In the midst of my post-Christmas tidy-up I discovered the most amazing gift. It wasn’t hidden in a closet or shoved under a bed. It didn’t come with ribbons or bows. I found it buried in the piles of paper that wobble next to my computer.
It was a single scrap of paper hastily torn from a steno pad. A title sprawled across the top: “Rocking Sam.”
My desk, my purse, my nightstand are filled with scraps of paper just like this. I get a story idea or want to capture a memory, so I grab whatever notebook is nearby and jot it down. I try to keep the stack beside my desk current, but somehow this piece of paper got tucked inside a folder.
I sat and read my scribbled words. Suddenly, the cacophony of a rumbling snowblower, video games and a guitar being tuned faded. This is what I’d written:
Today you sat still long enough for me to cuddle in the rocking chair. You could barely fit in my arms. With your head tucked snugly under my chin, your legs dangled almost to the floor. After a few minutes my arms began to ache, but I didn’t complain. How could I? It’s probably the last time I’ll be able to rock you this way.
I buried my nose in your hair and inhaled the sweet aroma of baby shampoo. I kissed your cheeks while you giggled, savoring their softness. Like most 5-year-old boys, your arms and legs are gangly, bony, sharp-edged pistons, always in motion. The irony of you being last-born is this — I’m ready to embrace every moment of your babyhood, but you are always racing to keep up with your older brothers.
Now, as I rock you, I sing like I’ve sung hundreds of times before. I sing the melodies of my own childhood, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Hush Little Baby,” “Billy Boy,” I could sing for hours, yet all I have are minutes.
You lift your head and press your nose to mine. “Nosey, Nosey, Nosey,” you say. “Gotta go!” I squeeze you tightly till you squeal. And I don’t want this moment to end, but off you run.
The chair sways and stops. My arms are sore and my back hurts. I stretch and scoot the rocker back into the corner. It’s served us well.
That’s it. Just five paragraphs I meant to expound on someday. Four years have passed, and that scrap of paper has migrated from one stack to another, stuck in a manila folder. It’s not great writing, just a memory. But here’s the beauty of it, as I read those paragraphs, I could once again feel the heft of a 5-year-old in my arms. Once more I inhaled the soft scent of baby shampoo. When I closed my eyes I could see late-afternoon sunlight hitting the faded spot on the carpet next to the chair. I remembered the feel of knobby knees banging against my legs as I rocked.
There’s no photo to commemorate the moment. It could have been lost forever within a hundred other memories. But because I took the time to jot a few words down on scrap of paper, I’ll always remember the last time I rocked my youngest child.
As we age, many of us have to write things down in order to remember them. We have appointment calendars and Blackberries to remind of us of where we’re supposed to go and who we need to meet. Yet the thought of confining a thought or a memory on paper intimidates many.
Perhaps this column has triggered memories of your own. A small child in a rocking chair, the sound of your mother’s voice, a favorite song from childhood, the way the sunlight hits a certain spot in your home at the same time every day.
Here is my New Year’s challenge to you: write it down. It doesn’t have to be polished prose. No one else need ever read it. But take a minute to record it.Write down that funny thing your child just said, jot a few words to describe your Christmas Day, make a note of how beautiful your house or your spouse looked on Christmas Eve.
And someday you may discover a scrap of paper. You’ll wrinkle your brow and sit down to read it. Suddenly, what was once lost and almost forgotten will dance through your mind again. Don’t let time take another memory from you. Write it down.