I DREAMT recently about my eighth birthday party. The details were so vivid that I checked myself by sharing the details with one of my oldest friends, Marli, who was there that night, along with her little sister, Jana.
Four decades of memory-making and through the thicket of my teens, varsity days, tanked up twenties and now, apparently, an adult life ringed with white picket fences, I can still taste my mom's chocolate cake, which we ate standing around the dining room table, plumped to the gills with fizzy drinks and chips.
It was my party, but Marli and Jana remember it too. Mostly, we think, because my folks took us all to Mike's Kitchen for burgers and chips. We also wore Star Wars masks, which was the ultimate treat, given our obsession with the film and its choppy-haired hero, Luke Skywalker. Everybody said that I could be Luke when we played Star Wars in the garden afterwards. Good people, those kids.
I used to analyse my dreams (and anybody else's, for a drink), but this one just was what it was. If there's a subconscious message hidden in my total recall of what we all wore and ate, I haven't found it.
What I have realised, though –- and perhaps this is my soul's funky nod to spiritual evolvement – is that making good, lasting memories is possibly the most treacherous task of being a parent. Twenty years from now, I damn well hope my kids have decent dreams about the phenomenal life I created for them, rather than the usual reminders (in public) that I shout a lot and don't make any sense after 5pm.
That dream did have a positive psychological impact, because it ousted a range of long-forgotten happy moments from childhood. Like the giant bonfire we had one year, when my uncle fiddled with the flames and turned a cosy marshmallow braai into Dante's Inferno.
Put a gaggle of girls in front of that and your party is cheap as chips – the primitive danger and wonder of a fire that's taller than you never fails to entertain.
Like the other fire that burns in memory, when our favourite steakhouse, Uit en Tuis, caught alight during a weekend meal. Marli and I loved going out to eat with my folks, but that night, we flirted at the edges of the teen crush as we watched brave firefighters dousing the blaze.
I'm not sure what purpose memory serves, beyond survival and lessons learned. But of all the events that stay with me through the years, I understand now that it wasn't the trophies, prizes, first places or personal accolades that mean the most.
These have their place – I'm proud of young me for myriad achievements – but they didn't shape the shiny, happy person I've become today.
Marli's treasured memory of being my friend was hot, buttered toast after a sleep-over; not the birthday gifts I gave her, over the years, or how much money our families spent on giving us the best life could offer.
Memories are a priceless present. And if you love your kids, or yourself, or anybody, really, there's nothing more simple and enduring than making today one you'll remember forever.