Yesterday at a playdate, over a mojito ("Would you guys like to come over and play? Can I make you a mojito?" let me think... YES.) I had a conversation with a friend who is planning to take her two and a half year old son to Disneyland soon. Apparently, upon telling others of this plan, she's been met with lots of comments like, "Why? He won't remember it."
Now, I'll interrupt myself for just a moment to say: I love Disneyland. The Disney industrial complex? That, I could critique for hours unabated. It's an unfortunate thing, to be sure: stories that re-enforce the heteronormative, that teach girls that physical beauty is of utmost importance, in which problem solving is all but absent and "heroines" are doomed by their own trusting nature to wait in peril until a handsome guy shows up to save them from themselves, or, in some cases, someone else. Someone...ugly! The horror. I dislike just about everything those stories represent, but somehow I am able to divorce that distaste from my feelings about Disneyland. Main Street's cherry sours, the Matterhorn's abominable snowman, Space Mountain's winding line -- I love it all and, since I grew up in Southern California, have been there more times than I could count. I am stoked for her and stoked for her son.
Okay, back to it: When my friend told me that people poo-pooed her plans for a family vacation to Disneyland, I was surprised. Who in their right mind would advise against taking kids somewhere they are guaranteed to find magical, just because they might not remember every second of the trip? Do they parent this way all the time, and if so, what kinds of things do they consider passable, just because their child won't remember? And then it dawned on me. Cry-it-out. Circumcision. Feeding schedules. Spanking. I've heard them all justified the same way. Oh, they won't remember! It's easier to do it now, when they won't remember.
I try not to dwell on this sort of thinking too often, but occasionally I'll look back on a day and ask myself: if this were George's (or, now, Zelda's!) last day, would I feel bad about the choices I made today? I don't think, "Eh, who cares? In 10 years he won't remember that I yelled at him!" or "I'll just let her cry; she won't remember it when she's 20!" I replay our days, hopeful that the love and respect I feel for my children was evident in my actions and my words. If I can't honestly say that it was, I apologize and promise to try again the next day. It doesn't matter if my kid is 6 months old or 65; the way I treat them doesn't hinge on what they'll be able to recall, but what will assure them of my love in the present and future, and what will, I hope, better their lives.
In the running for first memory: the time we forced him to go sledding
A lifetime is made up of a million small decisions, outcomes, and lessons, right? Patterns get created; habits form; preferences take shape. While I'm the first to admit that some days are a total wash and subsequently try to forgive myself, I also realize that those days aren't necessarily immediately water under the bridge. Even minor parenting missteps can have lasting effects that our children can't always articulate. Does the fact that I raise my voice in excitement -- both angry and otherwise -- create a yeller? Well, duh: yes. But, if my son hollered in the library, do you think he could explain that he was doing so because he heard me yell last Wednesday when I was railing about the Presidential primaries? Probably not. On the flip side, however, if he can remind me of the location of every public restroom in every store or restaurant he's ever visited? Some things must be sinking in. There's no scientific journal quite like a two year old, and certainly none as cute.
The nothing-counts-before-five(?) rule may work for some families, but I'd rather not go through my kids' early lives with fingers crossed that this punishment/pain/other regrettable situation isn't the dreaded first memory. And what will that first memory be? The one they recount on a lazy morning in bed when asked by a boyfriend or girlfriend; the one they tell in a team building exercise at a new job; the one they talk about around the fire at sleepaway camp? I don't know. But if it can't be a story about meeting Winnie the Pooh, I'd gladly settle for a memory of loving, attentive parents in some mundane, everyday situation. Our luck, though? It'll totally be the sledding.