Halfway through a mother-son road trip to visit friends and colleges, we sat in a church parking lot in South Carolina. Food trucks lined the edges, serving everything from gourmet burgers and mac-and-cheese to fried pickles, something I’d certainly never had before. I tried them and will only say — my mouth was confused.
We were staying with friends in the area and, apart from them, we knew no one. That’s never stopped me from making friends.
I noticed an older gentleman; he looked like a biker, sitting all by himself. I watched for a while. No one approached him. The party continued all around him and he just sat there, eating all alone. So I got up and asked if I could sit with him. I love hearing people’s stories and he looked like he had some good ones.
We sat and talked for a while. I learned about his travels, his family, why he moved to the south and what he liked about it. We talked about faith and what prompted him come on a Sunday night to eat fries and some candied custard at a church he’d never considered visiting. Eventually his wife joined us and then a few other families, too. It was easy and fun and natural. I honestly didn’t think anything about it, but my kid did.
A week later Zach and I recapped our adventures on the long drive back north. I asked what the kids had done and talked about that night. He said they weren’t talking; they were just watching me.
“Why would you be watching me??”
“You know in ‘The Chosen’ when people gather around Jesus? They just want to be near him. Flocks of people, just to hear what he’ll say. That’s what it was like. We just watched you be with people and listen to strangers and it looked like Jesus.”
I don’t think Zachary has any idea what that meant to me. The world goes silent, my heart stops, and a lump fills my throat when I remember him saying those words.
I’m okay if that’s all he remembers.
Every parent puts a ton of thought into raising their kids. Okay, there may be some exceptions, but almost every parent I know labors over every decision. We want to make memories for our kids. We want to give them experiences and knowledge and all sorts of good things. We put a boat-load of effort into making our kids’ lives as amazing as possible.
I was one of those stay-at-home moms with spreadsheets of activities for my preschoolers. I would plan out thematic art projects tied to field trips and read-aloud books. We explored new parks, crafted science experiments, and visited all sorts of museums and sites. I was ridiculously intentional with their childhood and – would you believe it? My son remembers none of it. Okay, he remembers a few things, but most of it? Nope. Nada.
I’ve given him a pretty rough time about this, too. His sister seems to remember every detail, even ones I’ve totally forgotten. But he doesn’t. He had a great childhood; he knows that. He remembers feeling safe and happy and loved. He just doesn’t remember the elaborate adventures or painstaking planning that went into making them happen. No scavenger hunts at the zoo or reenacting books in the city. No special concerts or interactive lessons or… well, anything beyond the fact that he was a happy kid. That was, after all, the point, was it not?
I wish he remembered all those wonderful days (and the work I lovingly put into them), but you know what? I’m really okay if he forgets those things because, in the long run, they’re relatively inconsequential. He remembers the important things.
Like the many times I’ve stood up to racist relatives and defended God’s image in all people.
How I spent hours every day making masks for hospital workers and at-risk neighbors.
When I hug the widows at church and insist he know their names.
How I cry at every baptism and every story of a life changed by God.
That I get giddy and dangerously animated while talking about the Bible.
The time I took the gloves off my hands to give to the shivering woman outside the grocery store.
And forced him to spend his Saturday with me feeding the homeless and making sure they have warm socks.
Or befriend an old biker sitting all alone at a food truck festival.
It’s funny… I didn’t manufacture these moments. No color-coded charts helped integrate them into our plans. They happened naturally, organically. And these are the things my kids remember most.
They’re still watching.
People always warn parents of little ones: THEY WATCH EVERYTHING YOU DO. Those little imitators will not only watch, they will copy, and no one wants ugly words or behavior coming out of adorable preschoolers.
I’m here to tell you: the kids may be bigger, but they’re still watching. They never stop watching. Your neighbors are probably watching, too. They may remember some of those elaborate parties or orchestrated events, but I’m going to bet they remember the unscripted moments more. Those are the ones that really matter.
So I’m totally okay if my kid doesn’t remember his childhood. I want him to remember the times I looked like Jesus.