At a birthday party for twins turning six, there was a running slideshow cast onto the walls of an indoor playground. As the kids played GaGa (dodgeball for feet, basically), I approached the mother of honor, wanting to thank her for including both my children, pay her a compliment, make her feel good. It wasn’t a forced effort, mind you. I just know how much work goes into planning these parties, dealing with guests who never RSVP, organizing gift bags; it’s always thankless. Besides, there was something intangible about her that made me believe we could be friends.
Trying to initiate a conversation with a woman I don’t know, aside from occasional run-ins on the sidelines of a soccer field, I commented on how thoughtful her slideshow was. She thanked me, then we both turned to watch the photos. “You know,” she confided, “it just makes me feel sad.” I knew exactly what she meant. Kids in costume posed with carved jack-o-lanterns, then pigtails and close-up shots of their own missing teeth. Firsts.
Seeing those moments up on the wall, I couldn’t help but tear up, and not in some sappy Bar-mitvah video montage set to music type of way—okay, exactly that way. Every single moment we’re living is that moment, something to be commemorated. All the moments of your life you should be doing things worthy of being captured. You’re at your most slovenly? Fine. Prove it. If you’re not leaving your house, and you’re in your pajamas, at least make them obtrusively hideous pajamas. Something to show for your life. Stand behind it and own it.
Later, another mother and I stood shoulder to shoulder, overseeing our children during their dance competition, the slideshow still a backdrop. “This makes me so sad,” the mom said without looking at me. “All my firsts are kinda already gone. I’ve lived through them already.”
“What do you mean?!” I said, using that specific tone reserved for pepping friends into feeling good about their choices. “You don’t even know what’s next for you!”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “it’s just true. I have no firsts left, not really.”
“Be careful what you wish for, lady. A lot of firsts you don’t want to have.”
I thought of dressing for a funeral, having to hurry out to buy an appropriate outfit just for the occasion, of outliving someone you shouldn’t, of burying a husband, remarrying, wiping a parent.
“True. Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Above all other occasions, at weddings and age-related celebrations, my mind goes grim. “Besides,” I said, hoping her mind didn’t follow mine to the grave—because then I’ll forever be that woman who talks about death on birthdays, which I guess I already am, who am I kidding? “There are so many amazing firsts; you have no idea what’s next for you.” Again my mind panicked, scrambling for a list of exciting possibilities. “Africa.” I said. “You could go and stay and end up teaching kids in friggin’ Africa, change lives in a remarkable way.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound very exciting.”
“Mmkay… Well, here, you could have the first time you walk the red carpet, when your son is honored for some lifetime achievement award.”
“Okay, now, that I could live with.”
It struck me later that if your child was being honored for a lifetime of achievement, he likely would’ve walked the red carpet at least a dozen times, and not once with you on his arm, making your first time kind of a token stroll. Sort of sucks if you stop to be neurotic about it.
You have to make your own firsts and excitement. We should be dreaming the way we did in first grade, when we traded stickers and got lost in the clouds as we dizzied ourselves on the tire swing. An age when we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, when we were sent to our rooms, left to pout, making promises of small revenge—a time when we couldn’t wait until we were grownups, with no one telling us what we could or couldn’t do. Never did we imagine that the person who’d tell us just that would be ourselves.
We’re there now, grownups. I want to honor the girl I was on that tire swing by being what I want to be now—not who I thought I should be, but who I think I can be. I’m still figuring that out, banking on the belief that I’ve only experienced a quarter of my life’s firsts. I need to believe that it’s never too late to become who you’ll be known for. The best moments of our lives haven’t happened yet.