Shoring up memories with our children is like watching last night’s “super blood moon.”
The moon’s uncommon closeness to Earth last night made it appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than normal. In a coincidental phenomenon, the moon’s redness during the eclipse was caused by sunlight bouncing off the earth’s round horizon and landing on the moon. In a way (if by a stretch), it was like watching a thousand sunsets.
Last night, we woke up our children and carried them outside to watch the supermoon eclipse. I revived the embers we had left smoldering in our outdoor fireplace, added a few thin sycamore logs to the heap and sat in an Adirondack chair, holding our son. Next to us, my wife held our daughter.
Then my wife dropped a bombshell: “Kids, the next time this special moon happens, Annie will be 20. Jonah will be 23.” She looked at me. “We’ll be in our late 40s.”
A common forecast, I know, and one easily made any time of night or day, regardless of lunar phases and events. But in that moment, with the moon marking the time like a clock in the sky, time’s fleeting nature seemed almost tangible.
I was struck by how haltingly the earth’s shadow appeared to progress across the moon, at first advancing so rapidly that we thought our kids would miss it, then holding back in a state of perpetual imminence. Its starts and stops were illusory, dependent not on the moon’s motion (hurtling through space at a constant 2,288 mph), but on how frequently we looked up at it, and for how long.
Even those who didn’t see last night’s moon know that our growing children set a similar pace. As new parents, we all were told (probably to our annoyance) by everyone, whether they knew us or not, how quickly our children would grow up. Years later, our pantry door frames (or your equivalent) are striped thigh-, waist- and shoulder-high with penciled notations of heights, names and dates. These testify to the age-old parenting prophecy, “blink, and you’ll miss it.”
How did those half-inch increments sneak in under our noses? And all during months (and moons) when our attention was fixed firmly on our kids?
Some seasons of parenting progress so slowly that we think they will never end, until suddenly, they pass into memory. And not only seasons, but hours: in the 180 minutes separating my work day from my kids’ bedtime, I flip a dozen times between “We just started” and “How long will this take,” “Isn’t it bedtime?” and “Bedtime already?” When I finally tuck them in, our bright moments together slip into the shadows. I switch on their globe nightlight as I exit their dark room and shut the door behind me. The eclipse is full.
The irony of bothering to watch an eclipse is that, by definition, you are seeing less, not more, of what you are looking at. Almost every night, we need only look skyward to see the beaming, fluorescent moon, be it full or crescent. A lunar eclipse, by contrast, shows the moon in the shade, as its observers (us) block the very sunlight that gives the moon its luminosity. In one sense, watching a lunar eclipse is almost foolish.
But only as foolish as enjoying a memory, which works the same way. Obviously, any experiences we live out with our children in real time are brighter, so to speak, than the brightest memories of them. But our experiences parenting our kids are routinely eclipsed by earthly bodies in whose orbit we are caught: work, school, sleep, spouses, our other children and their friends. The experiences themselves do not keep; our comparatively dim memories of them do. That is why we should go out of our way to rack up as many as possible.
Our own children succumbed to grogginess soon after the moon turned into a ruddy ember, about the same time our fire retreated back into its red coals. Similarly, last night’s flash of experience quickly passed out of reality, and took its place as one among a thousand memories. It has good company.