I'm not much for nostalgia, but, today, I happened to look at a printed-out photo montage that my wife, Karen, made. It is a collection of pictures from the beach, of my two boys. They were much smaller and much more innocent than their present ten and twelve-year-old counterparts. The cheeks were fuller, the bare feet were chubbier and the eyes were ever so slightly wider.
In one picture, the two of them are standing in bright bathing trunks and oversized T-shirts, looking down and waiting for the cold water to hit their toes. They are fascinated by the bubbles and the illusions in the tide. They are looking at the ocean as a curiosity; as a rare and new thing.
These smiles stay with them, from picture to picture, their hair blowing as they whip around on swing rides, their little legs pumping as they run an ecstatic race to get away from the rushing water.
They stand side-by-side, brothers; each other's security and support in getting onto the slightly scarier rides; each other's -- God, let it be so -- lifelong friends.
Am I nostalgic about this? Maybe. But not with the kind of bitter nostalgia of regret. I miss their complete innocence and I miss the "boyness" in them that is currently giving way to "young manness." I am sometimes weighed down by sadness for the world they have to face and for the pains they will have to endure as they grow older.
But they are not for me, these boys. They don't exist to fulfill my happiness. I exist to help ensure theirs and I would never dream of limiting their joys of discovery and living even by trying to keep them cute, little and chubby in my own mind.
For all that I lament about this world, there are countless other things that bring me great joy. I need to believe they will find the same joys; or, at least, new and unique joys of their own.
Sure, I miss their little selves. But no regretful nostalgia. There was never a missed opportunity for hugs and laughs. There was never a doubt that their father and mother loved them. There was never a moment when we didn't, each of us, turn toward our family when things got difficult.
The memories of their younger years are for me; their lives are for them. The trick is to let them grow as they grow and to love them in every new revision they become. I can do that. And I can look at pictures any time I want. And if I cry, it will be with joyfull memory and not with a feeling of loss, because those boys give me some new gift every day.