Each one of us, if we’re paying attention, have smells and sights that bring us right back to a specific place. It sneaks up suddenly, with little-to-no warning, and ushers in a rush of emotions almost too big for the heart to take. This past Saturday, the Children’s Museum did that to me.
We got to join my in-laws and niece for her first birthday, and having not been there for at least fifteen years, I figured my memory would be faint, at best. Only walking a few steps, I quickly remembered the tall water-clock in the entrance, and how long it took me to understand it at the ripe age of 5 (how did all that water transfer back and forth so easily, and how did it know what time it was?). We walked around the ramp up to floor three, with our destination being pre-school Heaven, otherwise known as Playscape. One walk down the hallway and the recollection came back with a vengeance. The smells of diapers, sandboxes, mommy-perfume, hand-sanitizer, and old toys mixed together and I was right back to being 3. I could remember climbing that purple jungle gym, or at least seeing pictures of me doing so. I (very faintly, I admit) recalled my dad teaching me how to scoop the water into buckets and how much I wanted to do it all on my own.
Nostalgia is a tricky game, as we are transported back to a place from our past, with rainbow-colored glasses. I found myself, standing in this room full of 3-year-old, curly-haired blondes, longing to know: what was my mom really thinking? Did she enjoy this? Did she like her friends? Did they parent the same, or was there an unspoken tension in the air about their differences? Did she wish she could go back to work instead of be a stay-at-home mom? Was I throwing fits all day? And what about my dad? Did he really like this stuff, too? What did they talk about over lunch? And what kind of absurd outfit did they dress me in that morning?
In ten years from now, I hope I remember all of this phase of life. I hope I don’t look back and only remember the good things, but that I also remember the hard, growing seasons. I hope I refrain from making condescending comments to other 25-year-olds about how easy their life must be, and “Oh, I wish I could be twenty-five again.” I hope I take a young woman out to coffee, seeking to learn from her instead of forcing my insecure “I know more than you” wisdom down her naive throat. And I hope when I walk into places that remind me of twenty-five, I don’t sit in a sea of self-pity, longing to go back . . . but instead feel thankful for the season that was, and even more grateful for whatever season I find myself in.
Thank you, nostalgia, for teaching me to look back with joy and push forward with gratitude.
PS–This what us 25-year-olds really looked like at the age of 3, if any of you were feeling nostalgic for 1989.