Thursday, July 31, 2014

All in the telling

One of the things my kids are going to have to learn to deal with as best they can is the fact that while I may be one of the top two best connections they will have with their own past, and the earliest days of their lives when permanent memories lacked the capacity to be formed, my own memory is notoriously unreliable. There's a relatively consistent reason for this, which fits right into my entire mental orientation towards storytelling. Some things fit that pattern, and some things don't. If it fits, I stand a much better chance of remembering it than if I don't.

That's pretty straightforward, and it's been true for as long as I can remember. Lucky for me, the vast majority of my public school teachers took the narrative approach to instruction, making things into a story whether it was the sequence of events that led to the Articles of Confederation or how to pronounce words with silent E's. That along with my voracious appetite for reading made school pretty easy on me. The things I struggled with were the really abstract concepts that called for rote memorization with little to no anthropomorphic metaphoric content; to this day, despite taking a year of AP Biology, I don't quite understand how the Krebs Cycle works.

But there's a slightly more insidious side to this whole arrangement, above and beyond the binary yes/no of remembering things. Sometimes I simply won't have any recollection of facts or events, but other times I will be convinced that I do remember them, although my memories are demonstrably false. And the fault usually comes down to the elements of a good story. If things happened one way, but it would have been a better tale if they happened another way, my brain will convince itself that events unfolded in the more narratively satisfying fashion. This trips me up. All. The. Time.

Like, seriously, I've gotten into fights with friends over the stupidest things, like who delivered a particularly devastating zinger at the perfect moment. I start out with a rock solid conviction that I'm the witty one, the hero of the anecdote, and then the whole thing comes into serious doubt as my friend insists I'm misremembering.

All of which to say, as I'm sure I've said before, take everything I say with a grain of salt. I'm not a malicious pathological liar, I just love a good story and my powers of recall fall victim to that with alarming frequency. I kind of caught myself in mid-process of overwriting my own memories the other day, as I was thinking about the bino and how he is presently poised on the cusp of vocalizing actual words. One of my duties as a parent, as widely acknowledged, is to remember for posterity the bino's real-and-true first word. Inevitably I am going to tell people that his first word was "go". It's funny, because for a lot of toddlers their first word is "no" motivated primarily by how often they hear it, but our bino has an advanced case of Third Child Syndrome, a combination of severe slackening of the rules my wife and I once vigilantly upheld for his bigger brother and sister, and a tendency to have things done for him or to him without explanation, all because at this point we're too damn exhausted to raise him any other way. He doesn't find himself being told "no" a whole lot. But he hears "let's go" a lot, not even necessarily directed at him but flowing from his parents to his siblings, as we try to appeal to their rational self-sufficiency and motivate them towards the goal of the moment. The bino also hears the little guy and little girl saying "let's go" to one another, usually in the form of "let's go to one of our bedrooms and close the door so the baby won't bother us and mess up our game." The bino so desperately wants to be one of the big kids, to participate in their activities, just to be able to keep up with them as they run. He wants to go, go, go. And thus if you pick him up these days, he's highly likely to point in the direction he wants to be carried and give the command: "GO!"

Great story, right? Not entirely accurate, though. The truth is the bino's been saying "mama" for a while, which is another extremely common first word. He also has his own way of saying "milk" when he wants some, which comes out sounding like "muhLUH-muhLUH" but is nevertheless recognizable as his distinct reference to the beverage. But those are kind of boring and don't elevate his overarching storyline as the youngest child. And if I hadn't written them down here, soon enough they'd be lost to the mists of legend. Sorry kids, I'm an unrepentant unreliable narrator. If you really want to know how things were back in the beginning, go ask your mother.

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