Back in the fall, I read “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,” by Joshua Foer. Foer writes about his efforts to improve his memory, and he eventual works his way to the U.S. Memory Championship. I have no interest in trying to remember strings of names or numbers, but I was fascinated by the research on how we create memories.
Unique moments stick in our brains, which is why childhood feels so long. Everything is new. Your brain is working hard to make those moments adhere so that you will have them for future use, and it uses other memories to place those moments in time. So you remember that you learned to ride a bike right before you started kindergarten and that your best friend moved away after you started kindergarten.
As we get older, much of our time is spent repeating familiar activities. We can’t distinguish one lunch from the next, one day of school from the next. The brain essentially says “I already know all about this. No need to remember it.” We are on auto-pilot for familiar activities. This is how you end up driving yourself home from work and can’t remember steering and braking.
When something new or unusual happens, your brain is still ready to work, and it still wants to attach that memory to other memories. But if nothing exciting has happened in a year, your brain has a hard time placing that new memory.
Reading this book jostled me out of a rut. When you have a baby or young child, strangers are constantly telling you to “enjoy it” because it goes so fast. This sometimes infuriates me. Yes, I know it goes quickly. I’m trying to enjoy it, but you, Dear Stranger, are making me panic. I can’t slow time.
According to research, I can make my life more memorable, though, which will make it seem longer. Time goes quickly when we have young children, I think, because we are stuck with the routine. We must follow the nap schedule and the feeding schedule, and a few days after we bring a baby home from the hospital, we are baking a first birthday cake.
Obviously we can’t spend all of our time gallivanting across the country or even the city. But I think that our family has become really lax about doing new things. We tend to spend our weekends at home, taking the kids on bike rides or to the park. It’s a great (and cheap!) way to spend time. The weekends all blend together though. We had two full weeks together at Christmas, and we spent the entire time at home. Just a few months later, I barely remember it. I told Greg that we had to do something new at spring break.
We went to San Francisco last weekend, and though it would have been far easier and cheaper to stay home, we will definitely remember those few days. We visited museums and rode a cable car and walked on the Golden Gate Bridge. We ate sourdough. Also, Henry got a black eye. And we endured a ride on a city bus with a road-raging driver. In the end, he literally broke the bus. We were okay. Afterward, it was all Eleanor would talk about. Ah, memories.
I guess my point is that when you travel with kids or do anything outside of your comfort zone, things will go wrong. Assuming everyone is okay though, even those scary memories are probably better than none at all.