You wouldn’t expect it, but we have childhood nostalgia mostly for the things that weren’t entirely perfect. For me it is metal playground equipment, the fact that my father was always late to pick me up from school, the terrible ice cream sandwiches you could buy at the school cafeteria for a dime.
My brothers still email me when any of them comes across the hideous linoleum pattern we had in our kitchen. It’s so ugly it makes us collectively cringe.
As a parent I often forget that it’s these imperfections that make me nostalgic. I strive to give my kids the very best I can afford–sometimes even more than I can afford–in the hopes that their childhood memories will be as lovely and comforting to them as most of mine are to me. But I forget that when my brothers and I get together, what we talk about into the wee hours aren’t glossy, gorgeous memories of a shiny, happy past. What we talk about is the mess of a big family. The hardship. The crazy. The challenges. The times that we were left to wait in the car while our mother shopped in the air-conditioned Skaggs. The ghastly car itself. The madness. The joy of making it through, though, of growing up. Of being shaped by crazy, collective experiences. That is the root of nostalgia. True nostalgia is in the flawed memories. In the tire swings that went too fast. In the pool that was always far too cold and made you scream when you came up for air. In the blackberry bushes that resulted in sunwarmed bursts of flavor but left your arms covered in bloody scratches.
You remember the brain freeze of crunching the sno-cone after the flavor has been lapped out of the ice. The swing set that “bumped” because one of its legs had come free of the soil. Playing frisbee long after the disk grew invisible in the encroaching twilight. The sticky rivulets after an ice cream has melted all over your arm.
Nostalgia is the wry smile at these imperfections of life– and the realization that these little flaws are the true beauty of childhood. Because happy children don’t strive for perfection. Happy children simply enjoy life, whatever life dishes out. As a parent, it’s important to realize that to foster happy children, we should strive, not for them to have a perfect environment, but for them to learn to enjoy any environment. Our own nostalgia should help to remind us that the flaws in life can also be its beauty.
“Remember when…?” our childhood stories always begin. And they usually end in laughter and a little bit of collective pride. Because we survived all those little bumps and field trips to have kids of our own. And that is a bit of a miracle.
Playground Equipment via 1000awesomethings.com.
Linoleum by Louis Motek.
Blackberries by Elsie Krohn.
Goodbye Summer via literarychicago.com.