There must be some kind of study showing a link in long-term cognitive decline between parenting young children and say, blunt trauma head injuries. Certainly, there is a phenomenon afoot whereby parents develop a sort of selective amnesia about their early parenting years – this can be the only explanation for why people ever choose to have more than one child.
I had a conversation recently with a friend whose kids are a little older than ours about how difficult it can be to get both kids to sleep at night, keep them asleep, and not have everyone waking each other up at 5am when one of us decides he’s “all done sleeping.” His response was, “Yeah, I don’t really remember any of that,” and proceeded to talk about plans to have a third, and possibly fourth kid.
Somewhere between the radical life changes, the sleep deprivation, and the barrels of wine consumed in the happy little window between kid and parent bedtimes, these fleeting first days become a blur, and remembering everything that you swear you’ll never forget as newborn becomes baby, baby becomes toddler, and toddler becomes little dude, is virtually a lost cause.
Taking pictures and videos helps, of course – I have spent hours looking through the 52,478 photos we have of Attie’s first year marveling at how small he is, how much he looks the same, but different, how much less ashy and wrinkled and beaten down I look – but it’s almost as if I’m staring at someone else, a different me. It’s then I ask my wife, “Hey, what were we doing that day I was wearing the Russian fur hat and holding Attie upside down by his ankles?”
This is where parenting in pairs really pays off – with two brains on it, you have twice the odds of being able to piece together events of the past. I’m not making this up – it’s actually a psychological term called communal memory, whereby one member of a family can even be predisposed to not remembering something, because it’s in another’s domain to do so. This explains why I always know where the iPhone earbuds are, but can never find Attie’s hat unassisted.
This method of pooling memories plays an even greater role as we get older, as our kids grow up and start asking questions about these years that they physiologically can’t remember, and is at the root of the age-old retort, “Go ask your mother.” Personally, I never really cared about any of these “baby stories” in my own life, right up to the point I had kids of my own. Something about becoming a parent really forces you to revisit your own childhood in ways good and bad.
My father passed away 14 years ago this August, and was less than ten years older than I am now when he died (a fact in and of itself that scares the crap out of me any time I think about it that way). And there have been a lot of times that I’ve missed him, but none so many as since our son was born. How did it feel to become a father? When did you really feel like you first started to get to know me? What did you and I do when I was Attie’s age? What do you remember?
These are questions that cannot be answered, of course, which is a hard thing for me to accept. Many are re-routed to my mother, who does the best she can with them – most just simply aren’t in her department. When I was a little older than Attie, my mother had the steady 9 to 5 and my father dropped me off and picked me up at preschool – those memories were his domain. All I have of them now are far away, hazy snapshots from another lifetime.
This is another reason I feel compelled to write about these years as they go by. I do my best to keep track of little things – “Atticus growls at lion statue,” “Vivi laughs out loud,” “Evie and I have first night out alone since 2009,” but without the context, without filtering it all back through my head and forcing me to really attach meaning to these ephemeral, extraordinary moments, they are but evanescent notes in a melody we once knew by heart, but can no longer sing.
I write mostly then, I guess, so I may one day remember.