I recently found out that a friend’s granddaughter has a photographic memory. Never one to miss an opportunity to waste hours ruminating over useless hypothetical questions, the next morning I sat drinking my coffee wondering why I didn’t also have a photographic memory.
“How can you expect me to remember anything when you are always asking me to forget everything?” a pretentious little voice asked.
“What are you talking about?” I questioned.
“You are always telling me, ‘Forget this ever happened, Brain. It’s for our own good’.”
Offended I asked, “Like what?” .
“Well obviously I can’t remember,” my brain yelled back taking offense itself.
Maybe people with photographic memories have a better time accepting reality and don’t continuously write and rewrite their past like I do. (Never forgetting to highlight myself in the very best light.) Or maybe people with photographic memories are more in the moment. That way each task they do, their brain is paying attention to it, rather than, as my brain tends to do, running off barefoot like a feral child through a dense forest.
Incidentally, in no way shape or form have I ever considered that I am simply not as smart as someone with a photographic memory. Never. Not possible. I’m sure if I worked at it I could have my own photographic memory. I choose not to have a photographic memory, that’s all. I don’t feel like doing the hard work.
“Now you’re telling me to forget that we know that we are not smart enough to have a photographic memory.”
“What? I did not. Shhh. Go run in the forest.”
As I was walking my four-year-old son to pre-school one morning, he started telling me about Natalie, his girlfriend, whom he described as beautiful with hair that shined “lellow” in the sun.
“Natalie says I can’t have Adam come to my birthday party,” he said as he dropped little black berries on the sidewalk, Hansel and Gretel style.
“Oh really?!” I replied in the over-acted manner preferred by four out of five preschoolers.
He stopped at a bush, finding more berries to pick. “She says I can’t because I have to make her happy.”
BAM! Like a pack of dogs through a just-opened screen door, the next words bolted out of my mouth. I whistled helplessly for them to come back, but fast as the speed of sound, each word gonged themselves in succession against his tiny eardrums: Man. She. Sure. Is. Bossy. Realizing this was the first time he’d heard his mother talk bad about one of his friends, he turned and looked up at me, his eyes widening.
Only one day earlier, a mother reminded me that kids blab to their friends and teachers everything their parents say to them. I was aware of this when dealing with older children but I hadn’t quite grasped that my own boys were at that age. Meaning, I had yet to be shamed.
Truthfully I felt pretty confident that my kids never listen to me. I had tried to peer deep into their eyes a few times to see if my words where getting through to them. All I saw was the swift glimmer of their brain as it galloped past on its way to the forest where the wild things are. Their complete lack of comprehension was the only way I could explain why I found myself repeating the most basic of instructions. Like: “You don’t need an entire roll of toilet paper every time you use the toilet.”
Or, “I know you are trying to help clean but don’t keep putting old bowls of spaghetti back into the cabinet.”
And, “I’ve told you before if you’re going to inspect mummified lizards with magnifying glasses in my bed, please remember to take them back outside when you’re done.”
Oh, and, “Stop coming up to me and wiping your nose on my sleeve.”
Knowing that I was about to learn my gossip lesson, I quickly back-tracked. I knelt down to my son’s level and spoke to him of mutual respect, the dynamics of a male/female relationships. I brought up Martians and Venusians, King Solomon and his tasty gossip morsels. I used fast speech to jab at his pre-frontal cortex. I dropped four syllable boulders in front of his neural pathways. To overload his optical nerve, I gesticulated like a juggler with Parkinson’s. Anything to distract the arrival of those first five words to his hippocampus. Like a UPS central processing center, it’s the part of the brain where items get sorted and some are sent off to become long-term memories. I even said hippocampus a few times, just in case it is the hidden lair of the id.
I talked the rest of the way to school. I talked until his eyes crossed and birds flew around his head. I talked so much I was confident that I had rendered his brain incapable of remembering that I had said: she sure is bossy.
I kissed him off to school.
Three short hours later I walked back to pick him up.
“How was your day?” I asked.
“Mama, you were right. Natalie is bossy,” he said. My heart became an anvil and clanked on the floor. Blind-sided, I realized that my babbling had succeeded only in confusing my hippocampus.
“You didn’t call her that, did you?” I asked.
His eyes got big. “No, Mama.”
I sighed with relief.
“No, Mama, I told her that you said she was bossy.”
Due to my unfortunate experiences with antidepressants as a teenager, I have a bit of an (un)natural distrust for the “good ideas” that my brain pushes on me.
Like millions of other teenagers, I was prescribed these little black-magic pills before it was “discovered” that antidepressants can actually increase suicidal thoughts and actions.
(“Eureka, Dr. Holmes! It seems that if you look at the empirical data that we deleted to get Prozac passed by the FDA, the suicide rate actually increases with use as compared to the placebo or even doing nothing at all.” “My God, Dr. Watson! I’d say that means it’s time we start working on Abilify.”)
My brain, even antidepressant free, is sneaky, sneaky, always seeming to try to build up my trust for it. Of course you won’t forget the special place you put your passport. Or, I’ll remind you the parking break is on. Or, I’m sure caffeine won’t keep you up all night this time. My brain is like a badly run government agency trying to cover its tracks and reassure the public. The levies won’t break, people, the levies won’t break.
It’s a biological fact. The human brain never admits to mistakes. It’s why people with schizophrenia continually quit their medicine. Their brain tells them that they haven’t had any symptoms for weeks and they must be cured. But you need to take your medicine.
The brain’s stubbornness can also be seen in the paranoia associated with dementia. Even as the part of the brain that is thought to be involved in memory forming, the hippocampus, is eaten away by Alzheimer’s, it will never concede that it just may have forgotten something:
Frontal Lobe: “Message to hippocampus, message to hippocampus, where is the toothbrush?”
Hippocampus (roused from sleep): “Hmm?” Blinking and wiping his glasses. “Hmm, what was the question?”
Frontal Lobe: “WHERE is the toothbrush? You were supposed to transfer that to her long term memory yesterday.”
Hippocampus: “Well, yes I did do that, and it should be in the medicine cabinet.
Frontal Lobe: “It is not in the medicine cabinet. We already looked twice.”
Hippocampus: “Well if it is not there, then … it must have been stolen.”
Frontal Lobe: “STOLEN??? Who would want to steal a 95-year-old woman’s 10-year-old toothbrush?”
Hippocampus: “Are you trying to suggest that I forgot? I am the hippocampus. I said it has been stolen, so it has been stolen.”
Frontal Lobe: “Fine. Fine. OK. Send it on to the nervous system. Red alert everybody. Queue the adrenaline. It has been stolen.” Frontal lobe pauses, listening and then continues. “Amygdala is saying we should hide more stuff to prevent further stealing. Hippocampus, will you remember where the stuff is put?”
Frontal Lobe: “HIPPOCAMPUS!!!”
Hippocampus: “Yes. Yes, I always remember.” Hippocampus stands and stretches.
Frontal Lobe: Holy Brain Stem, Hippocampus! Put some pants on for Oxygen’s sake.”
I think my hippocampus has a few holes in it also, because I have a horrible memory. But I thought I had finally accepted it: as much as my brain tells me I’ll remember, I won’t. So I have to write everything down. A few weeks ago I started keeping lists, using Google Calendar, doing things as soon as I think of them. I was taking my medicine, so to speak.
Then yesterday I was going to the store and my brain said, You don’t need to make a list, you haven’t forgotten anything in weeks.
And I hadn’t forgotten anything in weeks! I was so proud. I do have a good memory. See I told you.
So I went to the store without a list. I only needed two things from the store, and I came home with seven.
Then this morning my husband had to break up a fight between me and my brain as I was trying to strangle it to death because I realized I hadn’t gotten either of the things I needed.
So take your medicine. (Unless it is antidepressants and you are a teenager.)
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If you want to guarantee that you screw up your child’s hood, just like your parents screwed up yours, then do the exact opposite of what your parents did.
My parents, I guess in some loving and demented way, thought it was best to never share with my brothers and me the tragedies that occurred while we were kids. As an adult I believe that they thought we were too young to understand, or they desired to protect us from pain. But as a child you can still comprehend that something is going on and you feel crazy being lied to.
Now, as an adult, I hate secrets and I don’t keep them well. Telling me a secret is like handing me a set of chattering teeth. I try to hold them tight in my hand, hide them behind my back, stuff them in a pocket, but I can hear them chatter like the Tell-Tale Heart. Chatta, chatta, chatta, Gottatellya, Gottatellya, Gottatellya.
I am still surprised when my friends tell me secrets. Haven’t you been burned by this before? Because if you think I have learned my lesson, then you should know that I’m wondering if you haven’t learned yours. As George W. Bush so eloquently misstated, “fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me, well you can’t get fooled again.”
As parents, we often think the opposite of wrong is right, but actually the opposite of wrong is … still wrong. In fact sometimes the two opposites can create the very same effect. An article in the July 2010 issue of Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs entitled “Parenting Style, Religiosity, Peers, and Adolescent Heavy Drinking” found the highest rates of heavy drinking among teenagers whose parents were extremely strict and among the opposite, parents who were extremely lax. Two extremes equal the same result.
I always joke that if you keep secrets from your kids they grow up to be writers. In reaction to my parents, I tell everything in public, with pictures. I’ve gone to the other extreme and it can’t be good for my kids. I can see my son in 8 years, “Mom, I hate you. I can’t believe you published a story about walking in on me kissing my pillow.” Although if he could read today, he would probably be mad because I already walked in on him kissing a girl. He is 4! I asked him, “Did you kiss on the lips?” “Yes.” Then I asked, “Did you kiss anywhere else?” His reply: “Yes … in the chair.” Whew.
My kids will probably become the most secretive humans alive. And of course, then all their children will be writers.
So even though I know better, I still find myself saying that my parents did this so I am going to do the exact opposite. My parents never let me paint my room black and hang up posters of Madonna gyrating in a wedding dress. They didn’t let me tattoo my first boyfriend Richard’s nickname on my neck. My parents never let me make any decisions causing me to feel controlled and untrustworthy, so I’m going to let my kids make all their own decisions causing them to feel unloved and neglected.
When we are parenting from a state where we are fixating on old wounds, we are actually thinking like our child-self. Reactionary parenting is parenting with the emotional intelligence of a child. If you don’t believe me, please eavesdrop on my screeching brain:
I’m going to tell my kids everything. I will never keep any secrets from them. I want to make them insane from too much information. So there!
And if you feel the urge to bite me so I’ll stop talking, that might be a good indicator too.
So what should we do?
Come closer. I’ll whisper in your ear. Here’s the secret:
Whenever you start to think, “my parents did this so I am going to do that,” stop yourself and contemplate what a normal healthy, not-deranged person would do. Envision sane parents, place yourself in the middle of the road and move on from there.
At first, imagining healthy behavior can seem foreign and impossible, but it becomes easier as you practice. Normal well-functioning adults, if they exist, don’t keep everything from their kids, nor do they expose all. If your parents had hideous fights in front of you as a child, then never fighting is not the answer. Show them that loving couples can have conflicts and make up. If you grew up poor and toy-less, then giving your children everything only makes them ungrateful. Making your children occasionally work for things they want helps them appreciate what they have.
The resolution to our past is not parenting in reaction but, it appears, in starting to follow the clichéd path of moderation.
My parents didn’t even let me know Facebook existed when I was a kid, help me catch up by clicking “like” on Pen Name Jane’s page.
Go ahead and do it[i].
I would, but the weak-minded child inside me thinks that people will talk behind my back.
General Public: “I think she wears the same clothes every day.”
I don’t mind being thought of as uncreative, but I do mind being thought of as dirty.
You shouldn’t worry what others think about you.
I’ve been told that before, but truthfully no one likes to be around someone who doesn’t care what others think…because they are assholes.
If I did wear a uniform, maybe I could put a sign on the back of each shirt that differentiated it. No, not something cheesy like the days of the week. Why? Because what if I put the Thursday shirt on really late Thursday night and then it was basically still clean Friday morning, and to save water I just put the Thursday shirt back on? Huh? What do you think about that? I don’t think you should make comments until you’ve thought them through.
What I’m talking about is a sign that just says, “No, I’m not wearing the same thing as yesterday. This is my uniform.”
I like signs that answer the questions we all have in our head. I think we need more signs for everything. I’ve always imagined if I was ever in a wheelchair I would have a big sign right on the back saying “Hit by a teenager who was texting “LOL” to her frienemy.” Below it would say: “Don’t text and drive.” And below that, written smaller, “And don’t drive without insurance. This sign brought to you by Geico.”
Because seriously you have to admit the most awkward part of talking to a stranger in a wheelchair[ii] is trying to concentrate on what they are saying over the screaming questions in your head. What happened? Were you born this way? Are you a Lady Gaga fan? Was it an accident? Was it something stupid you did, or something stupid somebody else did?
I think we need more signs, like bumper stickers saying, “I drive like a wanker because the chemo makes me angry.” I feel like if we understood people’s back story, we would be more compassionate about their behavior. If my kid was ever killed by a drunk driver, (if I publish this that guarantees it will never happen, right? Fingers crossed. 1,000 prayers. Kiss my Saint Nicholas statue.[iii]) I would put a bumper sticker on my car saying, “A drunk driver killed my child.” My sticker would act as a reminder to people of the real consequences of drunk driving. Of course, then I would be probably get rear-ended three times a day by someone crying in their car over my sticker.
On this drunk driving note, have you ever heard Florida’s anti drunk driving slogan “Decide before you drive.”
That is all I think when I see that slogan. What am I deciding? To drink and drive?
Who are you talking to, slogan? Are you asking drunk people to decide if they should drink and drive before they get behind the wheel? Because drunk drivers always decide to drive before they drive.
Or are you talking to sober people before they go out? Decide to not drive under the influence before you leave for the night? I am pretty sure every sober person tells themselves, “I am going to take a cab home tonight.” Three hours later, when they are no longer sober, they say, “Just this one time. I’m ok. I’ll be ok to drive.” And only the next morning, when they are sober again, will they admit, “I really shouldn’t have driven.”
But no matter what you do, you have made a decision. Decide before you drive. Did we pay millions of dollars to come up with this vague statement? Why did we stop saying, Don’t Drink and Drive? How about: Take a Cab.
Maybe the slogan is saying decide on a designated driver before you drive. But then shouldn’t it be, decide before you drink? The problem with designated drivers is they have a tendency to change their mind half way through the night. The only reliable designated drivers are pregnant women.
I think there should be a free taxi cab service that is run by pregnant women. It could be the Zip Car of taxis. Instead of walking around their houses in the middle of the night cursing at their sleeping husbands, pregnant women all over the country could be out driving drunk people home from bars. They could also hand out condoms and point to their belly and say, “This is what happens when you have sex while intoxicated.”
People would probably be sober by the time they got home, partly because pregnant women drive really slow, and also from the yelling, “Look at me. I’m swollen. I can’t sleep. I’m being kicked in the ribs.” (Hysterical sobbing.) I bet pregnancy rates from one-night-stands would plummet. Yelling Pregnant Woman induced sobriety would also help in case any of these women went into labor and the passengers had to drive her to the hospital.
Decide before you drive. Stupid Florida.
Maybe Floridians should have to wear a sign to identify themselves. “Talk slow, you are speaking to a Floridian.”
Signs could eliminate society’s need to ask stupid questions. Maybe signs should be required:
We could even do it for religions. Jewish people could wear…hey…wait a minute. Delete. Delete. Delete.
I’m not talking about collared shirts and khaki pants here. (Do you see what I just did there: switched back to my original subject of uniforms with no transition? This is wear the kneed for a editor becomes xtremely a parent. Are you anal-retentive and work for free? Call me. 555-867-5309[iv]) No, I am saying I’ll find a flattering style that was popular back when the 1970’s were reinvented in 1991 and just wear that every day. I basically do that anyways. Hey, this is a different black cotton t-shirt and pair of out-of-style bell bottoms.
Hmm, if only I could let people know that, like on a sign or something.
[i] Yes, I am reading Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan. How did you know?
[ii] “Really it’s awkward for you? How about the awkwardness of sitting in a wheel chair forever?” Hey! I just admitted I am a self-obsessed child. What more do you want? Compassion?
[iii] Did you know that Taxi cab drivers have their own saint? Saint Fiacre. I wonder if he looks after pregnant temporary cab drivers. Why do I ask? Keep reading.
[iv] Jenny, I got your number. But I’m serious. I need help. Email me.
The Easter Bunny’s hideous job this year has driven this mother to mail in a list of grievances.
RE: Easter Bunny Performance
I’m writing this letter because of the unsatisfactory experience I recently had with your employee, the Easter Bunny. When I awoke on Easter morning I initially didn’t notice that anything was wrong. My children’s Easter baskets were nestled outside their bedroom doors, filled with treats, as expected. In that regard the Bunny’s work was timely and discreet.
It was only when my children started opening their candy-filled eggs that I discovered three problems, specifically with the choice of candy, a discrepancy in quantity and lastly a more delicate issue that I will go into later.
Before I explain what went wrong with the candy, I feel like I should note that I do appreciate the hard work that the Bunny does. And it may sound ungrateful to complain about her choices, but she brought my kids spiced jelly beans. Now, I’m not sure if she knows this, but kids will eat almost anything with sugar in it … except spiced jelly beans.
If it had only been the yucky beans, I may have been able to overlook her performance, but she also gave my kids two very different amounts of candy. She filled one child’s basket with three bean-filled eggs and the other with only one. (Luckily, she slighted my 3-year-old, and he isn’t exactly the sharpest crayon in the box. In fact, he counted his one egg and said, “One, three, four. Hey Mama, I know my letters.”) Also, because the jelly beans were so atrocious, my oldest son was more than willing to share.
My third concern, as I mentioned before, is of a more delicate matter. After the children dug into their baskets, I looked over and in my kitchen I noticed a half drunk … well, more like 3/4 drunk … Fine. I don’t know why I’m covering for her — an empty bottle of cheap Carrot Wine on the counter. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, and maybe the Bunny shared it with friends, but was her poor choice in candy and her inability to count caused by inebriation? It was highly upsetting to think that the Bunny may have been drinking and delivering.
In conclusion, I am willing to overlook this if it was an isolated incident, and I sincerely hope that next year the Bunny will have her act together. On the other hand, if many other families had similar experiences then I suggest that you consider looking further into this matter.
Thank you for your time.
Chris Sansbury, mother of M and O.
P.S. Is the Easter Bunny also supposed to hide eggs for the kids? If so, do I leave her a note asking her to? My children thought that she should have hidden some, and I was at a loss for words on how to answer.
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