The Brain is a Mystery, Wrapped in an Enigma
I know the first couple of years of your child’s life are supposed to be the most formative. This is when the soft spot hardens (collapses?) and brain starts to gel and mylinate and your baby finally starts to enforce it’s will upon you more clearly, instead of just simply throwing up on your favorite shirt.
Be forewarned: all that stuff you do for your kid in the first couple of years, all the trips to the petting zoo and the beach and Museum of Modern Art won’t add up to a damned thing.
Kids don’t remember shit.
I remember like it was yesterday (because I am an adult) talking to my six year-old son about when he was “younger.”
“Remember when we used to go to the dog party on the corner every day? Those were great.”
“What dog party?”
“The 'Dog Party?' Over on the corner? All the neighbors would bring their dogs over to play on Steve and Mary’s yard, back when Jack lived there.”
“The guy that used to live on the corner? That had the “Dog Party?”
“I don’t remember this at all.”
“We went every day.”
“For two years. Everyday.” At this point I’m rubbing my face, aghast. Two years of keeping him from being plowed over by wrestling labs and he doesn’t remember any of it.
“What about the parakeets?” Do you remember Jack had all those parakeets? And the pigeons in that coop in the back?”
“Across the street! Everyday you would drag me over there and we’d look at the pigeons and the parakeets Jack had over there in a couple of big coops! And Blackjack, the rabbit? Blackjack and Cuddles or something.”
“Are you making this up?”
He is now almost a teenager, and still doesn’t remember a moment of it. Not the dog parties, not the parakeets or the rabbits or the mice or the frogs or any member of Jack’s menagerie across the street. When my son was about four or five, Jack passed away in the night. His dog would go to family members. We were asked if we wanted the rabbits but had to decline the offer. I knew Jack was gone, but I had no idea that no memory of Jack would linger with his most frequent visitor.
The crazy part of all this is, at the same time, our son was a fiend for books. We would read to him for hours, long before he could talk. Each morning would start with him handing books to my wife before she’d even had a chance to brew her coffee (I am smart enough to know an adult would never have gotten away with asking my wife to do anything before her morning cup). They would sit at the little table mounted to the booth in our kitchen and read, book after book, until my wife was late for work. Suess, Eastman, Boynton, Carle. The classics. Page after page, book after book. Once my wife headed to the office, it was my turn, and I’d read to him until I got drowsy and then insist we do a jigsaw puzzle. After lunch, more books. Books, books, books. To break things up I would take him to the local library where we would sit on the spotted and dingy children’s rug and pour over stacks of Arthur boardbooks.
By the time he was in his second year of preschool, we’d read every book in the house (and dozens of library books) so many times, we were sure he had them memorized. He insisted that he could “read” them all, and we humored him as you do with your progeny.
Until the day he volunteered to read in front of his entire preschool.
It was Valentine’s Day and he was about a month shy of five years old. Many of the mothers (and I) had gathered at the preschool to celebrate, with red napkins and hypoallergenic snack crackers. One of the moms was reading to the kids, all sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce (what we used to call back in the old days “Indian Style”). They were enjoying a story about a woman who eats some paper, a lace doily, some hearts and some glitter and throws up a Valentine’s Day card. When the mom finished the book, the kids all clapped and the head of the school, Miss Julie, asked if anyone else wanted to read, scanning the adults for a volunteer.