You Think You Will Never Forget

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Baby Shoes
14 Feb 2008

You think you will never forget. The first smile, the first step, the funny remark said at the dinner table when they were only 2. You snap pictures, make entries in the baby book, and tell the grandmothers all about the cute comments. And then it happens.

My sixth and youngest child came home from school today with a writing assignment. As a long term project, each child was to write an autobiography. The first step was to jot down several facts that occurred in the early years – birth to 3, 4 to 6, 7 to 9, etc. It clearly said on the assignment sheet to ask your parents, since of course the child could not be expected to remember all the way back.

Imagine my horror – I just stared at my son, trying to come up with something to say. I could tell you about his birth (difficult), his nursing (not too cooperative), and the fact that he didn’t sleep through the night for years. But I could not think of one cute comment, event, episode or story to recount. How was it possible? I felt terrible as I jokingly told him to call his older sisters since they were the ones who played with him when he was small. Surely they would remember something of note to tell him.

I felt like an amnesiac as I went back to old photos in the album hoping to jog a memory. Oh yes, there he was covered in Desitin up to his elbows, and there was a shot of him on a ride at the amusement park with his older brother, and one more of him getting his kindergarten diploma. He certainly was a cute little boy with a shining smile and friendly personality. But when I tried to picture him during that time all I could see were the pictures in the album and nothing extra in my mind.

I started thinking about all my other children as toddlers. Could I really picture individual episodes and draw them in my mind, or were they also relegated to the memories evoked by looking in the albums? I realized that there are certain family favorites – stories that get recounted at countless birthdays or shabbos tables or family get-togethers. They are what we remember – the child as recounted specifically in those stories. We remember the deep meaningful conversation that happened accidently in the grocery aisle and the fall off the bike that resulted in a broken elbow because they are out of the ordinary. It is the ordinary everyday lifetime events that all seem to blur together in our memories.

There is a well-known saying, ‘life is what happens when you are making other plans.” When I was in the midst of raising six young children, my primary concerns were that there would be enough clean laundry for each child to have something to wear to school without a significant temper tantrum in the morning. If everyone got out the door with his backpack, school assignments, lunch and a snack, then we were off to a good start for the day. What we don’t realize is that each day is a potential memory. What seems insignificant to one child may remain with another as a major turning point in their lives. During the summer when my oldest son was 12, he and I used to walk together each morning. Sometimes we would stop and get a donut at the local shop, at other times we just enjoyed the sights with no particular destination in mind. I looked at those outings as memory builders. I was sure that he would look back at this time spent together and appreciate how we had ‘private time’ without the interference of his younger siblings. Imagine my chagrin when I asked him about it when he was well into his twenties. He had no idea what I was talking about! The memories that I was so sure would remain indelibly imprinted in his mind did not even occupy any space in his recollections.

As I sat there thinking about each of my children and our growing up together (me going from an untested first time mother who called the doctor when my toddler cut his lip to one who could handle copious amounts of bleeding with aplomb) I realized that it was not the individual memories that were important – it was the overall sense of contentment when I thought about the years that had passed.

Like all families, we had our share of difficult times, some that seemed insurmountable at the time. Some we handled well, some perhaps not. But watching my children grow into the confident adults and young adults they are today makes me think that they have not suffered from my memory lapses as much as I might have thought. As our children have married and new in-laws and grandchildren have been added to the mix, we continue to recount our ‘favorite’ family stories around the shabbos table. I wonder if some of them really happened the way we retell them, or if we have just found a way to make them stand out in our memories. And if all else fails, we always have the picture albums to remind us!

Susan Schwartz is a wife, mother and grandmother. She is the president of Davka Corporation.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.