The Business of Making Memories

I noticed something when a friend traveled with her daughter recently. She noted “making memories” as she posted their travel pictures on social media. I thought that was sweet, and smart.

Any grown-up with even the most boring life has some kind of memories, mostly were made along the way. But to intentionally make memories when your children are still in the early phase of filling up their memory capacity is another level of awareness. In the age of 24/7 news cycle where things get distributed, hashed, rehashed and cast aside at neck-breaking speed, leaving scant memory in sight, consciously making memories is almost a Zen-like awareness of the age we’re in.

Last week’s Eid, more than any other major holiday in Indonesia, is basically the ultimate family reunion for most Indonesians. For the Muslims it’s the holy day following a monthlong religious meditation, for the non-Muslims it’s the chance for family outing since the weeklong break shut down pretty much anything in this country. For most families, I suppose, it’s the prime time for memory recording.

A college friend of mine, though having been born and raised in Jakarta, has spent her Eids since childhood at her parents’ hometown in East Java. Her parents would load the family into their SUV for a road trip days prior to Lebaran. When I asked her what her best memory was, she said it wasn’t from the visiting around relatives in her parents’ hometown that she saw for only a week annually, but from the long hours spent in the car, between siblings and suitcases, as they trudged along the jammed inter-city highways.

Being in Ramadhan there were no snacks to consume, and being in pre-smartphone days there were no gadgets for distraction, so they were forced to choose between their father’s outdated music selections on car stereo or having conversations. Snappy repartees were bound to happen once everyone was too hungry or tired, but so were hearty laughs. The first Eid homecoming trip after her mother passed was the hardest for them since they missed her turning around from the front seat to yell “Don’t make me come there!” whenever they got too boisterous.

The funny thing is, in the past several years my fun memories of Lebaran were made after the 2-3 day craziness of hosting family gathering, visiting around and putting my parents’ house back in order. To me, those rituals, however nice, almost seemed like a routine and mandatory. To me, the real Lebaran break would start after all the aforementioned rituals, spent unglamorously being couch potato in front of the TV with Dad. And every year, as I looked back, it always had something to do with sports. Some football league championship in some years, the Wimbledon last year, and American Ninja Warrior reality show this year—the latter which, as I delightfully discovered, can be more of a nail biter.

Each stage calls for upper-body strength, mid-section flexibility, leg reach, mental agility, or all of the above. Rock climbers could slip off doorknob-sized hooks, gymnasts might fail trampoline, and tall contestants could leap farther while losing on low-hanging challenges. Every second counts for record and stamina—the longer you hang the more burned out your muscles for the next obstacle. So strenuous the game that on-site viewers and competitors get sucked into the intensity, and so do viewers at home like me and Dad.

There was something strangely addictive, and bonding, of being completely sedentary while watching someone else fighting with all they might. We see unseeded champions made, and celebrated giants fall. No wonder Roman elites invented gladiator game; it certainly is an excellent pacifier. Whatever disagreements I might’ve had with Dad were gone as we watched sports, even as we were supporting different teams or athletes. After sleeping off her post-Lebaran fatigue Mom, an avid sport spectator herself, usually would join, and for those few days, before reality kicked in, those would be our family’s most peaceful days. No arguments, no misunderstandings, no pent-up disappointments—just us munching on random cookie leftovers and rooting for strangers on TV. I’m not sure what it says about us as a family, but I know that those days make my most cherished Eid memories.

Yet, just like my old college pal with East Javan roots, our best Eid memories aren’t consciously made, unlike the 2-week road trip my friend took up to implant memories into her young daughter’s mind. Spontaneity is a wonderful thing, and serendipity often makes the best experience, but I begin to think that consciously making memories should be on modern families competing with hurriedly-circling world out there. When I have a nuclear family of my own I will do that, and in the meantime I can start with the perennial 3-ring circus of life that my parents and I share.

What about your memories? Are there made by chance, or choice? Would you care to consciously make memories, or would they be too much of a utopia and a sign that I had too much downtime to contemplate?

Either way, Eid Mubarak, everyone.

As published:

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