I’ve always had the ability to recognize the happy moments I will miss later in life as I live them. It’s like a pre-nostalgia – a certain knowledge that in the future, I will lament the fact that I cannot go back to that particular sliver of time. Nostalgia is a nasty emotion. Linger in it too long and it grows stronger. Try to ignore it and it weakens you. I suppose nostalgia gives us something to yearn for, but that yearning feels awfully hopeless as memories fade.
My children, still young and unaware that they will one day want to have their own lives away from their parents, are at the age now that I know for sure I will miss very much. Though I often joke about how hard parenting is (and it is), I wouldn’t trade away this time of my life for an easier life of self indulgence. Being a dad has been an important part of my own growth as a person and fatherhood adds a complexity to my existence that I cannot imagine living without. My wife and I are still young enough to feel young and our own parents are still active enough to not seem too old. This is a happy time, which I know I will miss desperately as the years go by.
As a workaround for that pesky problem of aging and lost years, I often imagine that an older me has been granted the wish to come back in time to right now. I pretend that 95-year-old future me has been given that gift just before death and that my one wish is to come back to 2011 to see my kids as little kids, my wife as a beautiful young woman and to see a world around me still within my grasp. I know it’s a bit strange, but it helps me savor the smallest moments around me that might otherwise slip away under appreciated, or worse, unnoticed.
I suppose it’s something of a nostalgia alarm.
It hits me at strange times. If I hear them playing and laughing in the other room, I wonder what it will feel like to dream about that very moment one day, when they have long since moved out and I won’t be able to walk in and hug them and play with them. I picture older me waking from a dream of my happy past, hearing the fading echoes of their young voices evaporate into the darkness around me as reality reclaims an old man from his sleep. I can actually feel the longing (as if I am that old man right now) to run into that room and see them as young children just one more time, to hug them and talk to them and tickle them and play with them and laugh with them. It’s a longing that I can vividly imagine and it makes my heart hurt.
But then, here I am. I have not aged and my nostalgia is premature. I have that opportunity every single moment of every day, I remember and I seize it with relief. This weird nostalgia alarm seems to go off in my mind each time some piece of me senses that I am missing time with them or that I am ignoring the happy family moments I will later ache for.
Yesterday, I was watching a baseball game in the living room. It seemed important, although I realize of course that it’s not at all. Outside, Lucy and Zach ran around the yard, chasing hummingbirds and inventing games to keep them laughing. Emmy crawled in the grass and discovered the brand new world around her. As I sat on the couch, the happy laughter and squeals from outside faded into the background behind the less important sounds of a televised baseball game. Inside me, that familiar alarm sounded softly. “Get out there while you can,” I thought. A wish granted, I imagined. Suddenly, the laughter outside became the only thing I heard. I recognized, with some sadness, that I will never wish for the chance to go back in time to see a baseball game on TV. I turned it off and joined them outside. Maybe somewhere, future me is enjoying this precious time as if he never aged at all.
Even if not, present me most certainly is.