The images have blurry edges and deep shadows. But there I am, playing guitar and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to my daughter, who is perhaps 14-months-old. The video was shot during the two brief years that she was an only child, before her brothers were born. Today she is married, and about to begin graduate school.
Click. Now it’s summertime, we’ve put the Slip ‘N Slide out on the grass, and children are running and diving onto the slippery plastic sheet. At this point, we live in the suburbs and have three kids. We must have moved recently, though, because Son #2 is a skinny toddler with long curls and no pants, my daughter seems to be around six, and Son #3 doesn’t exist yet.
Click. I hear my husband’s voice from behind the camera. “Helen,” he calls. The box from our new lightweight double stroller is lying sideways on the floor. Poking out of it are two very small bottoms, and one little pair of sock-clad feet. Again, Jon calls, “Helen! Have you seen the kids? I can’t find them!” A rush of giggles issue from the box. It shakes as the little feet wiggle excitedly.
Click. Son #2 is in a Jolly Jumper hung from a doorframe. With great concentration, he bounces up and down on his little Fred Flintstone feet. His curls bounce, too. He gives me a happy, toothless smile. As I watch this video, Son #2 is finishing his year at a yeshiva in Israel.
Click. Now there’s a party. I don’t know what it’s for, but our nieces and nephew from Israel are filling our apartment in Park Slope. I watch them on the screen. They are achingly young, adorable, playing with the toys that line the living room. Each of these children has already been through the Israeli army. They are all currently married, three of them with children. My husband enters the frame from the left. So handsome, so sexy! He walks over to talk to his mother. My heart catches. His mom passed away in 2006. Here are my brother and sister, neither of them married yet, who have come in from the city to celebrate whatever this is. My brother addresses the camera, though I can’t hear what he is saying. The camera pans to the left, and I see my mother.
This December, Mom will be gone 10 years. But in the video, she’s smiling and chatting. She has grown out her hair, though it’s pinned back for this occasion. I feel like I could touch her if I just reached out my hand. Why is she in New York? Perhaps this is one of the times she flew in to help when our babysitter quit. Perhaps we had a new baby.
We bought our first camcorder in 1996, when our daughter was born. It was the size of a hardcover book, and surprisingly heavy. It cost a fortune, and the resolution wasn’t nearly as good as what we get on any cell phone today. Over the next few years, video recorders kept getting smaller and smaller. By 2010, we all owned Flips. Flips faded out when everyone graduated to smartphones. VCRs vanished as we replaced them with DVD players, and then the videotapes were packed away in a box, where they languished for a decade and a half, gathering dust.
A few weeks ago, Jon found our tapes and mailed them to a place called iMemories. The nice people at iMemories uploaded the contents of our videotapes to the cloud, in no particular order, where we can watch them on any of our devices.
Click. The past passes me by over and over again. I watch the ghosts of our parents. I watch our sweet children. I listen to their sweet voices.
Younger me appears in the frame. Look at my curvy figure! Look at my glorious mane of curls! My glowy skin! No wrinkles! No glasses! No gray hairs!
In the days that we were having a child every two years, I was always nursing someone. I never got more than four hours of sleep at a stretch. I worked part-time as a graphic designer in the city. We lived on the second floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn, and our pre-K was 10 blocks away. I didn’t have a driver’s license, so the double stroller was my vehicle. I’m sure the me in the video is tired.
Emotions roll over me like a tidal wave. I want to tell the Helen in the video to relax. I want to tell her to stop fretting, to stop thinking about tomorrow, to stop cleaning, to stop doing things, to cuddle the kids, to just be. To stand still and enjoy the moment.
I want to reach out with both arms, grab everything back and hold it tight. Let me hit the pause button and keep everyone just as they are on screen, right now. This time, I promise I won’t let time slip through my fingers.
But, of course, this is only a video.