Though I do think I had a pretty great childhood overall, I don’t have a great memory of my childhood like my husband or many of my friends do. They can recall with detail that I envy, specific events that happened over the course of their coming-of-age.
Sometimes they’ll ask, “remember when we…” and more often than not, I really can’t. (And no, not just because part of my adolescence is a narcotic-and-alcohol-induced fog.) Unless I’ve reviewed pictures or retold stories of the memory ad nauseum, it just flits away into the recesses of my brain as if it had never happened.
Not to say that having a bad memory is entirely negative. I can’t hold a grudge to save my life (I consider this to be positive) and every experience tends to border on life-altering enlightenment and childlike awe. Sometimes I have to learn a lesson over-and-over again painfully before it is really ingrained – but then it is damn near guaranteed I’ve learned it for life. When a memory decides to stick, it is with a depth of emotion that is as tangible as anything I could feel in the present, and though I’m a practiced stoic, those emotions are often difficult for me to rein in.
While ruminating over my own memory issues and trying to remember long forgotten memories and lessons during my childhood and adolescence, the lines between my psyche and those of my children began to blur as I stepped into their shoes. I wondered what it was specifically that they would remember about their years of growth, when they were adults.
Will they at all remember the years where their mother worked hard to the point that her sanity and patience were tested; bringing friends’ and family members’ children into her house every day; desperately trying to keep everyone coordinated, growing intellectually and emotionally, and trying to teach them some life lessons along the way? It’s very possible they might not.
Will they remember our before-bed snuggles, nightly massages and philosophical conversations? Our walks to the park? Trips to festivals? Mom bickering playfully with their Dad? Being thrown into the lake at the cottage? Using me as a jungle gym or being tossed forcefully in the air with all my strength while they squeal and giggle, over and over and over again.
Will Julia remember the days when I finally took a brush to her dreadlocked curls, causing her pain because I had neglected them for too long or will she remember the days when I delicately stroked the brush through her hair, careful to make it as enjoyable as possible.
Will they remember their mom trying to show them the affection in the evenings that I have to mute during the day in the attempt to not play favorites to the detriment of my daycare children? Or will they only remember my attempts at being uniformly attentive to all the children, and in the process possibly denying them an inner need for constant physical reassurance? I pray it’s the former.
As my children are getting to the age when they are really beginning to retain memories for the rest of their lives, it is occurring to me more and more that as a mom, I’m in the business of creating those memories. I think the balance will be swayed with careful deliberation of my tactics, ensuring that Jon and I create powerful positive memories by building our own traditions and rituals.
Besides the very best and very worst experiences of my young life, the bulk of the things I remember are those that were repeated day after day, year after year. The smell of apple pies baking and listening to Bruce Cockburn’s Christmas album at Christmas; my mom and dad’s excitement for dressing up and scaring the daylights out of neighborhood children on Halloween; all the elaborate parties my mom played host to; picking gooseberries with my Nanny (grandma); blackmailing my brother into letting my toy horse have magical powers (I refused to play with him otherwise); drawing pictures of horses over and over until I’d achieved perfection. My childhood revolved around live music, mouth-watering food, and the world of fantasy I’d created in my head. As a teenager it was largely the same, but more independent of my parents – adding, of course, the copious amounts of alcohol and narcotics.
My children’s memories will certainly be different from my own as a child (and they had better bloody be different than mine as a teenager), but I hope that even if they don’t remember everything, they will at least remember the best of times.
Now that I’ve become conscious of my own great power to affect those memories, I’m going to work very hard to ensure that the best of times will greatly outweigh the worst of times and make a better effort at creating and continuing some new family rituals.
I’ve decided to start this endeavor with reading Harry Potter to James every night. I just bought the series and I think he’s mature enough for it. Am I mature enough to maintain the nightly ritual?
I think I finally might be.