Look at Me
My friends’ Facebook pages were awash last week with photos of the young ones in their lives nervously or excitedly holding signs announcing grade-specific first days of school. They looked smart in their new clothes and I can imagine with no trouble at all the night-before dress rehearsals to make sure pants fit, tops matched, and accessories were in place, casually but carefully. I wonder what it all looked like by recess.
Not having children, except for the four-legged furry kind, the best I could have managed last week would have been a photo of Bumper and Xena in the pet taxi following their first (and only) spay and neuter appointments at the vet, trying in their woozy post-op state to hold a sign that reads “What the hell was that??”
Hey, firsts are firsts, right? At least they’re talking to us again.
Marking milestones in our lives isn’t new. Rites of passage span a broad and diverse continuum and I feel safe saying (without the hard data to back it up) we’ve all had at least one day to ourselves in the sun, to stop time and make note of a particular moment that will never repeat itself, never happen again. You’re thinking about a few of your own right now, aren’t you? I wish you were here with me so I could listen to what that first day of kindergarten was like for you, or how it felt to lose your first baby tooth after your brother convinced you that biting down on the belt to your terrycloth bathrobe while he yanked on it from three feet away wouldn’t hurt at all. Or what about the time you took to the basketball court for your first game, the other third graders towering above you and wondering why you were placed as a guard? As you look back on your two-point career, I hope you give yourself all kinds of high fives and back-slaps for even trying out in the first place.
So many of our firsts are also “onlies”(only-s?); events that can’t be repeated. Re-enacted maybe, but in the second they occur, they slide back into our personal histories and pick up speed in reverse as we move forward and into the next First. I suppose in some lovely existential way, every moment of our lives is a non-repeater, and now if I start tallying them up I’m going to get tired and blow a brain fuse from the sheer volume of them all. For the sake of our collective sanity, let’s keep this conversation to milestone firsts. I’m happy to grab a cup of tea with you at a later date and meander down that other philosophical path. I’ll bring the sandwiches.
What do you suppose it is about our need to make a deal (big or small or moderately-sized) about the stuff that we experience without precedent? Reality TV’s influence over the last couple of decades has certainly expanded the tools at our fingertips to broadcast these moments. But this desire to suspend time and give them their own spotlight predates the onset of social media by a mile.
My money’s on the rock-solid human need to be validated, on top of which we pile a mix of sentimentality, record-keeping, notoriety, evidence for the generations to come, and a little bit of the ham that resides deep within all of us (hence the photos and posts of Groomsmen’s Dances at wedding receptions, Puppy’s First Bath, and Tyler Wearing his First Football Uniform on the First Day of Practice After the First Day of School, grinding broadly to show everyone where that baby tooth used to be). When we look back at these photos, we laugh, or smile with affection and fondness for the one taking center stage, and then tell the story with good-natured and generous embellishments. We’re right back in the place where it started and someone had the presence of mind to snap a picture.
I think we also don’t trust our own memories to recall the important details of such events as our days unfold into decades. Red dress or blue? Was Aunt Jeannie there? Yes, she was behind the camera, I know, because she’d always make us say “Bees!!” instead of “cheese!” before taking at least four pictures as insurance against closed eyes and a cousin’s hand reaching up to smooth his hair. Not important then but the stuff of storytelling legend twelve years later when accuracy counts as evidence that we’re not really growing more forgetful.
As the fourth of five children raised in the unplugged and non-digitally saturated 70’s, I can’t show you any First-Day-of-School-With-a-Sign photos. And that’s ok. I tended toward anxiety more than calm in those days and I don’t think I’d want a photo of that moment in my scrapbook now. Behind the pink gingham dress beat the nervous heart of an insecure second-grader whose “good” would never be good enough. I was more settled in by Class Picture Day some six weeks into the school year, and neatly trimmed each wallet-sized photo of my more at-ease and smiling face while mom wrote the accompanying notes to aunts and uncles scattered across the Midwest.
I can show you First Married Kiss, First Sunrise at Canyon de Chelly, First Birthday, and First Plaster Cast of my Five-Year-Old Hand. I remember each one like it was yesterday. Isn’t that sweet, and really, the whole point—to melt away the years if only for a little while? To feel seen and special again?
Happy First Whatever This Day Is For You.
Consider it noted.