Nostalgia is a Bitch, Y’all
I was standing in my living room with my mother. Two eight year olds were battling with Lightsabers around our knees. Since I wasn’t wearing a protective cup at the time, I was shielding my crotch with both hands, not the most intelligent look for having a proper conversation.
“Believe it or not,” my mother yelled over the bedlam. “One day you’re going to miss all of this.”
I mean, I know that’s what is supposed to happen. In a perfect world, I’d live to be this arthritic, stooped old guy and I’d think back affectionately to those times of screaming Lightsaber duels, but, at this rate, I wonder if I’ll have this half fried brain and look back on my life and say, “What the hell just happened?”
Miss it? Really? These days I can’t even pull off something as simple as a trip the bathroom. One of three things will happen if I sit on the toilet at my house, and not one of them is something that should happen in a restroom.
The first would be some type of incident that involves one of my children bleeding profusely. “Dad!” a child will breathlessly report after they sling open the bathroom door, almost causing me to capsize off the toilet. “Elliot accidentally hit Wayne on the head with a shovel! Again!”
(My house was designed by an architect. Instead of a normal door in the master bath, he put in some artsy-fartsy sliding door that’s impossible to lock.)
Another thing that could happen should I sit on the toilet is the neighbor will come to collect her missing children. She allows them to sneak over to my house almost every day. I don’t care, what’s one more blur running around? But then she has to play out this tiresome charade about having no idea where her children might have wandered off to for the fourth time that week. Wilkins will answer her knock on the door and I’ll be able to hear what’s happening and I won’t be able to do anything about it.
“Are Matthew and Julia here?”
“They’ve been here all day.”
“Oh goodness. Well, I better apologize to your parents. Can I speak to your mom or dad?”
“Mom’s gone,” Wilkins will say. “And Dad’s in the bathroom taking a dump. He said it’s going to be a huge one.” There will be a long staring impasse of indecision, then Wilkins will yell, “DAD! JULIA AND MATTHEW’S MOMMA IS HERE! SHE LOST HER KIDS…. AGAIN!”
Or, another possibility should nature call, will be my daughter standing in the open bathroom doorway, holding her nose as she belts out the latest solo she’s practicing for her school performing group. (Perhaps this is the one positive thing that can happen. If she can play to that room, I guess she can play anywhere.)
So while Calgon sold us a bill of goods about the bathroom being a place of refuge, there just isn’t a place to hide from the storm of my life. Even this simplest act, an act which begs to be conducted in peace, is impossible to pull off. I love my children and my wife, but sometimes I feel like my head is about to explode.
And now my mother says I will miss this? Do I have to? Why can’t life simply be about the progression from beginning to end? Can’t I just appreciate the stage I’m in now?
No, I can’t. By our very nature we are destined to look back. And that’s where nostalgia steps in.
My college degree is in history. One thing I learned was how the telling of any story or event adapts over time. A good example of this is the old dinner party trick where you quietly tell one person a brief story, then have the story repeated around to each and every person there, with the last person bringing the story back to you. (Obviously I go to wild and crazy dinner parties.) When it comes back, your basic story will be the same. Clunky details will be omitted. Someone might add a little zing to one part of it. In a sense, the group will usually improve the story that is told. The Bible is great example of this. (I’m a Christian, but I also acknowledge that the Bible was shaped over the ages by many hands and its primary focus is to sell a religion.)
Nostalgia is not totally different. Nostalgia is a longing for the past at arm’s length. It is little more than a mirage of history. We use nostalgia to sell things, to win political arguments, and to compare ourselves to others. Nostalgia is also the practice where parents like me, often with the aid of alcohol or narcotics, will erase all the terrible events that happened while raising their children.
These are not words of bitterness, but reality.
Do I worship my children?
Do I have any regrets about my life with my children or with my wife?
Not a single one.
Do I truthfully want to go back to that exact point in time where my wife returned from that doctor’s visit and threw her first bottle of prenatal vitamins at me?
Not on your life.
I’m not knocking the things behind me. I understand that I’m a better man because of my experiences, that doesn’t mean I want to experience everything that made me a better man all over again.
I love watching my wife talk about childbirth. She’ll get a little teary as she reminisces about the miracle of pregnancy and what a beautiful, life affirming experience childbirth was.
I was in the room for all three of those deliveries, one involved twins, and the end result was wonderful beyond words. The actual process that brought the kids out of her body, not so much. And it certainly wasn’t for the woman lying on that bed, who, during one childbirth, bit my hand, stared at me with Charlie Manson eyes, and screamed, “I don’t care what you’ve got to do, but get this damn thing out of me RIGHT NOW!”
Ahh, yes, I remember that well. Good times, good times.