You know that feeling when you occasionally have an incredible dream of being in a place you’ve always wanted to visit, and the vivid detail all around you is staggeringly life-like, and you feel an overwhelming sense of wellbeing and euphoria, only to wake up and realise your subconscious has been wildly active and you are lying in your familiar bedroom and a new day in the real world beckons! Sometimes these sorts of dreams have really left me wishful that my brain could be as creative in the hours I’m awake…conjuring up such brilliant places that feel so ‘real’.
For the last two days I have had the strongest and strangest sense of having been in one of those dreams and being granted permission to stay in that ‘other world’ for a while. To linger a little longer and to dwell in another realm of being, and to avoid that abrupt moment of waking up and the ensuing disappointment realising ‘it was only a dream’. This may sound bizarre, but I have felt this from watching countless videos of our dear children from about 7 years ago.
Revisiting their younger selves has left me with such a feeling of ‘other worldliness’ that although these very humans of which I write are still very much themselves, in this very house (day in and day out due to home schooling circumstances, yet bigger and wiser of course) currently energetically dancing to a Playstation game, I feel totally transported back in time to a complete other world and I love how it feels as though I’ve gotten to meet and interact with them again when they were so small!
With no deliberate intention of being swept up in these waves of nostalgia, it started with me trying to find a photo that came to mind, that rests tucked away in a folder on a hard drive that usually stays in a safe place. Our daughter Emma was sitting with me at the time and we clicked on one of the videos from May 2014 and became quickly engrossed in hearing the sound of her and her brother’s childlike voices. Sounds that had long receded into my brain, I had forgotten the pitch and intonation of the words that came from their precious little mouths. From that moment and all the subsequent clicks on the sideways triangle of the Play button on the computer screen, I feel as though I dived into warm, turquoise waters of remembering, perfect summer sunshine piercing through, and the joy of things long forgotten being rediscovered, as I swam and swam through the life we once lived and reminisced about the people we once were.
Perhaps the intensity of my feelings is due in part to the fact that I feel a profound sense of my life being split in two. There’s my pre-cancer-diagnosis life when I was in the phase of living that many young people who have just finished their 20s are, for my husband Dave and I this involved working hard, extra studying and parenting two young children. Then there is my life post-cancer-diagnosis from age 32 when we were forced to re-evaluate the trajectory we had ‘planned’ for our lives, and confronted with the reality that seemingly healthy young, strong bodies can sometimes go awry, and that real life is utterly fragile and days ahead are not always guaranteed as they had somehow, up to that point, ‘felt’ to be.
I had paged through photobooks of this period of our lives, but I had not watched these videos of my kids when they were so much younger until this week. So busy living in the absolute present of each shiny new day that has come my way for the last six and a half years, since the beginning of my ‘Second new life’, I’ve been intently focused on that and also satisfied with watching these children blossom into their current nine- and twelve-year-old selves.
Maybe I was also trying to guard my heart a little by not returning to who these young children were when life tripped us up and Mom got sick. When I used to see photos of how small and innocent they were, every motherly protective fibre in my being felt useless in trying to ‘protect’ them from this harsh reality, and the fact that cancer will always be as commonplace in our family as the flu virus. And those of us who are parents know just how strong that protective desire is, it consumes you when you give birth to a child. So by not being reminded of just how little and vulnerable they were I thought I was saving myself some of that difficult emotion. We are a strange, complex species when it comes to how we cope sometimes.
The last time I saw the video of our two-year-old Jack repeating Dave’s sentences of ‘Get well soon Mommy’ ‘Love you Mommy’ through his big blue dummy, looking at the phone screen through his first pair of glasses, was when I sat in the hospital bed the day after the mastectomy that I was so relieved to have, just to know that the best attempt had been made by my surgeon, to chop as much of this cancer from my body as possible. And the one of our daughter coyly hiding behind our old bedroom curtain saying ‘We miss you Mommy’ to the phone, her discomfort and knowledge that something was wrong so evident in her body language, although I imagine in the next minute she was off to play a fun distracting game with our dear housekeeper Happiness who kept the mood in our house light and playful. They were so young and so ignorant of the harsh realities of the world they had been born into, and this largely protected them from that year in our family’s life.
It was emotional watching these videos with them the other day, but it also reminded us all of how brave we were. I hear enthusiasm and cheer in my voice when I interacted with them. Although I can acutely remember the despair and depression I felt, hearing myself like this reminded me that I stayed cheerful and upbeat for them. “We didn’t know how strong you had to be Mom” Emma remarked after watching these. Bless these beautiful kids.
Joy, wonder and awe have filled my being at having the privilege of meeting our little kids again. I am so grateful that we live in this age that yes, sometimes has us fatigued and wishing for ‘simpler’ times when the technological pace wasn’t quite as quick and slick, but Oh Thank you God for modern cell phones and the ability to easily capture moments in our children’s lives to look back on one day!
The definition of Nostalgia according to the Cambridge dictionary is: a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past. Watching a video of our son waking up and smiling at me behind his dummy makes me simultaneously so grateful to relive this beautiful moment, but also filled with longing to reach into the phone and stroke his soft baby cheek as my 7 year-younger-hand does in the video. Our daughter excitedly kicking her six month old legs on the bed of our old bedroom, has me longing to lie next to her and breathe in her baby scent, but how thankful I am to now know her mind and character and to keep learning more about who she is, through the words she can now speak (and speak them pretty endlessly our talkative Em does 😉 ) . Such is life, that we can’t go back in time, but how amazing that thanks to technology we can have a sense of returning to past times. In an article I read yesterday, it explains that a feeling of nostalgia can help us feel:
- More connected (we can remember good times with loved ones and feel cared for)
- Inspired to deal with the present (good things happened in the past, so trying to reach our goals means they might happen again)
- Like we have a stronger sense of self (we are a person connected to a past, who belongs)
I had long forgotten the exact sound of our son’s husky deep voice, his raucous toddler laughter and the surprising, hilarious things he used to pipe up with like when his sister was helping him with something and he exclaimed ‘Thank you Daughter’! The manky pillow he used to call his Push that he used to carry around with him like Linus, the Charlie Brown character did with his blanket, and his love for the fluffy cloud like stuffing inside, that his small hands used to reach for to soothingly feel.
Our family has spent the last few days playfully teasing Emma about the Frozen songs she used to sing when she would belt the lyrics out in a little American accent! And we’ve been chuckling over the anxiety she used to feel about small challenges like walking over a tree trunk about 30cm from the ground when she emphatically and rather dramatically tells me she is DESPERATE to hold both my hands “as tight as they can go”, to help aid her across. And our usual ‘I love yous’ to each other this week have been replaced by imitating Jack’s two year old “Luff-Yuuuu” said exactly the way he used to say these words. My heart is so content seeing how much our kids played with each other and loved one another when their mom was sometimes too heartbroken, weary and absent in her own head to do so, and their dad was hard at work keeping his family afloat and supporting a sick wife.
I’ve realised all over again re-watching these little moments that I immortalised on my phone, how much our dear children sustained me, gave me hope for better days ahead, and reminded me of how, despite tragedy and hard times, how beautiful life was during that time in our lives. As Rob Thomas sings in his song ‘Little Wonders’….”these small hours still remain….these little wonders still remain.”
Little Wonders – Rob Thomas
“Let it go
Let it roll right off your shoulder
Don’t you know
The hardest part is over
Let it in
Let your clarity define you
In the end
We will only just remember how it feels
Our lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away
But these small hours
These small hours still remain….These little wonders still remain“