The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Friday, June 02, 2006

Matters of grey matter

I have been saying for years that I would have far more room in my head for important information if my brain were not already full of useless nursery rhymes and mindless sorority cheers. If recent changes to my daughter's memory are any indication, this tongue in cheek excuse for my forgetfulness may actually be dead on after all.

Julia's memory impressed me for a long time. Throughout her 2 and 3 year old years, she would frequently regale me with detailed stories of things that had happened a full year or two prior. She would recall with eerie accuracy precise details about what people had been wearing at a given event or where she had first been introduced to a particular food or concept. She was able to recite books verbatim after only one or two readings, and she remembered entire conversations we'd shared a few months back as clearly as if they'd just occurred moments before. "She must have a photographic memory," we would say as we watched her in astonishment.

She doesn't. At least, not any more. Because in the past several months, these recall abilities suddenly seem to be gone. "I don't remember that," she frequently tells me when we discuss events of the recent past or important occasions that she's always recalled before. Entire concepts that she fully grasped just a short time ago suddenly escape her ("What's a negative number?" she asked me the other day after a whole fall spent begging people to give her harder and harder math problems). She's forgotten entire vacations which she used to discuss in intense detail, entire books which she used to be able to recite with no effort at all, entire topics which used to fascinate her, entire relationships with people who used to matter a great deal to her. She's gone from seemingly remembering every little detail to remembering shockingly little about anything at all. It's bizarre.

Or is it? At the same time that she's seemingly lost all sorts of memories, Julia's reading abilities have truly flourished, her imaginative play has taken on new dimensions and her social interactions have become strikingly more mature and involved. She's thinking just as much as ever, but she's thinking about very different things these days, and those things seem to be crowding out the things that she used to think about, competing for valuable space inside her head.

Julia's brain was empty enough in the first few years of her life that there was room to store every little detail of her daily existence. But now that her own repertoire of nursery rhymes and life experiences is growing, there just isn't room for the little details any more, for the fact that I was wearing a pink shirt on Tuesday or that last year, her bedroom in our vacation house had a blue bedspread. The memorized words to Corduroy may have to be pushed aside to make room for all the new words she's reading now, and it's likely she'll forget those, too, as her appetite for increasingly complex reading material increases in the coming years. Her mind can't store everything that happens to her indefinitely. Some choices will need to be made about what gets retained. And those choices, I'm now realizing, are going to be pretty damn random.

The older she gets, the more selective Julia's memory will become, just as mine has over the years. Suddenly, it's not a foregone conclusion that anything will be retained. This is in some ways depressing (I spent nearly three years and hundreds of dollars on enriching Mommy and Me activities, but when I brought her to sit in on one of Evan's Music Together classes today, she had no memory whatsoever of having ever participated in one before). It's also a little liberating (ok, so I yelled at her for something that wasn't technically her fault yesterday, and probably the day before that too, but odds are good that she'll have completely forgotten all about my sharp words by next week). But mainly, it's a challenge to me. It's a challenge to ensure that the good of our lives outweighs the bad, of course, so that whatever random memories Julia does retain are largely positive. And it's also a challenge to keep on writing here, to keep storing up all of those memories that her brain may not have room to keep but my heart can not afford to let her lose.


At 9:51 PM, Anonymous chelle said...

Wow, this is so insightful. Becca seems to remember a little more than 6 months ago, but she is just shy of two years old. Sounds like I need to watch what I am wearing *wink*

Amazing how things change as they age and how we need to adjust to that!

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

She's learning negative numbers?!?!?!?!? (I'd love to comment further, and more on-topic, but I'm stuck there! ;)

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Kristy said...

It's funny that we've both written about memory of late. Although my post veered off unexpectedly, it really shares many sentiments, if only in its intentions, as opposed to its execution.

Our memories -- short term, long term, and beyond -- are a precious asset.


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