Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An everyday evening

It wasn’t out of a sense of incredulity that I reached for my phone and opened the camera app that evening last week. It wasn’t that the sight of my two children sitting at the dining room table, pencils and laptops and notebooks spread out in front of them, heads bent over textbooks in concentration, was so unusual. They’ve always been conscientious about getting their homework done.

There was nothing remarkable about the scene at all. And yet a feeling gripped me that this was a scene I might forget someday, perhaps for its very everyday-ness.

When a child rides a bike for the first time, blows out the birthday cake candles, dresses in a special Halloween outfit, catches a fish, we reach for the camera, thinking “I need to capture this moment.” We fill our wall space and album pages with scenes from special events.

This one wouldn’t fall into that category. Nearly every weeknight, my two children huddle together over the dining room table like this. Occasionally brief phrases are murmured – usually the younger asking the elder a question about a mathematical formula; sometimes the elder asking for confirmation on the spelling of a word – but for the most part, it’s a very quiet hour. Quiet, studious, and routine.

But it was that very aspect of routineness that made me want to capture it. As my children grow older, I’m surprised sometimes by the details I can’t recall. I remember first words and first steps, but what books did Tim like as a toddler? What did Holly bring for her preschool lunches?

Last week I asked Holly, “How do you know how to tell time?”

She was clearly bewildered by the question, and for good reason: at the age of twelve, she can certainly be expected to read an analog clock. And yet I have no memory of teaching her this skill, and that bothers me. Despite all my journaling and blogging and photo-album-maintaining, there are still things about their childhoods that I can’t remember.

Now that the kids are in seventh and tenth grade, respectively, they take responsibility themselves for getting their homework done. But as I observed them last week, I realized what a treasured part of the day it had become for me. The quiet; the industriousness; the way they instinctively huddle close to each other as they work, even though they could just as easily choose to sit at opposite ends of the table – or go to different rooms altogether.

It’s not a milestone; it’s an everyday event. And yet that’s exactly why the tableau seemed important to me on that particular day: for the way it reflects our daily life, circa school year 2014/2015.

I’m not even sure what I’ll do with the photo I snapped that evening. Certainly it doesn’t merit framing or wall space. It probably won’t even be allotted a square in a photo album.

But it will be somewhere. Kept in my phone, or printed and stashed in a night table drawer, or simply suspended in the digital cloud. And someday if I can’t quite remember what our weeknights were like when they were both at home, in school, learning and studying and making their way through the later years of their childhoods, I’ll have this picture to remind me.

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