Monday, February 09, 2009

Stories of Ourselves

HH and I have a bedtime routine.
First, he takes his bath, which always includes a strong play component involving the two characters we play. We inhabit these characters at least once or twice a day, usually in the morning before breakfast and then during bath time. On weekends, we might slip in another session.
He is “Mack”; a builder, policeman, Mayor of our small town, train engineer, restauranteur, pilot, knight-errant and singer-songwriter and I am “Hop Sing” his brother and side-kick. Following our evening round-up of whatever bad guys may have made the regrettable choice to visit his bath tub, we brush our teeth and head off to bed where I read him a story or two. I love that time of day, when he’s all clean and sleepy and I’m settled in beside him reading.
A while back, not wanting this magic time to be quite over, but not having the eye power to read another book, I initiated a routine where I turn off his lights, tuck him in snuggly and tell him a story. I ask him if there is anything special he wants me to talk about or if he has a question. Sometimes he’ll ask me about the stars or God or what it was like when I was a little boy, but more often than not he will ask me to tell him a story about when he was a little boy.
Last night he asked me to tell him a story he had never heard before, he wanted a story from when he was a “Little, little, little boy.” I had to rack my brain. I’ve told him all the “big” stories, such as when we saw the black bear and all about the day he was born and a dozen or so other tales from his childhood, and I was drawing a blank. So I asked him if he remembered visiting the firehouse just down the road from our cabin in the Catskills of upstate New York. The volunteer fire department in our area has an old fire truck from the late 1950’s that they used to keep in the pasture across the road from the fire house. They had a little sign hanging from it asking for donations to restore the old engine but over the years nothing has been done until finally last summer they towed the truck out of the pasture and parked it beside the fire house where it will probably rust away peacefully.
He loved that old truck and used to prop himself behind the steering wheel each evening after dinner and wouldn’t leave until the street light in front of the fire house came on, a warning to us that we had about thirty minutes to get back to our cabin before the darkness set in. There are no street lights in our neck of the woods and the nights are very dark indeed.
When he said no, I was floored. We must have traipsed up to that old fire truck a hundred times during the first two summers after we took the cabin. Almost every summer night after dinner I would load him in the stroller, he with his red, plastic fire hat wobbling on his head and his dirty brown bear clutched firmly in his hands. How could he have already forgotten such an important part of his life? I asked him a few more questions about the recent past (recent to me at least) and got the same response.
I had two reactions. First, I was struck by how differently our memories worked. He could remember last summer, or at least a few highlights from it, but little or nothing from the preceding summers. “You don’t remember the fire truck?” I asked him. “No Papa, you’re old and I’m little. You remember things but I don’t.” he replied. All those shared experiences that seemed so meaningful to me at the time were gone – from his memory at least.
My second reaction was relief. Now I had a whole store of experiences to draw from for our nightly talks. Events that I assumed would be familiar to him (and therefore not the stuff of stories he had never heard) had in fact disappeared.
Another thing occurred to me as well. How much of our memory of early childhood is the product of our conscious experience of events and how much is a product of the recounting of these events by our parents, the creation of memories, the shared experience of the story of ourselves?

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3 Comments:

Blogger Yelli said...

This is really sweet. I can't wait until our little guy gets old enough to ask questions other than "Eat this?" or better yet "Play trains?"

PS My security word was singin. Good luck on the auditions for school!

2:42 PM  
Blogger Topics in my Repertoire: said...

Hey Papa,
Are you still looking for a new pediatrician? I heard that the best in all of Cologne is in your area (he wouldn't take us as patients because we are further than a 10 min bike ride from Hansaring... he does Hausbesuch): Brill and Doring is the practice name. Otherwise, we just had a great experience with Dr. Olga Preshfreund on Innere Kanal Strasse (she offered even to speak English, though we stuck to German). Maybe this will help you and HH to stay healthy?

11:32 AM  
Anonymous cialis said...

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9:12 AM  

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