Shrieks of laughter emanate from Rich’s office. High pitched voices interrupt one another vying for attention. I hear splashing, squealing, complaining and taunting. The sounds of children playing. Our children. Long, long ago. A smile travels across my face.
Rich is finally tackling the long avoided task of converting all our old family video tapes to digital format. Just finding the equipment to do it was a challenge. He searched hard before finding an outdated working VCR player on eBay, and installed a conversion software kit on his PC. He then hauled in the huge box of tapes that has been hibernating in our garage. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
This conversion requires playing each tape, one by one. The drama is displayed in a small square on his computer screen complete with sound, while the software creates a digital file. Miniature Karens, Carls and Eriks parade across the screen – playing, blowing out birthday candles, building forts in the woods at the cabin, throwing sand out of the sandbox, and singing. The stuff that makes up a young family’s life.
We didn’t own a video camera for years. Instead, we’d rent a massive camcorder from the video store and let it roll all weekend long just capturing ordinary life with kids. The bad as well as the good, the tantrums along with the tender moments. Sometimes there were guest appearances. “Oh look whose here now!” Rich yells from his office, and I go in to see my parents or his – looking young and lively, poignant as they have long since passed. Or our beloved long-term day care provider, the kids’ cousins, our Czech daughter. It’s a treasure-trove of memories.
Day after day these scenes play as Rich works his way through the box. The cheery voices get older and younger again as he grabs tapes in random order. But that’s not all that strikes me.
Rich usually did the filming with an animated running commentary throughout the action. I’d appear on camera with the kids, or as a voice in the background. And occasionally I’d take over to capture Rich with the kids. Our voices sound younger too. And there is an element of playfulness, of engagement with the kids, of a lively family life. One I’d forgotten existed.
We’ve been on our own for years now, having launched our three grown children and adopting the good life as retirees. We’ve become accustomed to our well ordered life, with plenty of time to indulge our own passions, often out and about individually all day long and reconnecting over dinner.
And then came Covid, topped by Rich’s heart condition. Life narrowed. Social contact shriveled. Travel ceased.
As Covid drones on and Rich slowly recovers, I have begun to feel that the joy of life has been sucked out of me. That hunkering down and withdrawing from the world has dampened my lust for life. That I may even be getting accustomed to the small circle we have drawn around our sphere of activity. The quiet nights at home, drawn into the lives of British or Australian TV series.
Spending time with my kids and grandkids only seems to reinforce this feeling. Their vibrant family lives feel in such contrast to my own. I do my best to soak up the giggles and the snuggles. To relish playing games, building with Legos, concocting Paw Patrol rescues and reading aloud. To find time to connect one-on-one with my kids and let their resourcefulness inspire me.
Hearing Rich and me on those tapes brings it all back. We too were fun-loving parents at one time. We played with our kids, engaged with them on their level and had great adventures together. I am heartened by this evidence. And I hear its message reinforced with each tape that plays through Rich’s computer, sending its voices out to find me.
(For email subscribers, click here to view the video)
I can’t help but wonder where the playfulness has gone? When did we get so serious? Is this what happens when you grow old? My spirit rebels, knowing it doesn’t have to be this way. I will fight back.