Time is weird. It’s all relative, and it changes as you age. And to make matters worse, memory is unreliable. And there is nothing that makes you realize just quite how weird and unreliable you are like having children. Things I thought were true are no longer true, and I only know this because my kids think things that I know to be untrue. Yeah. I know. It’s confusing.
When I think back on my own childhood, I will often bring to mind phrases like “we always” and “every year we.” As far as my brain is concerned, my younger years were filled with regularly occurring traditional things that happened each season like clockwork. My brain is happy to believe this, because it does not require any actual thinking (and my brain is quite tired). But when scrutinized under the harsh light of impartial fact-checking, the timelines and details just don’t add up. Things that I was sure we did every single summer, may have only happened twice, or even once. What is going on?! My whole life history is crumbling around me! How did this happen?! What caused me to re-examine my recollections under a more intense microscope?
The other day, my second grader asked me if we were going to do something. I replied that I didn’t know. She then whined that we aaaaaaalways did that thing at that time of year, every year, and I laughed and said we had only done it last year, and maybe the year before but I couldn’t remember. And that’s when it hit me. She actually believes that we do that thing every year. She is going to grow up thinking that we always did that. And we didn’t. She has been alive for about 8 of everything, and we did it for 1 or 2 of those times. Meaning that we did not do it for 6 or 7. To me, over the past 8 years, if I did something 12%-25% of the time, it is not something we always do. It is something we generally do not do. But to a kid, it is an immutable tradition.
Maybe it’s because the first 3 or 4 years of her life are already slipping away into forgotten, underdeveloped brain limbo (although she remembers more than I would have expected), and so she is really only dealing with the past few years as a litmus test as to whether or not we do something “every year.” Or maybe it’s because time is just different to kids. Perspective is different. 2 years is a quarter of her life. If I did something every year for the past quarter of my life, that would be 9 years! Yeah, if I had done something every year for the past 9 years, I would call it something I always do. Maybe that’s it. But either way, we have unknowingly created traditions by accidentally doing them twice! And sometimes only once!
So as I applied this logic to my own questionable brain, I realized that so many precious memories of my own were actually warped and skewed by the distortion of time upon an emerging consciousness. Great times that I thought were representative of many many long years of repeated occurrences were actually only representative of themselves. That was it. Those memories were what happened, and no more. Why I felt the need to add on to them and pretend that they happened 8 or 10 times when they happened only twice is beyond me. This seems like something my brain just did on its own without asking me.
So I have learned some important lessons. One is that I don’t know as much as I think I do, even about myself and my own life. You’d think I would be the expert on that, but you’d be wrong. There is no expert on me. I am unfigureoutable. And the other, more important lesson, is that you have to be very careful when you do things with your children. Anything that happens two years in a row is automatically canon for their entire childhood and it will be brought up in therapy someday. You have been warned.