It’s the first thing I see when I log onto Facebook: “5 years ago today.” There he is, my oldest son, now all long limbs and tween angst, looking cherubic on his first day of school. He’s smiling for the camera. I remember it well: smoothing his hair down, bursting with pride. And though I know the timescale to be accurate, I’m still taken aback by it. Five years ago? Five years that have whipped by me like scraps of paper in a westerly wind.
I remember my son’s first day of school, but what I remember most about that day, which Facebook prompted me unexpectedly to revisit, is what’s not in the picture. It is lying on the obstetrician’s table hours after I sent my firstborn on his maiden voyage through the school gates, craning my neck to get a better view of the ultrasound screen. There was the sound of a second baby’s heartbeat and the sensation of stumbling out of the doctor’s office, numb with the realization that I would be moving from two children to four.
The tag-team effect of those two moments made August 11th, 2010 a remarkable day. But the truth is I hadn’t thought about either event in a good long while or considered, with the advantage of hindsight, the way in which they had entwined themselves in my mind. Not until Facebook jogged the memory for me. So I re-posted the picture, adding an updated caption about the discovery of my twin pregnancy, which was something, due to shock or superstition or both, I hadn’t gone public with at the time. Sharing the “memory” in my newsfeed felt a bit like reliving history. It also felt a bit like re-writing it.
As a parent who posts a fair amount about her kids on Facebook, I have a love/hate relationship with the “On This Day” feature, the same ambivalent relationship I have with time itself. When it comes to raising children, time gives and time takes. It is a balm and it is a scourge. Its passage is why we can sit through a meal with our kids without having to peel spaghetti off the walls, but it is also why that sweet baby smell at the back of their necks has turned salty. Every time I see one of my friends’ “memories,” or one of my own, I feel that familiar, definitional conflict of parenthood waging war within me:
Hooray! Look how far we’ve come.
Oh no! Look how little time we have left.
The feeling is especially acute when the “memory” references an explicit stage of development. Recently Facebook presented me with a photo of my twins at three years old. They were sitting at a table in a cafe, both of them coloring contentedly on the menus in front of them. “Please tell me this is a turning a point,” I captioned the picture. But of course it wasn’t. We had the trying threes (times two) sprawled before us and thinking back on that day, I laughed at my optimism and breathed a sigh of relief because we really have made progress since.
But then I looked a little closer at the picture, at the dimpled hands gripping the crayons in that claw-hold toddlers do and the sun glinting through the window on a morning when there was no nursery school to go to, when our only plans involved hot chocolate and the back and forth of the swing, and I wondered where my babies have gone.
I didn’t sign up for this Facebook feature; I haven’t turned it off, though, either. I like a trip down memory lane every now and again, but nostalgia is different somehow, often more welcome, when it is stoked on your own terms, when you choose to scroll through the old photos with a half-drunk glass of wine in your hand. Not necessarily when it rears its head out of nowhere, summoned by an algorithm based on the coincidence of date alone.
I imagine the “On This Day” feature will only become more emotionally fraught for me as time ticks on. When I drop my oldest son at college, will I log in to see a post that says “13 years ago today?” And when I look at the boy in that picture, will I remember what it felt like to smooth down the soft hair on his five-year-old head? Or will I remember how scared I was when I saw two heartbeats flickering that afternoon instead of one, both of which are now encased in teenaged bodies? Maybe I’ll thank Facebook for the reminder of how far we’ve come, of how proud I am, of how beautifully they’ve grown. But I’m sure my heart will break a little too for the very same reason.
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