When I picked you up from school today, you had a giant sticker on your arm, like a sleeve tattoo.
You were pretty proud of it.
I asked you what the sticker said. Your reply:
“Pig! Pig! Pig!”
Evidently you were convinced that pink kitty was actually a pink pig.
I let you believe it.
Somewhat related was the little sticker on your chest of an open can of tuna fish.
When I asked you what that was about, you explained to me:
“I think it’s for the cow… he drinks it, maybe?”
There’s actually a pretty good chance that neither you nor I will ever really know why you came home with those extremely random stickers today.
(I’ll probably forget to ask your teacher tomorrow.)
But not so randomly, the event reminded me of what I consider to be one of the best songs ever written: “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” by Green Day.
It came out half my life ago, when I was only 16.
Here’s an excerpt of it:
“So take the photographs and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time.
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while.”
My interpretation of the song is that it’s important to appreciate the mundane, seemingly pointless, average days; as they serve as a bookmark to life… to the good ole days.
That we should do our best to capture these somewhat weird memories as they happen. And that we should also hold our current selves accountable to our former selves, in an attempt to apply what we learn from life.
(“Dead skin ” is a reference to the fact our bodies’ cells constantly are regenerating themselves.”)
So while certain days may seem like the most forgettable ever, I’ve learned that when you’re looking for it, there’s always something that made that day different than any other day you’ve ever lived.
For example, I’m sure nothing else amazing or interesting happened today in my life.
But you came home with these goofy, ridiculous stickers on you. And just by me capturing that fact in history, this seemingly mundane day stands out.
Honestly, had I not mentioned this event to you today, and made an effort to snap a few quick pictures of it, essentially it would be the same as if it never happened.
I know you still won’t be able to read this for a couple of more years, but I wanted to write you a Happy Birthday message on your 2nd birthday anyway.
Since your Mommy and I found out we were having you, back in April 2010, I have been writing a blog entry at least once a week, and often once a day.
The rest of the world has had access to virtually every moment of your process of growing up, but the words were mainly written for the rest of the world.
However, this is just for you. I’ve never written directly to you, until now, on your 2nd birthday.
This day is especially monumental for me. It signifies you officially leaving the days of being a baby and entering the days of being a little boy.
I noticed recently you started calling me “Daddy” now, instead of “Dada.”
Right now as I look at your picture of you holding your birthday balloons and wearing your necktie, which you very willingly wore to be like me, I am so proud of you and love you so much that… it comes out in the form of sadness, somehow.
Everybody told me not to rush any stage of your life. I tried not to.
Of course, the younger you were, the more difficult being a dad was. I was so clueless, even a year ago.
I’ll never forget when you turned 15 months old. That was the first time you really asked for me. That was the first time you wouldn’t cry if Mommy left the room.
Since then, I could tell so obviously that you wanted me and that you loved me.
So while I’ll try not to rush your life along too quickly, I have to admit, I love seeing you grow up.
The older you get and the more you come to life, the stronger of a connection I feel with you. I’m pretty sure it’s a father/son thing.
I love taking way too many pictures of you. I love writing about all the funny things you do and say.
I love you, son. So much.
Though you probably never see me cry, if you could be here right now as I write this, you would see a 31-year-old man who can barely keep himself together.
It’s funny- I didn’t cry a single tear the night you were born. You were just a strange baby who couldn’t talk. My job at that point was basically just to keep you alive.
But today, I can’t hold back the tears for anything. This is the first time I’ve simply been overwhelmed by my love for you.
What most fathers seem to experience the day their son is born, I guess I’m experiencing right now. To me, this is you being born.
That’s because you and I have gotten to the point now where I can actually see my influence over you. Like with wanting to wear the necktie, you want to be like me.
Man. That humbles me and breaks me. Thank you.
Thank you for being my son. I can’t thank God enough for you.
Today you will receive gifts from Mommy and me: some metal trains and tracks to ride them on.
I know you’ll really like them. You’ll carry around your trains with you everywhere you go. But eventually, they’ll be at the bottom of some drawer.
What I will remember most about your 2nd birthday is the way I feel about you right now. And that’s why I’m writing you this letter. I want to be able to capture what I’m feeling right now. That’s what I think is the best gift I can give you today.
Maybe it’s a dad thing, or maybe it’s just me, but in the likeness of a learning curve, I’ve had a “loving curve” with you.
Two years into this, I am experiencing love for you that I have never felt for anyone in my life. So different than the way I love your Mommy.
The love I have for you is wrapped up in some unspoken bond I can’t quite express in words right now. But I promise you I will spend the rest of my life trying to.
Yes, it’s a parenting cliche. But it’s so true and therefore I must confront it:
“They grow up so fast.”
We live in the age of Instagramming. Granted, I’m not actually cool enough to have a smart phone to share a vintage photo version of what my kid just did any given moment of his waking hours.
But I see Instagrams all the time on Facebook. Some being unintentionally ironic and uncreative- like a picture of a Starbucks cup. Others, however, are photos of something a bit more relevant and important in life.
Like our kids.
And I think that’s a pretty symbolic concept. Prepare for me to get deep here.
If you’re like me, you spend the majority of your time doing the things you don’t want to, like driving to and from work, being at work, cleaning dishes, etc.
A very small percentage of my life is actually spent doing what I really want to do; which is spending time with my wife and son.
So I constantly carry my camera around in an effort to capture every warm, fuzzy moment I can. Because as I’ve written, these are the longest years and the shortest days of my life; being a parent, that is.
It’s my attempt to magnify the best parts of my life and be able to share them with everyone who cares.
Consider this: We are constantly traveling through time and space.
My best Internet research tells me that since the Earth is always spinning, we are constantly moving at 1,040 miles per hour. (Correct me if I’m wrong on that.)
Good thing for gravity.
We are forced to travel forward into time while simultaneously stuck in physical locations we don’t necessarily want to be and participating in events we’d rather not.
There is no such thing as the present. Once we think, “this is now,” it’s no longer now. It’s back then.
So anytime we can make a positive memory into one that is eternal, indestructible, and virtually omnipresent, why wouldn’t we?
So why is Instagram so cool? It automatically “retro-izes” events that just happened, dressing them up like a Dharma Initiative Polaroid in order to direct-deposit the memory into the classic “good times” folder in our brains.
That’s basically what deja vu is- when our brains mistakenly file a current memory as a classic one.
Now back to the beginning: “They grow up so fast.”
We can’t stop it. We can barely detect the tiny changes in our children that happen overnight. We want to hold on to “this version” of our kids forever.
The next best thing we have to pressing the pause button on their current cuteness is to take a picture and therefore speak a thousand words.
That is how we travel back in time to places we’d rather be.
In the midst of my wife and I dancing around Jack like giant chickens, to the musical number of his random Chinese toy we call “Robopup,” I said to her, “You know he’ll never even remember this, right?”
It’s that realization that so much of what we do as parents of a toddler is, in theory, largely forgotten. Yet all our goofy interactions will him play a vital part in the development of his social and cognitive skills.
Until he gets old enough to actually read my daily journal entries of his life, as documented here on The Dadabase, he will not vividly remember any of what actually goes on during this time.
This past weekend we took him to the Nashville Zoo and we all loved it. Yes, Jack sure did. But I know he won’t remember anything from the event, even when he does look at the pictures in a few years.
Like the importance of punching the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 24 into the computer in the hatch on Lost, these memories we make with him do actually matter, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
But since he won’t be able to remember these activities and rituals, as his dad, I will serve as Jack’s 16 GB memory card until then. I will be his link to the past. Lucky for him, I’m one nostalgic guy.
In April 2007 after dating two months and having already gone to meet my parents, I flew to Sacramento to meet my wife’s family- all of them. That meant not only her parents, but also her two sisters and most of her seven brothers along with all their kids.
I was the new boyfriend. There was no guarantee that any of the family members would ever see me again. I could have simply been a single-serving special friend that ultimately disappeared from most peoples’ memories. At best, I could have been, “Hey Jill, whatever happen to that guy from Alabama with dark hair?”
Instead of becoming a blurry memory, I proposed the following January and we were married seven months later.
Over the past four years, I have really grown closer to my wife’s family. But during my most recent visit, there was a new closeness I felt to them all because now that my wife and I have our son, it has never been more official that I am grafted into the family tree; though our family branch is labeled “Shell” instead of “Tuttle.” Though I obviously am not kin to them by blood, I am part of their family and have helped it grow.
The gathering place for all my wife’s family in Sacramento is her mom’s house. Today I took a few pictures of some of the signs hanging on the walls there. I have written before about how people show what they value through the art they create. In my mother-in-law’s case, the decorations she hangs on the walls help serve as art.
My favorite sign at the house reads “These are the days we will remember forever.” That motto is so much more clever than it may appear to be. With me being such a desperately nostalgic guy, constantly yearning for the best of my life’s warmest memories, that sign reminds me that when I go out to California with my wife, and now my son, that I don’t have to wish for a moment in the past. Instead, I get to enjoy warm fuzzy memories as they occur in real time.
Even though I do my darndest to capture all these stories and conversations with my wife’s side of the family, who I typically only see once a year, it must be my obsession with nostalgia that causes me to be one of the official photographers of the family. Because even though these are the days we will remember forever, my memory is only so good. Digital cameras definitely help.