As the year draws to a close, do you look back and wonder where the time went? It seems that the days are long, but the years are short. Really short.
More than any other day of the year, New Years Eve draws us in to be nostalgic. It’s a powerful pull to the past – more so than birthdays or anniversaries. Unlike any other time, on Dec. 31 we pause to consider what we’ve endured over the last 12 months and ponder anxiously what lies ahead.
My maternal sentimentality kicks into high gear at New Years. It makes me wonder where my girls will be next year at this time and long for the days when they were little. It makes me wish that somehow a warning would sound as our children exit each stage of growth. Maybe then, we could make the moment linger just a little longer and perhaps capture it in a photograph. The captions of this imaginary photo album would read: “The last time she held my hand crossing the street,” “The last time we read a bedtime story together,” and “The last time before she could recite the alphabet all the way through all by herself”.
When your children are young, it’s common to unintentionally take for granted that there will be many more hand holdings and attempted A-B-C recitations. We know that our children will grow up and become less dependent upon us. In fact, sometimes when we have little ones we might even dream of those future Saturday mornings when our presence isn’t needed at 6 a.m. to make a bowl of cereal and turn on cartoons. But, giving them wings comes with a side of bittersweet.
Every so often, the girls and I sink back into activities that we enjoyed when they were little. I know that my mind idealizes the memories. No doubt, those sweet times from yesteryear were sprinkled with temper tantrums, power struggles, thrown sand and cranky, over-tired little girls. My parents still remember – but now with laughter – the “Elephant Ear Incident,” when we refused to stand in the long line for an elephant ear after the fireworks. That was the cry heard ‘round the world! If you listen closely, that cry continues to echo over Lake Michigan.
Still, watching for shooting stars, looking wonderstruck at Christmas lights, or hunting for beach glass take me fondly back in time. But now, knowing how far and few between those moments are, I hold onto them and enjoy them more than ever.
If you think you’re not nostalgic, think again. John Tierney wrote in The New York Times, “Most people report experiencing nostalgia at least once a week, and nearly half experience it three or four times a week.” (What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows, 2013)
Blogger Lauren Martin wrote that research has proven that nostalgia works to counteract depression. She states, “The act of reminiscing has been shown to counteract loneliness and anxiety, while also promoting personal interactions, and improving the longevity of marriages.” (The Science Behind Nostalgia And Why We’re So Obsessed With The Past, 2014)
Martin’s article calls on the wisdom of Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University, “Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function. It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives.” (The Science Behind Nostalgia And Why We’re So Obsessed With The Past, 2014)
“Nostalgia does have its painful side – it’s a bittersweet emotion – but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening,” Tierney writes (2013). He adds, “When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future.”
What a great way to welcome 2019 – optimistic and inspired.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dune-brook, call 800-897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at email@example.com.