I wonder, all the time. I wonder what they’ll remember, if it’ll be the time I yelled or the time I said sure, jump in that mud in your white shoes. I wonder if it’ll be me sighing about watching the same show again or saying no to a bath vs a shower, or making cabbage, again. I wonder if I’m ruining them, if my working is detrimental, if my not being the best housekeeper rubs off, if my affinity for napping is too telling. What will they remember?
I don’t remember much from childhood. I’ve always been envious of my husband who can remember things as early as two years old. I’m squarely in the I can remember kindergarten camp. I remember Vincent falling onto an exposed circular pipe and it making a hole in his head. There wasn’t much blood, but there was a perfect hole and eyes that didn’t seem to see, before he fell over. I remember walking to and from school, through the woods, because shortcuts were normal and thickets of trees weren’t scary and clowns weren’t lurking in them.
I remember coming home every day in elementary school and listening to Stevie Wonder sing My Cherie Amour. I remember Halloween parties for the entire neighborhood, in my basement. We bobbed for apples. We played The Gap Band’s Burn Rubber On Me and Lakeside’s Fantastic Voyage. There was an orange flowered couch. And a chalkboard. I made sure my kids had a chalkboard. I remember wanting to give them that.
I remember calling my friend’s grandparents Grandma and Grandad. I remember spending entire weekends with them, running through the backyard playing games we changed the rules to every few minutes, to benefit ourselves. I remember my own maternal grandmother bringing me too small pajamas one Christmas, then saying I was ungrateful because I said she could return the size 5T Care Bear two piece. I was 9.
Will they remember that I liked to cook, that I liked trying new foods to give them a variety of culinary experiences? Will they feel loved, if they remember how I read to them, how I danced with them, how I played Perfection for hours on end, even if it was really because I wanted to beat my own time? Will they remember that I didn’t like math, that I’d fold clothes and then not put them away? Will that seep into how they manage their own households later? Will they say to a therapist that their mom never showed them the importance of not wearing clothes out of the basket all week?
Will they remember how much fun it was to ride bikes together? Or will that be overshadowed by all the times we said no to that or something else, or, seemingly, everything? I can’t help feeling like I’m ruining their futures. It’s alarmingly selfish to suggest I have the power to ruin entire lives, but right now I’m one of the most prominent people in their lives. I’m one of the people who is giving them concepts of adulthood. I’m barely repaying my student loans on time.
Will they remember that there were times we had to say no to getting ice cream in the grocery store because it would take us over budget? Will they remember that sometimes the fireplace and oven were used as the sole heat options? Or will they remember the Christmas they got everything they asked for, even the things they said they knew weren’t possible? This all sounds very materialistic, but if I’m being honest, those are some of the things I remember most. The inability to do for me, or, sometimes, the refusal.
I remember the yelling. I remember feeling alone and not listened to. I remember feeling like my leaving home was looked forward to. But I also remember earlier days of dance classes and ice skating lessons, and going to three malls to find a Danskin store that had my size leotard and ballet flat. I don’t remember sighs or irritation about these trips, but later, I remember grunts and grudges about a prom dress that turned out horrifically orange and satin and nothing like what I’d drawn. I remember being called rude for disliking the dress, for hating the shoes that didn’t match. I remember not being able to go to Paris with the choir. I remember not going on the class trip to Jamaica, not understanding why. I am determined to let (force?) each of them to travel as early as possible, being willing to work a pole if it comes to it, just so they can get away, have good memories with friends or alone. I remember having fried croaker, mashed potatoes, and cabbage made for me each time I was pregnant, just because I’d asked.
Will they remember that I had three jobs once, trying to keep us afloat? Or will they remember the nights those jobs kept me from home, the nights I missed bedtime, the nights that led to tired mornings where I barely said goodbye when they left for school? Will they remember how tired I was or how hard I worked? Will they think I was selfish or will they know I did it for them? Have I told them why I work so much? Have I told them I love them enough? Have I shown them, in meaningful ways that have nothing to do with buying something?
What if they don’t remember?