Monday, August 9, 2010

Selective Memories

One day, when I was in middle school (although we called it Junior High, back in the olden days), my siblings and I were discussing the upcoming Missouri State Fair. We decided we should go, since my older sisters had recently acquired those neat little cards you carry in your wallet that give you permission to drive. “That would be great!” my brother said, “State Fairs are so much fun. I wonder why we never went to them when we were little.”

My dad, passing through the room as the last comment was made, stopped in his tracks and did an about face. “You’re kidding me, right?” he said.

We all stared at him, dumbfounded.

Finally my brother broke the silence. “No, why? I think it would have been fun to go to the Fair when we were little…”

What we didn’t realize, was that memories are fickle friends. For the next fifteen minutes we got an earful from our dad. It turns out that we DID go to the State Fair.

Every year.

Year after year of lugging a cooler and a big brown grocery bag full of lunch supplies across the dirt parking lot. Year after tiring year of packing endless cloth diapers and wads of bread bags to haul the wet ones home as the day progressed. Year after year of paying admission for five little people who spent the day alternating between being very entertained and very hungry/tired/crabby.

At the time I didn’t understand my dad’s outrage at our fractured memories. Now that I have kids of my own, I get it. I so totally get it.

This year I’ve set a summer goal. Before the warm months end I would like to have a significant number of our print photographs scanned into our computer. It’s not a small feat. I was a crazy picture lady way before we purchased a digital camera, which means I have literally 25 photo boxes, all full of prints, to eventually be archived onto our hard drive.

The task itself isn’t hard. But going through the boxes, making sure they are all chronological before I begin, has been very, very distracting. Each batch I pull out and flip through brings back waves of memories. Almost every time we’ve taken an adventure, I’ve had a camera along to record the fun. From walks down our neighbor’s stream in Missouri, to cross country trips to visit far away relatives, each activity has a spot in my boxes.

It reminds me of how much we’ve done. When I think back to raising our kids, I tend to remember the daily stuff. Making meal after meal. Digging out tubs of hand me downs as the seasons changed. Bathing little bodies and vacuuming up Legos. What I forget about are the times we made the effort to break away from everyday life and found something fun to do beyond our own front yard. The thick stacks of photographs trigger my memories.

I have had flashbacks to my dad’s outrage about our state fair comments. Many of the pictures I flip through show me things that my husband and I will remember, but most of our children will never recall. Days spent exploring in museums and walking in the shadows of national monuments.

My son Sam, who’s nine, sat with me at one point over the weekend, and I told him story after story of the places he’s been, laying out pictures in front of us to prove my stories true. He was mildly interested but the joy he’d felt as I’d taken those pictures will never be stirred up in his memories. I have to make peace with that.

But I honestly and truly believe he’s a better person today because he’s had life experiences. All of our children, with each of the trips we’ve taken or new places we’ve explored, have become different people because of our efforts. Every simple trip to the children’s museum, the zoo, and even the library, becomes a brick that builds their unfolding lives.

They learn about the world by going out and seeing it, whether they actively retain the memories or not. The library book about zoo animals comes to life as they see a monkey or giraffe up close on that hot, sweaty afternoon they spend at the actual zoo. For weary moms and dads, it might seem hardly worth it. But I choose to believe it’s very worth it.

When a child is buckled into a car seat and is surrounded by the people in his family, he soaks in a sense of who he is, and how he fits in the universe. When they all get out at a restaurant and share a meal, or unload at a trail head and spend the day finding bugs in the woods, he learns that he’s part of something bigger than himself, something warm and nurturing.

The pictures he sees of himself in a dozen years, of his round cherub face inspecting a ladybug, might not bring up any memories. Odds are they’ll bring up none. But he’ll be the better for the experience. He won’t remember the science museum’s demonstrations, that taught him about tornadoes and why ice cubes melt, but his understanding of the world grew with each visit.

I’m looking forward to eventually laying my hands on every one of the photographs I’ve taken in the past two decades. I’ll only scan the best ones, but will thoroughly enjoy each in its own way.

And I know, down deep in my soul I know, that at some point, after I’ve scanned a few thousand memories into the computer, one of my kids will turn to me some day and say, “Why didn’t we ever go to the state fair?”

No comments: