“Do you remember going to Gymboree in Miami?” I ask my son out of curiosity. We’ve been living in New York for about two months now and I’m wondering how much he remembers of his life before moving here.
“Not sure,” he says, furrowing his brow.
“They had a parachute there,” I prod. He looks up and smiles.
“And bubbles!” he says, lifting his hands up over his head to show me where they were.
““Yes!” I say. “And bubbles. So you do remember!”
But he’s forgetting. The year we spent in Miami took up a little more than half his life but, soon, he won’t remember it at all. In a few years he’ll come home from school with a map of the United States wondering which ones he’s visited. “Have I been to Texas? Connecticut? What about Florida?” And we’ll tell him we lived in Florida. For a whole year. And he’ll look at us blankly.
It’s not so much that I want him to remember Miami. Or even the places we went or the things we did. It was a strange and lonely year we spent there. Difficult in many ways. And I’m glad we’re back in New York. But he achieved so much there. He learned to stand and then to walk. To understand language and then to speak. To climb and run and dig and play. All in a place he’ll never remember.
But this is how it works, I guess. He’s supposed to forget. It’s just that it’s so much more apparent because he’s not only forgetting what it was like to be a little baby. He’s forgetting an entirely different life we lived. People, places, routines, all gone. Soon our “new home” will just be “home” and Miami will be a word on a map, not a place full of memories.
And I’m forgetting too. Not the big things like his first word (“done”) or the place where he took his first step (Gymboree). But the little things. Like how it felt to go for a walk with him for the first time. Both of us walking, without the stroller. Or the hours I spent lying on the gray carpet watching him play.
Swimming in the pool. Looking at ants. Which books were his favorites then? Which toys? The way he spoke at first and how it changed as he picked up more language. The things he thought were funny. The things that scared him. His favorite foods. His favorite places. The way he looked without teeth.
This kitchen is not the place he made his first batch of cookies. This bathtub is not where he took his first real bath. He didn’t pull himself up on that cabinet, or cruise holding onto that wall. We can’t point to the places where any of those milestones happened. They exist only in my (not altogether reliable) memory. And they’re fading fast from his.
In Miami my son was my constant companion. The antidote to my loneliness. The sunshine on my gloomy days. He filled my mind so I didn’t have to think about how homesick I was. He filled my time so that I didn’t have to sit idle and alone. He filled my heart so that the time we spent there meant something. And he doesn’t remember.
Like a little computer, his memory is periodically wiped clean to make room for new data. And I find myself searching through his “recently deleted” folder, trying to hit “restore.” Do you remember this? And this? And this? What about this?
Do you remember what we were to each other then? How much it meant to me that you were there? How your little hand in mine buoyed me up and your laughter made me smile? But he doesn’t. He shouldn’t. Those are grown-up thoughts. And grown-up needs.
And he’s still that little boy who got me through a tough time. Those eyes looking into mine are still his eyes. His hand in mine is still his hand. Even if he doesn’t remember. Even if he never will. And even if I forget a little bit too. It’s okay. It still happened. It’s part of us.