I (and I assume most other parents as well) choose to be selective in what I believe my kids will remember later on. When it comes to any kind of trauma – getting hurt, getting in trouble, getting dropped – I think, “oh they are little, they won’t even remember this later.” But when it comes to things like family vacations and celebrating Christmas, we are creating memories that I know they will cherish forever. Surely, the spongy developing minds of toddlers and pre-schoolers can properly sort out the events that need to get safely locked away in their long-term memory and which ones can disappear forever. Of course it doesn’t work that way. If anything, it is the opposite, and nobody holds on a to a bad memory like my 4 year-old daughter, Evie.
We were out taking a little bike ride around the neighborhood, and while having no kind of conversation to prompt the thought, she said to me, “Alexia isn’t my friend anymore.” For context, Alexia is her older cousin who she sees a handful of times a year and who she has not seen at all in at least three months.
“What do you mean?” I asked her.
“When we went to get ice cream with Grandpa, she and Lucy (her older sister) just kept talking and interrupting me when I wanted to talk to Alexia.” She explained.
For more context, we live in Michigan and her Grandpa lives in North Dakota most of the year, so I became skeptical of if this actually happened or if this was something that came up in a very elaborate game of pretend she was having with her sister.
“When did that happen?” I asked.
“After your party at the pool when Grandpa took us for ice cream.” she answered.
I knew exactly what she was talking about. We were at a pool party and her Grandpa came and picked up the kids and took them out for ice cream. Ten months ago.
Apparently she had been holding on to that for almost a full year, and to my knowledge had never brought it up before. We have seen her cousin since then, and nothing was said. We have seen her Grandpa since then, and not a word about. She sees her sister every single day, and nothing. But on this pleasant trip around the block, something triggered the memory and she felt so sad about it that she needed to get it off her tiny little chest.
I wonder, was it buried down deep and just now happened to bubble up to the surface? Had it been almost forgotten and then some random occurrence while she rode her bike sparked the memory and re-opened that wound? Where was her train of thought going? “It’s hot out – ice cream would make me not hot – I want ice cream now – I remember getting ice cream with Grandpa – Alexia and Lucy monopolized the conversation – I better tell Dad she’s not my friend anymore.” I guess that isn’t so unreasonable.
But even then, of all the times she has had ice cream there must be some more pleasant frozen treat related memory that she could call to mind. She once ate ice cream shaped like Mickey Mouse, how does that not out rank not being worked into a conversation between other kids? We’ve let the kids build their own sundaes, does that not come more quickly to mind than a hurt feeling? Apparently not.
The other option is that it wasn’t a memory that got shoved down and then popped back up, but that it was rattling around in her mind the whole time. Stewing with each scoop of ice cream. Simmering with every frosty. Boiling up every trip down the frozen food aisle. She clung to that memory and let the burn melt every brain freeze. She wouldn’t let the slightest dessert slight go. She is the Michael Jordan of holding on to ice cream related grudges. Actually, Michael Jordan is probably the Michael Jordan of ice cream related grudges. Wouldn’t be surprised if he has been just waiting for the perfect moment to call out the teenager who was working at Dairy Queen in 1981 who didn’t put enough sprinkles on his cone. Sprinkle related hatred probably fueled the second three-peat. Anyway, you get my point. Unless you’re not a basketball fan, in which case we’ll move on.
So what other minor offenses is my daughter clinging to until she bursts? I now fear that when I’m old and feeble she’ll put me in a home or pull the plug on me because 50-some-odd years ago I said she couldn’t have a cookie. Was making her finish her carrots first signing my death warrant? While possibly detrimental to the health of future me, it is definitely not great for current her. It can’t be healthy for her to be holding on to even the most minor offences for ten months a time. Her personality could be described as “a happy-go-lucky-princess-who-owns-a-unicorn-farm”, but is that just a facade? Is she actually filled with minor hurts that are piling up to create a major problem? Should I make asking her if anything happened last year that she wants to tell me about part of our bedtime routine?
There is a very good chance that some random thing triggered a random thought that called to mind that random memory, but I’ll keep an eye out for other airing of months-old grievances. Might update my will with some kind of clause about how eager she may be to take me off life support too. Just in case.