Kelli reading to Pierce

The low-cost, memorable childhood

By Kelli Smith

Tonight, I took a nice, long pull off a glass bottle of RC Cola. I couldn’t remember the last time I had one of these, not to mention in a glass bottle. My husband found a bottle at Reverie in the Falls and we shared it together. At first, the adult in me, thinking about the calories and extra sugar, refused. The kid in me, always wanting a sweet treat, won. The inner kid usually does.

I pressed the cold glass against my lips and a pleasantly prickly, cola-nut-aroma-infused sensation quickly followed. Then the part I wasn’t ready for: the memories. I paused. My world stopped right there in my kitchen.  My eyes closed and a satisfied grin must’ve appeared on my face. I stood nearly silent, only making the sounds of a largely inaudible: “mmm.” 

My husband, rarely ever experiencing me in a paused state nor quietly reflective, asked, “where are you right now?” 

It was the early ’90s. I was in my grandparents’ breezeway — that little disjointed screened-in porch area connecting the garage to the house. Typically, at least in my experience, the breezeway was a special place as a kid. It was one part “clubhouse,” one part “real house,” and one part “this-is-where-the-kids-meet-and-do-whatever-we-want-and-nothing-can-stop-us-secret-meetingspot/hideaway.”

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It was in the breezeway where my grandparents’ kept a cooler full of ice-cold pop, which I now realize, is nothing more than a grandparenting device meant to unravel all the rules set by the parents. It was fun. It was a benign escape from rules. It was every summer with my cousins, my grandparents, friends and my family. It was perfect. 

For one reason or another, I’ve spent a large part of my adult years disconnected from my childhood. I had a great childhood, but for some reason, I don’t remember much of it. As a parent, I find myself constantly thinking about how to create positive memories for my children. The hard realization is that in doing my best, they will likely not remember much anyway. 

Parents often spend a lot of money trying to create great memories. We all know a trip to Disney or Universal Studios can set a family back a year full of mortgage payments. To some extent, part of our culture has become this along with intense, oft contrived feelings of guilt if we don’t. 

On the other hand, rustic breezeways, old-timey coolers stocked full of soda treats, and the feeling of being welcomed, loved and free don’t cost this much. The former is exactly the place to which this cold glass bottle of RC Cola took me. It probably cost less than $4 for all of us. Yet here on a cold winter night in 2020, I cashed it in for a floodgate of warm, wonderful memories that lasted the remainder of my evening. 

I want these for my children too. 

It’s funny how certain simple tastes and smells can take you back to times in your childhood you have forgotten or are disconnected from how special they were. They don’t have to cost much to be things that anchor your child to a specific time in their lives. For me, these are things like cheese and crackers after school, a cooler full of soda in a breezeway, or going on a car ride to look at Christmas lights. Looking back, I can only imagine these were routines to exhausted parents, but to me they are everything. 

We all have routines and habits, but intentionally creating rituals and small experiences for your children will pay off for a lifetime. As parents, we can’t expect immediate (or any) gratification for our actions in doing this; we simply have to trust that one day, maybe 25 years later, those small things will pay off.  We hope to see our children creating those small moments for their children and their children’s children. 

Parenting is exhausting and it takes so much just to get through one day. Yet the best part is that we have to look no further than to our own experiences to find ways to create these special moments. The only secret is: we can’t look past the little things, but we may need to reconnect with our inner child to find them. 

Kelli Smith, MBA, is a proud mother to four girls, wife to my best friend Kevin Smith, program director for local nonprofit cancer charity Life Is Good No Matter What, and lastly, she’s been a human resources professional for over 12 years.

Photo by Kelli Smith