Monday, May 27, 2013

The Value of Nostalgia

My sons on their way home from school, sometime around 2006.
My sons will both graduate in the next couple of weeks--one from eighth grade and one from high school.  Therefore, almost without consciously choosing to do so, I've been reflecting a lot on their school days and the way they've framed our lives.

My oldest son had only been in first grade for a couple of weeks when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by terrorists. That terrible event sealed the day, and the time, into my memory.  My children were too young to really be conscious of it as anything significant, and I had to surreptitiously watch footage while they strolled past the television clutching Batman action figures and rehearsing imaginary scenes of imposed justice.

Looking back at a child's school years, it's not always clear which year he grew the most, or which teacher(s) had the biggest impact on him.  I remember that my smaller son's pre-school teacher had an event in which she taught them how to be "ladies and gentlemen."  The boys wore little suits and asked the girls to dance--quite a comical sight when the dancers are four years old--and the children took it very seriously. On Mother's Day she had the children treat us to manicures.  I can still see my youngest concentrating on painting my toenails with metallic blue polish, his face intent on his task.

I recall my older son's second grade teacher telling me gently that yes, my child was very smart and clever, but that he was in a classroom full of smart and clever children, and he would need to try if he was going to keep up. (Even then she had spotted Ian's habit of coasting on his intelligence).  That was a lesson to me as a parent, as well.  While it's easy to assume, when you've watched your child grow in amazing ways since the day of his birth, that he is in fact the best in the world, it is also good to be reminded that "best" is relative, and probably a term in every parent's vocabulary.

We had emergencies: the worst was when Ian broke his arm in kindergarten.  I was called to the school, and (for reasons I can't recall) I was the one who drove him to the emergency room while he grimaced in pain at every bump.  What I had hoped would be a quick alleviation of pain and marching home with a cast on his newly-repaired arm turned into half a day of pain and X-rays and eventual anasthesia and surgery.  Every doctor and nurse who looked at his X-ray winced in sympathy.  He had cracked his humerus in half between his elbow and his shoulder, and it needed to be pinned back in place.  I actually watched my hair get grayer in those few days I slept in his hospital room.  

There were days, too, that I had to leave work suddenly to pick up a sick boy, and days I had to leave work to pick up a boy pretending to be sick.  :)  There were colds and flus and stomach bugs.  When Ian was a freshman in high school, he called me from inside an ambulance to say that he'd been hit by a car.  I got there, my younger son in tow, to find Ian with a big red welt on his head, a pair of bleeding hands, and a missing shoe (we never did find it).  Miraculously, the ambulance attendants told us he had no serious injury, nor did his friend Adrian, who had also been struck by the car.  They had crossed the street on a rainy day and happened to encounter a woman who was texting, driving without a license, and speeding.  A whole herd of their friends watched the incident occur (the boys, luckily, went onto her hood and over the side), and one of them chased the car when the woman tried to drive away.

There were victories: they both ran for student office and won.  They created wonderful essays and beautiful works of art.  Ian won first place in a creative writing contest.  Graham's fourth grade teacher told me that he was "a delight" because of his affable personality.  He still is the nicest member of our family.  Ian got his first job, his first paycheck, his first review, his first raise.  Graham started babysitting for our next door neighbor. 

Through it all they have loved each other. Yes, their battles are mighty and frequent, but they are arguably closer to one another than they are to anyone else. 

I am sentimental, but I don't tend to be too emotional about their various milestones.  I didn't sob when they left pre-school and kindergarten; or when my oldest graduated eighth grade (although I did get teary).

But this year might be different.  This year I'm going to hear that significant use of the middle name--the full-out graduation name that I really haven't contemplated since they were newborns and I wrote it on their birth announcements.  So when I hear someone intone Ian James Buckley and Graham William Buckley, that might send me into some nostalgic tears.

But nostalgia is good and important.  Our memories frame our lives and remind us that we existed in the past and have taken lessons into the present.  


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Lovely post, Julia, and mazel tov, as we say in New York, on the products of your good parenting. Only one question: Are they willing to read this blog? ;)

Julia Buckley said...

I will see and let you know. :)

And thank you! It's a bit overwhelming to have two big events at once, but there's a certain lovely symmetry to it, as well.

Sandra Parshall said...

Julia, your sons have obviously been a great joy to you, and I'm sure they will remember their childhoods as happy and filled with love and respect for them as individuals. Take lots of pictures on their graduation days so you'll have them to show to their children someday.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Sandra. I will indeed be armed with a camera. :)