Like many other parents at this stage of pandemic slash this-stage-of-my-late-thirties, encouraged by the “this day X years ago” features of various photo-based products on my phone, I’m constantly reminded of what I did or what I was like three, five, eight or 12 years ago. Pretty much everything falls into the “remember before pandemic when we did normal things” photos, there’s the “omg look how cute the baby was” pictures, and then the much more significant category of, “wow was I just so young and free and wistful; why am I so anxious and jaded now?” photos where you’re reminded of the dinner parties and ambitious creative exploits of an age, where time and the confines of doing things financially sensical were wholly secondary to sheer output.
One of my ongoing text threads with friends (and particularly friends-who-are-parents), who are spinning between taking turns as primary caregiver, working, and getting through the domestic slog, is sending each other these pictures and pondering the mindset in which we sat and sent each other lengthy analyses about a book we were reading, or planned a nonsensical dinner party, or took a trip—an international one—that we really didn’t plan at all (in my case to Nicaragua in 2008 after dating Jacob for no more than 4 months.) “It feels like a lifetime ago,” is the common refrain, both referring to pre-March 2020, and everything else, pre-kids.
We’re arguably the first generation where technology is constantly reminding of both the near-and-medium-term past; I think about this when my kids ask to look at photos of themselves on my phone. They’re most possessed by the videos, but are wholly un-particular. Ada could scroll through a photo album for hours slowly recreating her short-but-long 20,000 photo long 5 years of life. This feeds into narrative; she retells the story of herself as observed in these videos. For example, she can describe her first birthday party in great detail, something she obviously can’t remember, but will narrate as though she were the omniscient observer of, as seamlessly as she describes going sledding yesterday.
And so we bounce back and forth between now and a decade ago, now and a year ago, now and last week, simultaneously aspiring to be and lamenting aspects of our former selves.
This is the part of the pandemic that’s always most crushing for me; my kids not seeing me or Jacob being humans in the world. Less serendipity, less spontaneity, fewer random stimuli to add dimension to the memory, no seeing adults or other children act with inhibition, whether a person getting totally lost in the music at a live show or a subway dancer, small acts of transgressing daily decorum that just don’t exist in a highly regulated and terrified world.
It took me until I was at least in college to consider my parents had significant decades of life prior to my existing. My children definitely don’t grasp this concept, nor would one expect them to. Occasionally Ada asks about our wedding, and where she was, and projects memories about the flowers we had or songs we listened to at this event. “We were fun,” we insist, to incredibly deaf ears.
It occurs to me that one day our kids will describe this particular era of life when the photos are surfaced in a year or six or ten. The pictures of the crafts and the dance parties and the bonfires will not at all tell the story of what it was, which is good to remember when you look at those photos your phone suggests for you today.
Here are some movies and shows the kids have loved lately, that keep them focused on screens other than my phone:
Steven Universe (HBO Max): shoutout to my friend Tiya for recommending this literal gem of a show, an animated series (and movie) about a boy named Steven who is being raised by his mother’s best friends, crystal gems, Pearl, Amethyst and Garnet. Add in portrayal of queer relationships, gender fluidity and a Bowie-esque theme song to super powers and gems and you’ve got a winner.
Hilda, season 2 (Netflix): Ada loved the Hilda graphic novels, so it’s no surprise this incredibly produced show is also a hit in our house. “Really spooky” say the kids, but better for it.
The Last Unicorn (Amazon Prime): Offering Ada a movie about a unicorn is a concession made when she requests “search princess unicorn rainbow on Disney plus,” but it turns out this animated 1982 film is a treasure, full of life lessons, and the voices of Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, and Angela Lansbury, among others.
The Secret of NIMH: Also, from the banner animation year of 1982, and made by Disney animators gone rogue, perhaps you enjoyed this cult favorite as part of your childhood. I did not, but it’s dark and weird and complicated and beautiful.
Here are some books and movies I’ve also enjoyed lately:
Minari: This is being written about endlessly; poignant and evocative story of a young Korean family trying to start their own farm in Arkansas. It’s so Korean and American in both aspiration, use of language, and physical expressions throughout the movie and amazing to watch how the characters move between cultures. I also highly recommend this profile of Steve Yeun in NYT Mag. (How to watch)
Some Kind of Heaven: the lastest film from the young filmmaker Lance Oppenheim about the “Disneyworld” of retirement homes in Florida.
Lupin (Netflix): Heist-movie adrenaline rush type of indulgence. Fun and ridiculous.
I May Destroy You (Netflix): I’m probably the last person to have seen this, but if you haven’t, this is innovative, incredible TV from Michaela Coel.
The Great Pottery Throw down (HBO Max): Truly as formulaic as imaginable, yet still highly enjoyable, particularly if you’ve spent any time trying to make pottery; the range of skills and techniques are wild.
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