Celebrating our 20th themed party. Last weekend we had a Pokemon party.
Chocolate heaven. I remember the aroma of chocolate that impregnated the whole house. Mum used to bake delicious treats for our birthdays and chocolate cake was her specialty. A bit muddy in the centre and crusty on top. Decades later I still recall those special days. It doesn’t matter how hard we work to leave our children real state assets and unearned money, most of what we really leave behind are memories. Memories of who we are, the time we spent together and the essence of our relationships. One of the most powerful sources of memories of my childhood are birthday parties, mine and of my siblings’. We didn’t have that many parties and they weren’t fancy but I still vividly and fondly remember them. It’s funny I have no recollections of the gifts we received but memories of the experience and the emotions it recalls on me is as fresh as my mum’s bread oozing with melted cheese waiting to cool in the kitchen table.
It’s no surprise then that I was naturally drawn to creating similar memories for my kids and wow how time flies, I’ve just celebrated our 20th birthday party last weekend. It doesn’t matter how busy I am with work and everything else, every year I manage to whip up two memorable parties (well, if they’re as memorable for the kids as they’re for me it’s unclear). It’s always a lot of work and painful paper cuts but I enjoy the late nights in this labour of love. I feel as excited as the kids, planing, organising, baking and sometimes I spend so many hours on these projects that I ask myself why, why… the kids would be as happy with an indoor playground party. But I feel it’s the little things that colour our lives and each family has their little things. For our family one of these little things is making birthdays extra special days.
I remember a family when I was growing up that didn’t celebrate birthdays. The father used to say that every day was special so he didn’t have to single one out. This sounds good in principle but in reality we are too distracted with life to make every day special. It just doesn’t happen. Our day of birth is a great opportunity to remind ourselves and our children that we are more than a speck of dust in the universe and that yes, every day is special but we need to stop and acknowledge it. All memories aren’t created equal. We are most likely to keep memories that are associated with emotions. If everyday is the same routine with no emotional experiences our memories of our early life will not be as colourful.
Long before I had children I realised that a birthday party can send a powerful message to a child. I was going to church back then and there was this migrant family whose mother had returned to their home country in Africa for a few months and the father was left with the kids. They had a daughter who was turning five and it broke my heart to think she wouldn’t have a cake, that no one would be singing happy birthday in celebration of her life. I ended up organising a party for her. I will never forget the sparkle with joy in her eyes when she arrived in the church hall and found it had been decorated for her. She held a smile on her face the entire party. That kind of smile that says “I’m special, I was noticed.” I can’t tell if one event like that can have a lasting impact on someone’s life but I’d like to think that any positive impact, even if temporary, makes the world a better place.
I sometimes think of starting a charity organisation to provide birthday parties for children in foster care. I imagine that most of these kids don’t get to celebrate their birthdays. How cruel is it to remember your childhood and think that no one cared enough to celebrate your birthday. No memories of cakes, piñatas, pass-the-parcel. I don’t know if there is a market for it, I don’t know if I have the energy to make this happen, at present it’s only an idea, but as my kids get older they will require less labour intensive parties and I feel like I could share the joy to other addresses. If you are a foster family reading this, please leave a comment, let me know if you think there is a need for a service like this.
Thanks for reading and hope you are creating colourful memories for yourself and your loved ones.
First day at school – the backpack was as big as him.
The rain is falling on my window pane setting the perfect mood for this nostalgic Sunday afternoon of sifting through hundreds of moments frozen for digital eternity. I’ve procrastinated this task for a few weeks but today I rolled up my sleeves and sat in front to the computer with a pack of biscuits, a coffee and a mission: to find photos for my son’s end of primary school video. It was a retrospective look at the last seven years of our lives and it didn’t happen without smiles and tears.
I knew this day was coming and I’m grateful that I was able to participate in all transitions, from cot to playground to pre-school to primary school and now high school. But my heart clenches at the thought that from now on it’ll be more of me trying to get involved in his life than him in mine. I got used to him not reaching for my hand when we walk, saying ‘stop embarrassing me’ when I hug him in public and complaining when he has to join the family in our outings. I’m uncertain what’s going to be the next step of independence.
Looking at the images today made me realise that time is moving faster as my children get older. Perhaps because every time I look back there are more and more memories to remind me of what life once was, how cute they were, how much younger I looked. Sometimes I want to get back to the past to revisit those moments, make them last a bit longer. Other times I’m just happy that some of those moments are just a memory.
But what scares me is that some of these memories are just a vague recollection. These are the moments that I think I wasn’t as present as I should have. I was either too busy or life got in the way of living and if it wasn’t for the photographs some memories would just evaporate as if they had never existed.
That’s when I remind myself that I have to slow down and stop the auto-pilot because you can really only appreciate life if you are present to experience it and I want to look back at the end of Year 12 having not only collected memories but feeling and appreciating the different stages of life.
Now if you excuse me, someone is calling me to play with Pokemon cards 🙂
Smart phones have turned everyone of us into photographers and curators of images to share on social media, but what I saw in the Sydney Running Festival last week took the concept of taking photos to a whole new level. This runner in front of me was holding a selfie stick and as I passed him by I could see him adjusting the stick while smiling at the camera. Talk about multitasking! I can’t imagine how anyone would run 21KM holding a stick – in addition to being a safety hazard it slows you down and in my view prevents you from paying attention to everything else, the race, the scenery, other runners. I don’t know if this runner did hold the stick all the way to the finish line and this is probably an extreme example, but what I find really sad is that in many situations we see people capturing the moment instead of enjoying the moment. Instead of looking at the rainbow we reach out to our phones to photograph the rainbow. We can look at it later when it’s on Facebook when our friends are liking it.
When we only had 24 pictures per roll we were much more mindful with what memories to record, we waited patiently to have them printed and placed in the album or shared with friends. We enjoyed the moment first, the photos came second.
I’m not suggesting that we should stop photographing. The photos we take and collect tell an interesting story about us and the world we live in. There are so many beautiful, provocative and curious events and things that illustrate our lives and it’s important to keep a record of them. But I’m arguing that the rush to digitally record every moment doesn’t make our lives more meaningful. Scientists even suggest that this mindless photo taking is ruining our memories.
I suspect that this need to capture every moment is fueled by our desire to show to the world how busy and important we are. Only the best snaps will be loaded on Facebook or Instagram to present ourselves in the light we think is most appropriate. In our hyper-connected world we need to be seen doing something exciting. You can no longer just sit and enjoy the sunshine at the beach. You must ensure you capture a nice image to share. That’s a lot of pressure to always be on the look out for excitement. The mind doesn’t get a break – when it does, we ensure it gets entertained with our phones, either by producing content or searching something online, reading the latest feeds, checking email or watching silly videos.
By sharing mindless photos and content online we are only contributing to the noise. So it would be really helpful if next time we feel the urge to grab our phones to photograph our breakfast, we take a step back and think if wouldn’t it be better to enjoy the experience instead? We probably will never look at that photo again and our friends won’t really like a cold coffee.