In Parenting and Other Things: The Gift of a Bad Memory

In PAntique Store

I read an article a few days ago entitled, “Rare detailed personal memory a burden, and ultimately a gift,” about a young woman who could remember every day of her life in complete detail. Every day. Every detail – what day of the week it was, what she did, what she wore. Everything. There was a sense in the article that this peculiar gift had sometimes driven her crazy, that beyond the incredible party trick, there was a certain torment from remembering so much. After all, we all have days not worth remembering in all their monotony and aggravation and others so difficult and dark that they need to be forgotten so we can function without weeping.

Me, I remember very little and, lest you think this is a symptom of something new and terrible, let me tell you I have always been this way. I remember the tiniest snippets of time, microscopic mind antiques, someone handing me a sandwich, my sister’s flawless feet hanging off the edge of her bed across the room from mine, my son walking with his hand on my shoulder around State Fair.  Collector’s items, thousands of them, all crammed into a space too small, screaming to be cataloged.

One has to wonder why some moments get stuck in a mind’s revolving door and others fly through to be picked up by the wind and blown down the sidewalk.I don’t have an answer for that nor do I envy people who remember so much more than I do. My husband remembers Brewers games we went to twenty years ago, knows instantly if we’ve driven a particular patch of road before, and knows which lakes we canoed  last summer and which ones we just talked about. It’s all water to me.

My children, on the other hand, remember every dropped stitch.

If there was ever a trial about my parenting and I was put on the stand, I’d be non-stop “I don’t remember. I don’t recall.” The jury would raise its 24 eyebrows. How can she not remember anything about raising all those kids? My kids, each one of them, would counter with chapter and verse. It wouldn’t all be pretty but I think some of it would be. I don’t remember.

I’d like to think that if the Alzheimer’s ax hits me, it won’t be the shock other people feel since I already don’t remember very much. Bu then I realize that Alzheimer’s is really about not remembering that I just typed this and then it’s about not remembering how to type and then it’s about thinking the keyboard is the dashboard of my car. Still, maybe my lifelong lack of memory will soften the blow, decades of practice in living totally in the moment. It’s a rare gift, being right here right now and don’t I know it.



Grocery Shopping with the Unabomber

Now he’s a guy who watches cooking shows and posts pictures of food he makes with his daughter. Nothing stays the same, and that’s a good thing, but still I remember this one wacky day in the grocery store with my son.

Red's Wrap

“You look like the Unabomber.”

My son, the one my husband brought back from Nicaragua twenty-six years ago, the one who was all head and bloated stomach, with toothpick legs and arms, and a cry that was soft and mewing like a sleeping kitten dreaming, looked at me sideways from behind his blue hoodie, his untrimmed beard the only part of his head truly visible, and smiled at me.

“Good grief! What’s with the hoodie?”

He pulled it back and flashed me an even bigger smile.

“Now you look like Don King. What’s with all the hair?”

His thick black hair, now streaked prematurely with the tiniest strands of grey, stood straight up on his head, a mad shock of three inches of wild, insane hair. It screamed unintentional. This wasn’t style. This was simply hair.

“Ok, that’s fine. Put the hoodie back up.”

We were driving to the grocery…

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A Book in My Hands

I’m done with my Kindle. It lays uncharged on my bookcase, a dead black rectangle. I missed some deadline for updating its technology so it probably wouldn’t work right even if it was charged. I let it die. It was no accident. People came around with food and water, offered to call 911 and start CPR and I just said no. No, it’s better this way.

More than being done with my Kindle and its sleek, smooth technology self, I am done with Kindle crack. It was the Kindle as the purveyor of Kindle crack that I had to kill off. My supplier. The vivid glowing screen in the middle of the night, a new book title flashing, all the books Janice would like based on what Janice has already read, each new book cover tantalizing in a new way.

I could read this. I would think. And this. And this. And this. Click Buy. Click Read Now. Stop and start a hundred books. Find the book just mentioned on the radio. Click Buy. The book read by a cousin of your friend who is a librarian. Click Buy. Did I buy this already? It looks different. Click Buy. Instantaneously cerebral.

I read a lot, I would say to myself. No, actually, Jan, I would answer back, you buy a lot. Those are two different things.

So I quit the midnight madness and made two resolutions. First, I’m only reading actual books. You know, the things with covers and pages that you keep for years and loan to other people and carry on a plane because you can no longer be bothered with gadgets. Kids have gadgets. I’m going to carry my book. And have people envy me.

Second, I’m buying the fewest books possible. I couldn’t resist buying Louise Erdrich’s new LaRose. The minute I read the review, I was on Amazon (another click bait swamp) and it was mine in 30 seconds. But other than that, I’m devoting myself to a) Little Free Libraries; and b) the Public Library. I am done with ceaseless acquisition and I am taking my place in the circle of book life.


This week I took two books from Little Free Libraries including Jane Hamilton’s The Book of Ruth and Camilla Lackberg’s The Hidden Child and I dropped off five of my books at a couple of others. I love encountering a Little Free Library on a walk. I stop and browse, conscious that people might be watching me from a high up window. It’s why you did this, I think, why you built this adorable Little Free Library that looks like a Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse, it was so people would take books you didn’t want anymore and read them and then pass them on. So I am here for you, making your sharing dream come true.

Once, when a friend had suffered a terrible tragedy, I took her Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Somehow, in my mind, I thought Strayed’s story of her mother’s death and the long, difficult reckoning with its reality would somehow resonate with my friend. It’s foolish to think that a book could help anyone with the kind of sorrow my friend was experiencing but I gave her the book anyway. Because I had nothing else to offer, basically. That was the reason.

A few years ago, the same friend built a Little Free Library and set it up on her front lawn. She told me about it shortly afterward. “Your book is in there, Jan.” And that made me happy. That she remembered I’d given it to her and she passed it on. Never mind whether she read it. No matter. Its value was in the giving.

So that’s my deal now. I’m done buying. I’m going to let people give me books and then I’m going to give them books. The circle of book life. What could be better?


Minnie and BowWow Discuss Graduation


 BowWow:  Hey, look, Minnie! I got me a friggin’ PHD.

Minnie: It’s just a license plate, BowWow. A weird coincidence on a license plate.

BowWow:  So what? I’ll take it. It’s recognition of my SOO-PEER-IUR intellect.

Minnie: There are a lot of graduations going on right now so I can see how you might imagine yourself amongst all the caps and gowns.

BowWow: Amongst? AMONGST? What the fuck, Minnie. Is this like Shakespeare in the Valley or something? AMONGST?

Minnie:  It’s just a more refined manner of speaking. Which, I admit, seems ridiculous given the company.

BowWow: So Minnie, let me ask you a question. Now that I’m BW PHD, what should I be thinking about? What should be my big, smart thoughts?

Minnie:  Well, there’s that publish or perish thing.

BowWow:  What does that even mean? Like they kill you if you don’t publish something? Like publish how? Like have a newspaper? You have to be in the newspaper?

Minnie: God. You’re dumb sometimes. It really saps me. Publish or perish means you need to do important research and write about the results or you won’t get ahead at the university.

BowWow: What university?

Minnie:  Most people get their PHD at a university, not a license plate. You know, a university, a college, where there are professors and students and they read great books and analyze things.

BowWow: Like at the Humane Society where we went for that class? With the clicker and the hot dogs in the little baggie thing he strapped on to his belt? Like that?

Minnie: No BowWow. It’s different. There are people and they sit in chairs.

BowWow:  Fuck it, then. Chairs. We’re not allowed on chairs. Unless they put us there. Well, me. You never go on chairs. Only me.

Minnie:  Is there any possible end to this conversation?

BowWow: We could go look for that meat wrapper we stole outta the trash yesterday.

Minnie: From the ridiculous to the sublime. Let’s go, Doc.


Two dogs






Big Life Small Life

By the time I got my cochlear implant late last fall, my professional and social life had become a shadow of its former self.

Severe hearing loss so constricted my communication that I could only relax when I was alone. After all, I could still hear myself think. So I found ways to be alone, work alone, retreat. And who could blame me? The risks of not hearing correctly, especially in a professional setting but with family as well, were enormous. My strategy was to minimize risk, protect myself, shrink my life. Be my own lonely flower.


Then the cochlear implant happened, the surgery, the implant, the receiver, the programming, things getting louder and louder, more discernible by the day until I can go to lunch in a noisy restaurant and I can have a conversation with a friend without guessing what he is saying and hoping I’m right.

What an incredible thing!

I could have a big life again. I could re-inflate, re-hydrate, expand, enlarge, unfold and blossom. After all, I just got handed my big life back. What would be the excuse for staying small?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. This will sound strange but I think it’s true. A person makes a new life when they have a disability and it can become oddly precious. Oh, it’s not the accommodations that make a disability precious, it’s the recreation of oneself that a disability requires. It’s learning to separate who one is as a human being from poorly functioning ears or eyes or legs and then creating a new identity that doesn’t include perfect hearing or 20/20 eyesight or legs that can run a marathon.

It took me years but I finally ended up liking myself with a disability. I taught myself to do without knowing what was going on around me; I lived in my own space, heard only what I made an intentional effort to hear, lived the ‘life of the mind,’ my mind. I took to regarding myself as just a ‘person in the world.’ I just wanted to be a person in the world. Intact. Moving through and beyond hearing people, living in my tiny house with soundproof walls. It was my way of coping, my way of keeping my integrity.

But now I need to let the small life go. It’s time to be a person in a world that has other people. I think I need to make myself a big life again.



The Daily Post: Pensive