They say one of the keys to happiness is a bad memory. This may explain why Anna is so smiley these days: She can’t remember anything.
Well, almost anything. References to material things and sources of embarrassment she’s positively eidetic about. Thus, an offhand remark Marsha or I made months ago about an X-Box Kinect for Christmas, or a promise never again to sing along with the car radio while transporting her friends, is recalled with the pellucid clarity of a Fiji lagoon. Otherwise, her recall is a blank slate.
It’s amazing. This is a straight-A student, with great study habits, who aces honors classes. Apparently she also has a delete button in her brain on par with dementia. This applies to chores, what she ate for lunch, the names of the major world religions she learned last semester. “Anna, who’s Brahma?” I query. A look of stoned incomprehension follows, as if she’s been hitting both bottle and bong since sippy cup days. Though most teachers, parents, and kids I know deplore standardized testing, that look could serve as a poster for it.
Thankfully, there are reasons for this behavior other than pod people possibly sucking out her brains while she sleeps.
It’s a medical fact that, following a surge in synapses right before adolescence, the brain starts pruning them back. Skills often practiced become hard-wired, while those performed rarely or reluctantly are lost. Which helps explain why “Brahma” gets round-filed synaptically and “crap” becomes a vocabulary mainstay, and why an episode of One Tree Hill can be remembered to the minute, whereas the location of the cat litter scoop is an ongoing mystery.
Anna also is very process-oriented. Once into the flow, it’s a non-stop water slide; out of it, she’s high and dry. So it stands to reason that, at the end of Easter break (ten days after aceing an advanced algebra test that makes as much sense to me as cuneiform script), during which she’s done little else than write Fan Fiction and watch Cake Boss, Anna can’t remember what time her bus arrives the first morning back.
Then, too, I suspect something is at work relating to feelings of security. Just as children have to feel really safe to say “I hate you!” (admittedly small recompense for parents having their heart torn out as if with a stone Aztec sacrificial knife), they likewise need to feel really grounded to grow. Living in the present is an essential part of that, even if it means being reminded to wear your retainer twelve days in a row.
Does any of this have me worried? Yes and no. Right now I’m not losing sleep about Anna being doomed to work in a canning factory because she forgot how to do quadratic equations on her SATs. I’m more concerned about the emotional aspects of memory.
Recall is indeed a mixed blessing. It can corrode you like acid as well as lifting you into the heavens. It can be both an invaluable form of continuity in a world more than ever in flux, and an albatross round your neck. Going through life looking over your shoulder is a great way to get your bell rung. Yet not looking back at all risks drowning out some pretty sublime music.
When Anna was small we made several Boo-Hoo--- short for “Boo-hoo, our baby’s growing up”--- Boxes, containing keepsakes such as her Curious George jack-in-the-box and Barbie motorcycle, that now sit in the garage. Sometimes, while passing through, I’ll lift the lid of one of them and peek inside, growing briefly misty with the exquisite pain of nostalgia. Sometimes you have to risk being hurt by the past to remember it. I hope Anna allows herself to be brought up short by it from time to time.
It may also help her remember who Brahma is.