How important are your memories in getting you through lockdown? These restricted, routine and stagnant lives that we all lead right now mean that there is very little incoming. There are no new personal experiences or stories to relate and feed our conversations and creative processes – just same old, same old.
As a result in our house, memories and reflections on our past lives, have become a key component of our chats and are adding value on a whole new level, not only to our daily catch-ups with our elders but also to our bonding time with the teens.
The world as we knew it before this stripped back existence, meant that family dinners aside, holidays were the only real extended quality moments available with our teens. Now free of the normal distractions of ours and particularly their supercharged daily lives, we have time and opportunity in abundance.
I am not sure that my husband and I have ever followed the “Guide To Perfect Parenting”. We have tended to be led by our heart and instinct most of the time, invariably swinging wildly between loving them too much and maybe sometimes too toughly. I have never conformed to the view that parenting is a perfect science because that to me removes the personality that makes each parenting journey and family individual.
If I had to describe our family, I would say it is honest and open. Yet whilst talking and sharing have always been part of our dynamic, talking matters more now in this closed down life than at any other. It’s the rope that is holding us together and therefore makes it the perfect time for more of the person behind the parent to expose themselves ie the ex-teenager with bags of experience and knowledge to share about navigating their own path to adulthood and to quite simply come out and wave!
On a maudlin level I can’t be alone in having held stuff back ready for tomorrow. This pandemic, this health crisis and the tragedy of families torn apart without preparation, has made me realise that some tomorrows may simply never come and we may never get another chance. Go for it – is my new motto. It’s a time to abandon parenting perfection.
Prompted by my teens, my over sharing moment over the weekend started with a story about the first and last time I dyed my hair (pertinent I feel right now as I battle with the urge to give a packet dye a go again) and the first time I got drunk, (shock, horror) and the subsequent rage of their grandparents – because every teen wants to hear that story! As for my husband, well it had to be one that demonstrated his testosterone fuelled craziness – the ingredients were his younger brother, a can of silver paint and a lighter – I will leave you to fill in the gaps. He won serious brownie points for proving that he was himself a reckless teen once!
Add to these moments of madness are the personal memories that we all hold in our hearts of our childhood, of past loved ones whether friends or relatives and of our own teens as toddlers and primary kids, that no child will ever tire of hearing.
I don’t know about you but these stories fuelled by my memories seem to come in huge waves of emotion at the moment. Normally it’s when I am feeling a bit fed up with this locked down life and when my teens sensing this, hug me and tell me how much they love me. Tears are never good as a post menopausal mother but they are a sure fire way of guaranteeing serious reflection on my part. I spiral into my memory bank and dig deep to find those untold stories. Right now dear readers, parenting protocol is quite frankly irrelevant. It’s a time to over share those stories; for them to get a glimpse of the person we were and that shaped the person we are; to tell them how much we love them and to make sure they have a complete picture of their past lives and ours. After all we have got them this far and we are defined by our memories, good and bad.
My reminiscences and the inspiration for this piece of unstructured prose were all provoked by a song which seems quite pertinent at the moment as a descriptor for lockdown London. Hot In The City – Billy Idol – one of my all time favourite tunes when at University. It was the one I and all my house mates blasted out from our battered cassette recorders (remember those?) every time we were getting ready to hit the one club in the gorgeous corner of the garden of England that we inhabited as students.
The lack of normality, proper exercise of the unscheduled kind, the boredom, the desperate wish to get out, to jump on the tube and see an exhibition or a play, to meet a friend or more simply to just pop to the shops, added to the menopausal hot flushes are all contributing to my sense of anxiety and my inability to sleep at the moment and it is this combination which forces me downstairs in the early hours on a frequent basis.
So a few nights ago when the heat broke and the weather turned, aside from the howling wind and rain hammering down on the kitchen skylights above I found myself in the wonderful stillness that comes from a sleeping household, revelling in the glorious post midnight silence – a rare treat in London past, but a given it seems in London present.
The headphones firmly planted in my ears so as not to wake the slumbering family or neighbours, I pushed the volume up and danced silently. I suppressed the urge to shout out as I relived those youthful days filled with so many fabulous memories and cried for the ones my teens are hankering after themselves, but sadly denied in their restricted virtual world of online socialising and house parties.
As my teens regret the loss of their current lives, I find myself constantly bolstering them up, telling them it will be fine and there is light at the end.
My eldest at the other end of the spectrum is now one one of the great unwashed in the middle of a year out from University. Internships behind him, travel plans have been abandoned and plans to pay off his student debt over the summer now scuppered. Add to this he and many others like him are reluctant to go back for their final year in September, amidst fears of what Uni life will be like for them. Online teaching on campus is not a great attraction – it is more akin to Open University learning than the ground breaking experience they originally bought into. There are no clear answers for either.
Our memories are what make us what we are and keep us going through the dark times and this time is definitely up there on the list of one of the darkest in my living memory and will no doubt be for our teens too.
Those past memories of theirs and ours, are a reason for celebration, they are the ones that conjure up recollections of the good times and that will keep us looking forward to better times.
As a parent I feel for my teens and all those like them, on many levels, that they have had a great chunk of their lives snatched away with no idea of when the darkness may end. Truth be told, despite my reassurances, I feel for them at what they are missing. Their memories in lockdown will be empty and hollow in the way that they would clearly not like, but it is up to to us to make them feel better in whatever way we can, however tiring that might be.
It is a time as a family we may never have again and that in itself has to be made to mean something. Their memories may not be of dancing with friends or enjoying the first throes of a teenager relationship in the summer of 2020 but at least we can help them hold onto the preciousness that comes from a loving family and remind them we are human after all and give them memories to take them forward even if they are of the kind they wouldn’t normally choose.