I’ve been thinking a lot lately about memories, which sounds pretty circular, but when you’re someone who lives in your head as much as I do, it’s par for the course.
I think what first got me started thinking about it was last week, when Ruby came home from a trip to City Park with my mom and announced proudly to me, “I learned how to swing myself!”
“How exciting!” I said. “I remember when I learned how to swing myself — I was just about your age, and I was also at City Park, and my brother taught me!”
And then, much later that night, I realized I wasn’t remembering it exactly clearly: I was about her age, and my brother was involved in the process, but it was one of the many times in my early childhood when he was supposed to be watching me … but wasn’t. So in point of fact, my brother “taught” me how to swing by just not being there in the park when I needed him to push me.
Or maybe I started thinking about memories before that. Ruby is right at the cusp of making memories that will stick with her for the rest of her life, and to be honest, that kind of makes me feel like the stakes are higher now. Before, if something bad happened to her or I lost my temper or I did something completely ridiculous in front of her, I would console myself with the fact that she wouldn’t remember it. Not so anymore. And so even though she doesn’t remember any of the awful Gustav evacuation (which definitely involved large measures of me both losing my temper and acting completely ridiculous), she will probably remember the Isaac evacuation.
On the night we first evacuated to Amite, we all went out to dinner, and as we parked and got out of the car, a train came rocketing down the tracks right by the restaurant.
“Look, Ruby!” I said, because as a parent, I feel strangely compelled to narrate pretty much everything I see. “A train!”
And she leaned against me, and we watched it go by — it was going so fast — and I wondered, “What of this will she remember? Will she remember standing with me in a small Southern town, in the literal calm before the storm, watching this really fast train at twilight? Will she remember the sounds? The dustiness? The heaviness of the air? The feeling of my hand on top of her head?”
The big memories, I feel certain, will stay with her. She will remember coming to meet her sister at the hospital. She will remember starting kindergarten. It’s the smaller ones that I’m not so sure about.
There seems to be no real rhyme or reason to my early memories — I remember the way tacos smelled in the lunchroom in kindergarten, a story my mom used to read me about someone named Crispin Crispian (ah, thank you, Google: That would be Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself), reading the word “transportation” on the chalkboard in first grade and being enormously pleased with myself, sitting in the Japanese plum tree in our side yard and rubbing the fuzz off of the leaves, a pair of white socks with red polka dots that I fiercely loved.
But why do I remember these things and not others? And in 25 years, what details from our everyday life will Ruby remember?
This is pretty typical behavior for me — I have always had a tendency to get ahead of myself, and so it figures that while my kid is busy just living her life, I am about a million steps ahead contemplating what she’s going to tell somebody on a first date when he asks, “So what’s your earliest memory?” But I am genuinely curious — and I sincerely hope that if her first memory is of me being a less-than-stellar mom, that she does me the same favor I did my brother and at least slightly misremembers it.