Monday, July 29, 2013

Cognitive Memory

Some amazing friends came to visit us on the Fourth of July. In tow were their two lovely and spirited daughters. Our plan was to have some lunch, saunter through the holiday street fair and to the minor league baseball park, watch the game, watch the fireworks, come home, put the kids to bed, pass out.

I'm pleased to report that all of this happened. Even with one of us on crutches due to a knee injury (note: not me), record crowds at the park and the fair, and 95+ degree heat. Yowsers, it was hot. But eventually the sun started to set, the kids started to calm and we started to make our way from the ballpark back to home in two distinct groupings: me, D, our friend B and her youngest girl. M, the oldest daughter and her dad staying to watch the end of the game and bringing up the rear.

As we were watching the fireworks, D in my arms, neck craned upwards, mouth open, eyes wide, all I could think of, over and over again as I recounted our nice day. Gosh, I wish D could remember this. 

Some days, I'm incredibly thankful for his seven-second memory span. Like when he shifts inexplicably from a furrowed brow and quivering lip to a wide-mouthed laugh for no reason. Like when the water I pour over him in the bath is too cold and he lets out a howl to let me know how he has been wronged (whoa, those little pee pees shrink quick, don't they?) Oh I am sorry, little man! Really sorry!

But on days when we have another first, hit another milestone, or just have a really, really great day with friends or family, I wish that was somehow lodged in his little memory. But it will be years until D. will be able to say, oh yes I remember....and actually mean it.


Earlier in the day on the way back from the game, we were crossing the river on a grated walking bridge and our friend B was telling a story about losing her favorite hairband (a cautionary tale, but one her daughter wanted repeated over and over again). What color was it? Who were you with? Why did you drop it? How old were you?

B couldn't remember the answer to that last one. And we started talking about how hard it was to place your early memories unless you have some major life events, like a new sibling or a major move, to serve as time stamp. B's husband lived overseas until he was 5, so it's easy for him to say whether something happened pre- or post- move. Before or after 5. My brother joined us when I was 4. And I usually place his arrival as one of my first memories. I'm not sure if it was. But I can say distinctly, "I was 4 when this happened and I remember it clearly. I know I was 4 because C was here."

I'm sure I have memories earlier than that. Snippets of moments, times at grandparent's houses and with cousins. But how old was I? Was it pre- or post-baby brother? Did this come before that? Or the other way, 'round. Was C here, but just not there with me during that thing I'm trying to remember. Ah, that's possible too.

Then there's the blurring of what is your memory and what is the story that you've heard so often that you've made it your memory.  M cites his first memory back to when he was 2, and uses the Super Bowl of that year as his marker. People never believe that he can remember something so early, but his retelling of the scenes seem accurate to those who were there, and he uses pieces of the game to prove it happened then.

But how many times might he have seen that game on replay? Who else in his family might have told the same story that he happened to be in? Might he be confusing this piece of a memory with another one from when he was slightly older?

How do we really know what we are remembering and what we're not? Or what's been altered? Or modified? If I tell D about something often enough, will he make that memory his own? Will he remember it as if he is actually the one remembering it?


After all the kids were put to bed, us grown ups talked about this heady stuff and B's husband took it to another level. I know if something were to happen to me now, our youngest wouldn't remember me. [The oldest] might. But barely.

I think we were all a little quiet as we let that sink in.

Here I was, a little melancholy over the loss of knowing some sweet moments, never once taking it to the higher plane. The loss of knowing me.


Memories are such a strange and amorphous thing. Can you think back to your first one, or at least one of them? How old were you? How do you know? What's your time stamp?


lostintranslation said...

Yes... my oldest was 16 months old when my mom died. He doesn't remember her. He does know however that my dad's new wife is not simply his grandma, because when I said he could call his granddad 'papy' when he referred to him to his French friends, he asked me what he was supposed to call H., my dad's new wife. "Is it Ok to call her Mamie"?

There is a very early memory from when I was 2. I also wonder how much of it is really my memory and not just a story told often (although my dad didn't want to repeat it because he would still start sweating when remembering): I got lost at the beach. I don't remember anything except being picked up by a German woman. I don't remember being afraid, panicky, being reunited with my dad at the lifeguard station etc. No, just that a friendly woman picked me up and that she didn't speak Dutch.

Alicia said...

I love this post... I love your blog actually! I love that our babies are within weeks apart and I can relate to everything you are saying.

I'm keeping a written journal for J so that I can record the little moments that make up our daily life. I am hoping it's a gift she cherishes when she is older.

Two Shorten the Road said...

We moved to PA the week before I turned 3. I had a few memories from our old house, although now they are more memories of memories. My grandma died when I was 4. I'm the oldest grandkid on that side, the only one of 11 grandkids who remembers her, and I feel lucky that I do.

Esperanza said...

I have thought a lot about this, especially the part about if memories are really stories we've heard over and over. My first memory is when I was three and I dropped my "last" pacifier over the deck into some wild grass. I have such a distinct memory of watching it fall but I wonder if I just created that memory later in the reselling. Lord knows I don't have any other memories from that young. And so many memories I have now are of things we have photographed or video taped, I wonder how many childhood memories are based on that.

I grew up in Hong Kong, moving back to the states when I was in seventh grade. My best friend from HK moved to the Seattle area the same time I moved to California and we visited each other every summer for years, well into college. We spent so much of our time together reminiscing about HK that I have VERY strong memories of that time and place. I could draw maps of the outdoor market and the trail to through the shanty town to her house. I remember the mall and the subway stations and the area around our school so clearly even though I was fairly young when I left. I'm sure I have those memories because we relived that time and place every year for a decade after we left.

The truth is I have very gem memories of my childhood and most of them have been told and retold (by me and others) over the years so I'm sure a lot of them have hung around because of the telling or the pictures that document them.

This is all so interesting. I think I'll write a post about it soon.

As a last thought, I wonder if the writing about this time of my life will help me remember it better. Surely the written documentation will help but I wonder if just the writing wil help cement it in my mind too. We'll see.

m said...

Thank you all so much for sharing!

Dear lost, I have vague memories of being lost in a local department store and like you, I don't remember being scared or panicked, but I do remember the very nice lady who found and got me reconnected with my (very scared and panicked) mom.

Alicia, you are too sweet. I love the idea of a written journal to hand over to your little one. I'm trying hard to keep up with a memory book to do the same, but gosh, its hard.

Two - I actually never knew you were not a PA native until right now. I really like the concept of memories of memories. I vaguely remember my great-grandmother (baba) I can remember her dying in my grandmother's house - but still, I think I'm the only one and yes, I do feel fortunate that I can still hold that piece.

Esperanza, wow. Memories strengthened through oral tradition. I love it. And what cherished summers those must have been.

loribeth said...

Interesting subject. We moved a lot when I was younger, and it's easy to compartmentalize memories according to where we lived. I've lived in this house 23 years and my parents haven't moved in almost 30, so there does tend to be more of a blurring of the timeline!

We made our first move when I was about 2.5. I do have a few memories of the first place we lived. I can remember "calling" my grandma on my toy telephone and telling her we were coming to her house, and I remember the neighbour's daughter teaching me to sing "Frere Jacques." ; )

nicoleciomek said...

very interesting post. I think about this a lot. I moved twice a younger kid, and you right - those events are the time stamps of my life. But, even though the 2nd move came at 11, I find I have a harder time remembering a lot things pre-age 11, because I never go to the place we lived. So, my memory is never jogged.

One of my first memories is about age 3 or 4. I can remember spinning around on the kitchen floor with my sister. I can also remember laying in bed and hearing the trains at night. But almost all my distinct memories are age 5 and older. We moved for the first time when I was 5, and I can still vividly remember the move, and being in our rental house.

Fascinating topic. I'll be thinking about this for a while.