Walking across campus, 14-year-old Grace had a moment of recognition as we passed by the short, steel posts that prevent traffic from heading down pedestrian paths. “That’s where we would get our clues.”
It took me a moment, but she filled in details as I flashed back ten years. This subtle trigger took us to when she was in the preschool in the basement of the education building, where they provide a fenced playground and reading circles and sensory tables. I would pick her up from school to walk across campus and to either make our way home on a bike plus trailer or on the city bus. It could be a simple symptom of nostalgia and the fallout of watching children get older, but these are among my fondest memories. And it wasn’t until this moment that I’d realized I’d let them slip into some dark recess.
These posts were part of our adventure across our own augmented reality. We pretended to pick up small scripts from these stations that would give us a clue for our next destination. “Go to the door with the alligator,” said one, Grace remembered, a direction to my office where there was an old black and white comic taped to the wall. “Take the bus to the boat-house,” she remembered another one saying, a reference to the stop adjacent to where a boat was parked in someone’s driveway. She recalled another: “Climb the mountain to the yellow house,” a final directive to our own home, often with the added tension of being pursued by imaginary others racing to the same destination.
These all rang true; and I’d forgotten all of them. She gave me the gift of a memory I hadn’t even realized I’d misplaced.
But the most notable memory this triggered for Grace was that, once we got off the bus to make our way up the “mountain,” I would hoist her on my shoulders and carry her the entire way home, half a mile east and a couple hundred feet of elevation upward.
I’m sure this isn’t entirely accurate, but I didn’t correct it. The correction would have been wrong.
I’m happy to let her remember it this way. And, as long as she’s holding onto that image, me as her horse and her with a wide grin on her 4-year-old face framed within a knit stocking cap, I’ll remember it that way too: A preschool rider on my back as we charge up the hill, having slain dragons and evaded disaster, charging up the mountain to the safe yellow house where we could slurp hot chocolate with marshmallows. Because that sounds really good, like something we’d do. And, I’m sure that it isn’t that far from that real, authentic truth of our childhoods (and parenthoods) that we’re all trying to hold onto for as long as we possibly can.