How to Build a Life Worth Remembering
I puttered around the kitchen while my son sat at the dining room table with his laptop flipped open and his head in his hands. The cursor blinked while he grasped both hands behind his head and groaned.
His English teacher had assigned each student the task of writing a slam poem, to be performed in front of the class—a poem based on an important, life-shaping event.
At fifteen, he couldn’t think of anything in his life worthy of poetry.
This is the child who was born on the bedroom floor of a London brownstone, who lived in three countries by the time he was twelve, who learned to snowboard in the Alps, and spent his tenth birthday snorkeling in a sea of violet luminescent jelly fish in Egypt.
This child could not think of a single, life-shaping event to share.
I made a few small suggestions, before I reminded him of The Big One—our move to Zurich, Switzerland the day before he turned eight years old. We celebrated that birthday in our new home–a tiny gray house sparsely furnished with rental furniture, and foreign to us in every way.
We had no friends to join us in celebration and no idea where to buy a birthday cake. We found a small convenience store and purchased a pack of vanilla ice cream cones for the five of us to share. We sang happy birthday around a table we didn’t own, in a stranger’s house, without a single soul in Zurich knowing we’d just embarked on a wild adventure.
He said no immediately when I mentioned it. The emotional upheaval of the move was lost on this eight-year old kid, apparently. “It really wasn’t that big of a deal.” He said. And while I took umbrage with this fact, he went on to say that kids adjust to whatever comes their way.
What he remembers most about his eighth birthday is the vanilla cone with the two blue candles shoved deep into melting cream. He remembers our little family of five gathered around a table and our Happy Birthday serenade.
He doesn’t remember the Alps scraping the sky just beyond our glass doors, or the new school waiting to receive him the next day, or the general lack of hoopla—an utterly non-Pinterest-worthy celebration.
He remembers a blown candle, a whisper of smoke, a chocolate treat, a family singing off-key.
To a kid, the poetry of life lies in its simplicity. It doesn’t matter which side of the ocean lulls you to sleep.
Years ago, Oprah interviewed a young girl who lost her mother to cancer at an early age. Her mother had left behind a series of short video clips for her daughter to watch after her death.
In one video, she taught her girl how to apply eye makeup, in another she talked about the qualities to look for in a husband, and in yet another she taught her daughter how to sort a load of laundry.
When Oprah asked the girl to share her favorite memory of her mom, I held my breath for a moment, thinking surely this would be a special, important, emotional event.
What she said next made me cry with its simplicity.
Her favorite memory of her mother was the night she and her mom shared bowls of cereal in the kitchen in the wee hours after midnight and chatted about nothing in particular. That’s it.
A sleepy hour, a soggy bowl of cereal, and the presence of her mama.
This is poetry.
I’ve thought about this interview countless times in my eighteen years as a mom. I’ve wanted so badly to take it to heart, while at the same time my head was busy plotting to give my children more—more experiences, more travel, more art, more celebration, more capital-L Life.
But this is life.
The homework at the crumb-strewn table. The bowls of cereal swelling in milk. The ordinary conversation. The ice cream dripping down t-shirts while four people sing.
The new, old, easy, hard, simple, complex experiences of the commonplace.
This is rhyme and verse. This is spoken word slamming. This is the life-altering event in sing-song poetry.
This is how we build a life worth remembering.
Kimberly Coyle is a freelance writer, educator, and mother of three living in a perpetual state of wanderlust in New Jersey. She writes at KimberlyAnnCoyle.com where she encourages souls to grow deep.
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