Shrieking in excitement with each jump. And then sopping wet and cold we went for ice cream. Ice cream. Instead of “let’s get dried off before you get pneumonia.”
It makes me sad to think their first thoughts of me as a mom won’t be the fun mom. Probably not even their second or third thoughts. So maybe the Half Moon Bay experience will really stand out.
But it’s more likely they’ll remember the times I got absurdly angry. Like when I found my son, maybe 3 and daughter, 4, crouched in the raised sand box peeing. Both of them. I dragged them inside and sat them each in a dining room chair, one in the dining room and one in the family room (somehow it seemed important to separate them) and shaking with rage I slammed down the open windows so no one would hear me yelling and call social services. Then I stood between the two rooms and screamed back and forth, heart racing, voice vibrating in outrage. I asked the four year old, why did you do that? YOU know better and she pointed towards the other room and said “because he did” and I turned and yelled at him and then her, back and forth, voice cracking in anger. “Are you MONKEYS!? Do you think we live in a ZOO? Why would you pee in the sandbox!???”
And they couldn’t stop laughing and I couldn’t calm myself down but even in that moment I knew they would laugh at this until the end of time.
It is an unpredictable thing, memory.
As parents we can exhaust ourselves doing everything we think they need and want, trying to give them morals and skills and good memories but we can’t really control what they will remember. It seems unlikely it will be what we want them to remember. And probably not what we spent the most money on.
My parents spent a lot of money on us, comparatively. We went on nice trips, we had all the clothes we needed/wanted. We had the newest Encyclopedia Britannicas, nice cars, piles of Christmas presents.
What do I best remember?
The raspberry jam. The excitement of family arriving on Thanksgiving Day with the smell of the turkey in the oven from early in the morning. Staying up late to watch HBO movies with my dad (Serial, with Martin Mull, we laughed so hard). I remember my mom having a burping competition with my brother in the parking lot of a Cape May restaurant while my dad went in to see if they had a reservation for us. My dad balancing me on a raft in the surf in Ocean City, over and over helping me catch and ride waves. Hosting parties to watch the Steelers while we all waved Terrible towels with amazing food in every single room (everyone wanted an invitation to our parties, in large part due to my mom’s extraordinary food). Sitting around the dinner table in debate, my dad seeming willing to take any opposite side just to get us to think critically. Challenging us to open our minds and support our arguments with well-crafted questions.
It strikes me that the good memories that surface are the things my parents themselves cared about most. The things that brought them joy. My mom was (and is) a passionate cook and baker. Her excitement and love for good food made these memories for me. My dad was a skilled debater and loved a good movie (still does both).
In these days when it feels like we are checklist parents, when we are so continuously connected online so we see what every other parent is doing, it is only too easy to feel compelled to keep adding experiences for our kids. I worry that we haven’t traveled enough with our kids, I worry that I haven’t taken them camping (actually I don’t worry about that, I hate camping), I wonder if we should have taken snorkel lessons together or done a train trip.
But then I think of my good memories growing up and how it was the stuff that my mom and dad each loved that made so many of my happy memories.
This is a huge relief to me, because I have my own passions, as does my husband. Maybe what my kids will remember will have something to do with reading or writing or running, or Costco trips, or the joy of having a TV in every room, or mentoring, or maybe a little something about baseball (I’ll leave it a mystery who brought each of these passions, me or their dad, or maybe not such a mystery at that).
So maybe it isn’t about a checklist at all, maybe it is the joy we bring (which cannot be faked, or bought) that will leave the good memories.
And of course they will always have the shared memory of the joy of peeing in the sandbox.
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