I had the most surreal experience this afternoon as I picked up my daughter from daycare.
It was already dark by the time I got there. That cold blue aura of winter was creeping into the room like a blanket. The lights were dimmed, and there was some sort of disco ball spinning multicoloured reflections across the room. My daughter was dancing like a maniac, jumping up and down while holding another kid’s hand. She was laughing hard, from the belly, giggling, bouncing around, with no particular rhyme or rhythm. Like bubbles rising from the bottom of a glass of soda.
And I sat there watching. Back hurting. Tired. So tired. I felt old. She looked so young, yet so mature. She looked like I imagine she will look at her sweet sixteen. Or her wedding. She looks like I must have looked at the parties of my youth. Just then, I wasn’t only reliving a memory of my own childhood. I was living a memory of an experience I had not yet had. In that moment, she was my twenty-something daughter at her wedding, and I was her old man, watching this creation, this absolute natural work of art, having the time of her life. At this moment, she was truly and genuinely enjoying her own existence. And I watched as the old, tired dad. So proud of what he had made that was always beyond his control and out of his hands, but for which he still jokingly takes credit.
Sitting there, I truly understood that life has phases, and each successive phase includes reliving the previous phase. I don’t have that many childhood memories. I know what happened to me, and I feel as though I remember it, but only through repetition of saying it happened. And I would be lying if I said I felt as though I remembered my childhood. Having kids of my own now, it’s not that I get to relive my childhood. It’s that I get to reconstruct extinguished memories. As I live my children’s experiences with them, portals are opened to memories I have of my childhood that I had forgotten.
And even more bizarre, I find myself living experiences that I have not yet had. As vividly as I will live them if I have that luxury in a generation.
In this split-second moment of clarity, I have relived my own experiences, lived the experiences of my father, and those of his father. I know what it feels like to see the love of your life embark on her own life journey, without the same cross-generational existential awareness of what was, is, and will be. As I sat there in that daycare on a Tuesday afternoon, I was ecstatically happy, and tremendously heartbroken to see my life lived and relived before my eyes. But it was all as real as the fleeting dream that is life. All of this in the room of a daycare, on a dark and dreary winter eve.
And I had not even had my martini yet.