Stomping through the kitchen, scowling ferociously, I grabbed my tote bag. I stood silently for a moment, straining to hear a hint of footsteps coming down the stairs. Nothing. I waited another minute. Still nothing.
“Doesn’t she understand that I wasn’t asking for the dishwasher to be emptied, I was telling her to get it done?” I steamed.
My mother pursed her lips, shook her head. She is visiting me for the week. We had spent the day enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, eating lunch outside, shopping. But now the girls were home and I was trying to leave for rehearsal and I needed the dishes put away. Homework had been done, bags unpacked and kisses bestowed. Chores are few and far between, but the expectation is that you get them done when asked.
“I mean seriously! Does she think hiding under the covers in her room is acceptable behavior for twelve-years-old?” I continued, starting to head back up the stairs to address this issue one last time.
My mom interrupted. “I seem to remember a little girl who would roll her eyes and pout too.”
I blinked my eyes searching for a response, “I did my chores. I may have grumbled about doing them, but they got done.”
“I think you have selective memory. You guys would whine so much I would just give up and do the work myself.”
“So are you justifying her actions? Are you telling me I should just do it myself?”
“No – I’m just saying that you were no different. You should go so you’re not late. I’ll make sure it gets done.”
I left abruptly. The 35 minute drive ahead of me suddenly seemed necessary and very welcomed. It’s not surprising that I would have selective memory. Some because my childhood seems so long ago, some due to what importance I put on specific memories over others.But this isn’t the first time my mom has indicated my memory is flawed. How inaccurate are my memories? Can I rely on my perception as a basis of holding on to the past or is the truth of my childhood locked-up in the memories of my parents? And if I really don’t have the “right” memories does it diminish the depth of joy or happiness I think I experienced or over-dramatize the less than happy moments?
Much of how I parent is based on my childhood relationship with my own parents, or at least what I remember it being. Bits and pieces of middle school temper tantrums and highschool rebellions, mixed in with defensive compliance remind me of childish mutterings under my breath of, “when I’m a parent…”
There is a restlessness that surfaces occasionally, mocking my efforts as I try to build a nurturing environment for my children. A fear that this will not be enough. A fear that they will not remember what I remember, and wonder what parts they will take with them as adults. My mother’s words of “selective memory” cause me to stop, want to live in the moment just a little bit longer when it is good and comfortable, because it could be lost forever tomorrow. And perhaps I should stress less about the tears and arguments because they too, will be less visible as the days turn into years.
My mother recently went to a writing conference in Virginia Beach, put on by the Hampton Roads Writers. She had the pleasure of hearing author Jill McCorkle. One of the things she shared in regards to writing memoirs and using memory in your writing was this:
“It is not who your parents were but who you think they were. Interpretation is everything. The emotional truth is what makes the story work. “
The emotional truth is really all we can claim. For DW, his childhood is very concrete and tangible. But that is how he lives his daily life: rational, non-emotional. I, on the other hand, live a very emotional life, sometimes completely irrational in my responses. So somewhere in the web of emotions is the truth. My childhood.
I immediately pictured highschool when I read this writing prompt, but my thoughts weren’t filled with football games or dances. My longing is for our writing club, and my favorite teacher Ms. D’Ann Johnson. I loved her creative writing class so much I took it twice and then my senior year I was her teacher aid. She took the time to run our literary magazine and host all night parties for our staff to choose from hundreds of student entries. I miss college professors that taught me to trust my instincts and write about real feelings and not just about ideas. The things I truly miss about childhood are the things that I pain for in my adulthood. Thankfully, things that I can continue to seek. And perhaps while seeking them, by writing everything down, I will uncover and document emotional truths that will help keep me from having selective memory.