Last weekend Heather and her brother, Kyle, spent one last night at the house they grew up in ahead of their parents moving out for good this week. It was an emotional experience for them, and at one point Kyle suggested that everyone walk from room to room so they could share their memories.
For the next half hour or so there were lots of great stories told, but what intrigued me was how many times everyone’s recollections differed. At one point Kyle brought up a minor complaint about something that happened in his childhood, and his mother, Linda, shook her head and said, “That never happened.” I found that interesting because I’ve had the same exact experience with my mom – things I remembered with absolute certainty she said never could have happened.
Memory is a weird thing, and one of the weirdest things about it is how subjective and individual it is. One moment can be so important to someone that they remember it forever, while another person might forget the same moment by the end of the day. Or, if both people remember the same moment, they might remember it totally differently. How can you ever know for sure what really happened?
Thankfully, none of the things my mom and I remembered differently were huge deals worth fighting over (nor were the ones between Kyle and Linda). That’s not always the case, though. I’ve seen episodes of “Intervention” where one of the biggest things the addict was troubled by was their parents’ inability (or refusal) to remember a pivotal moment from their childhood such as abuse or trauma the same way they do.
It’s a little unsettling to think about. In my mind I see Heather, Annie, James and me as one family going through life together, but the reality is that we’re four individuals interpreting shared experiences in our own way. Will Annie or James and I have serious disagreements over how we remember our life together? I hope not, but it’s possible.
Of course, it’s also possible that in this digital age memory won’t be so individual. Twenty years from now, instead of arguing over what happened in the past, we might be able to call up the record of our memories on our iPhone 17 and settle things right then and there.
Regardless of what the future holds, I just hope the games memory play don’t do anything to drive Annie, James, and me apart – not even a little bit.
Becca Masters says:
I swear to god that I’ve had some sort of past life regression.
I have memories that my mother say could never had happened at all.
Memories of being in the UK with my grandparents at the age of about 5 or 6, it snowing, I wore a red coat and had a hot chocolate.
Apparently between the ages of 5 and 6 we never went to the UK or even saw snow, and my mother says I never even had a red coat!
I am adamant it happened though.
I have 3 or 4 memories that my mother says I must have “invented”.
Strange because then I can’t recall some memories at all. Like birthdays. I cant recount one single birthday until my 18th, which must have been a bloody good one, considering it’s the first birthday I can remember!
I know what that’s like…traumatic things happened to me my mother swears never happened. I also have a SIL who in her eyes had a Very unhappy childhood. My in laws, husband and his 2 other siblings think they had a good childhood and they hold it against my SIL that she feels this way. It’s very sad to me bc she was adopted when she was 3 from another country to a very (no one disputes this part) emotionally cold mother who thinks the fact that she had a roof over her head and clothes on her back should’ve been enough. It wasn’t to her. It was to the other kids. It’s so sad to me how they vilify her. None of them/us know what it’s like to be adopted out of the only family we’ve known then go to a new country with a new language, to new people. Never be hugged or told they love you.
I’m sure Annie and James won’t have been memory discrepancies in your family.
I have a sibling with a serious, but well managed mental illness. Often there are things that she swears happened (for example, a minor house fire) that never happened and often denies that events the rest of recall (like when she had a ‘break’ and came at me with a butter knife), did not. Keeping a grasp on her memories is important, so it’s always a minefield to navigate between the real and imagined.
It’s never easy. All things considered, given the circumstances, we got off easily. It could have ended in one or both of us having serious addiction issues or none of us communicating with each other as adults. Mental illness – including addiction – makes this a tricky world to navigate.
Heather, isn’t mental illness amazing/devastating that way? I have a family member who does the same thing. Even if three other family members tell her that she did something in particular -whether it was two weeks or two years prior- she will argue to the DEATH that HER memory trumps those of three other people. And this is even when she is on her meds and back to her normal self.
No Worries my friend…I don’t think there is anything that would cause you and your children to be driven apart. You and Heather are Wonderful parents who are so very present in their lives. I think when they think back to their childhoods they will remember who magical and fun it was and how full of LOVE it was. They truly are 2 VERY lucky little people!!!
Mike, I just wanted to say your recent posts have been great. I am really enjoying reading what you have to say! Particularly enjoyed this post and the post about no sticker after dance class. Good, thought-provoking stuff.
Thank you, Kristen!
The subjective nature of memory is so interesting. I don’t know if you listen to This American Life, but they recently had a really interesting story about two people who remembered a key event very differently. So interesting! Give it a listen if you have time: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/504/how-i-got-into-college?act=2#play
@robyn, good suggestion – that was such an interesting episode and so spot on to this post!
I’ve been on both sides of memory differences. Now that my children are grown and remember events that I don’t, I’ve learned to admit that I have no recollection of what they tell me they remember. However, I acknowledge that the event or words had hurt them. Often the validation is enough for them. They know that I don’t have to share their memories to make them real for them.
My two oldest swear that their father and I beat them on a regular basis. The oldest is 24 and he *did* get swatted on his bottom in a “Hey! Pay attention!” swat. I just laugh at them.
There are other things I could share with you that have scarred them but I won’t scare you…