“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”
He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
When my teenage boys were small, chores outside the house were actually a chance to enter a world filled with wonder.
A trip to Home Depot: Look — a toilet in the center of the room! A room full of lamps! Once, the boys and I discovered a dark and snugly cubby under a groaning shelf of paint, with ladders on one side and tools on the other. My husband, who was not consumed by our sense of wonder and just wanted to find the goddamn Q-clamps, adopted his most rage-filled voice and ordered: “Get out of there!” First one boy and then the other crawled out abashed and ashamed at behaving so badly, so imagine his wrath when after a pregnant pause I crawled out of there too, busted, just trying to have a little fun, and what’s the harm?
From ages two to twelve, these times continued unabated, or so it seemed. Of course I don’t remember the exhaustion, the temper tantrums, the tedium, the worksheet-filled afternoons of angst. I have no photos of any of that, so they must not have been important. Everybody gets brainwashed by the slideshows that play on their computers, right?
For the last few years, I’ve caught myself staring at old photos of their little boy faces like Gatsby staring at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. An aching sweetness fills me. Oh, those boys. But you can’t repeat the past.
Those little boys I’ve been missing are still here as fine young men. I first truly embraced this new phase when my husband and I decided they were old enough to watch Pulp Fiction with us, and I saw it again through their wonder-filled eyes. My husband’s laughter merged seamlessly with their shock when Jules dared, “Say ‘What’ again!” after shooting “Flock of Seagulls” on the couch.
The old me who loved making magic reindeer food out of oatmeal and glitter is now the new me who gushes with fake admiration, “Check out the big brain on Brad,” like Jules from Pulp Fiction, or explains news events by saying that Republicans are evil, and my sons can really get it. They are meeting the me who’s nerdy, clueless, but kind of funny and admirable in my weird enthusiasms. You know, the real me.