If you answered “Hoo-boy, that’s me alrighty!” then you should probably get more sleep, eat right and mention any troubling symptoms to your healthcare provider. Disclaimer completed.
More likely, your poor memory isn’t a warning sign of impending dementia, but merely a byproduct of juggling too many responsibilities. Work, kids, chores and errands—it’s a wonder you haven’t hired an administrative assistant to tie strings to your fingers and tack reminder notes to your forehead.
If to-do lists fail you and your alarm apps overheat, don’t panic. I’ve spent years developing my toolbox of handy-dandy forgetfulness hacks. Here are some of my favorites.
1. Problem: You know me, but I have no idea who you are.
You’re in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, comparing the fat content of granolas and minding your own business. You hear someone yell, “Hiya!” A woman waves and walks toward you. The woman looks vaguely familiar. She knows your name, tells you she saw your daughter yesterday and then asks about your bursitis.
You’re certain you know her, but from where? Middle school band booster club? Room parent? She’s not one of your kid’s former teachers or your gynecologist, is she? That would really be embarrassing.
Solution: Be energetic, but vague.
It’s a cliché, but talking about the weather is usually a safe bet. If current local weather is unremarkable, pick any of the numerous extreme weather situations happening on the planet (thank you, global warming!).
It is also appropriate to redirect a conversation with “Blue and black, or white and gold?”
To play it extra safe, begin calling every woman you know “Lady” and call all men “Guy,” like so: “Hey, Guy, how’s everything with you?” If you are older (i.e., you actually have bursitis), you can start calling people “Hon,” like you’re a diner waitress. If you don’t mind being thought of as eccentric, you can use “Sport” or “Chum.”
2. Problem: “Mom, you forgot to pick me up from my violin lesson. AGAIN.”
Solution: This is a test. This is only a test.
Tell your kid that you wanted to see how she would react in an emergency. Begin quizzing your child on what she would have done next if you hadn’t shown up. Throw in a couple of questions, like “Can you outrun a pack of dogs?” and “How do you open a can of tuna if you don’t have a can opener?” Tell them they passed the test, and celebrate with frozen yogurt.
3. Problem: You constantly misplace your keys or phone.
Solution: Adopt an alternative lifestyle.
Traditional advice sounds so simple: Make a habit of putting your keys on a hook near the door; pick a shelf in your home and keep your phone there when not in use; and staple your keys to your hand.
OK, maybe that last bit of advice was my husband’s disenchantment with my adorable, noodle-headed ways.
Let’s face it, at our age, adopting new habits like “use a key hook” or “type one space after a period, not two” is ridiculous to consider. It would be infinitely less challenging to just go off the grid and give up electronic communication altogether. So, grow out your hair, dress in batik skirts and start listening to Mumford and Sons, you old hippie. And while you’re at it, learn to hotwire your car.
4. Problem: “Now, where did I park?”
Solution: Drive a 1991 Volvo station wagon that’s missing a bumper.
Nothing says, “I don’t give a crap about minor dents and dings” like driving a beater. You’ll always be able to find your car because no one else will park near it. When your car is banged up like a stunt extra from “The Dukes of Hazzard,” other drivers will assume that you don’t carry insurance and couldn’t care less. (If you live on Martha’s Vineyard or in Portland, Oregon, substitute the Volvo with a Dodge Colt.)
For added “I don’t give a flip,” put a Night Ranger bumper sticker on the car.
5. Problem: “Happy belated birthday. I mean, Mother’s Day. I mean, anniversary.”
When you miss a loved one’s special day, any excuse you offer is going to make you sound like a weenie. Best to learn how to say, “I’m sorry” in 20 different languages and offer to do something nice for the person. Maybe you could take your beloved to a Nora Ephron retrospective at the local movie theater and sit through three Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movies without making snarky comments.
Or you could just offer to clean out the refrigerator.
Groveling—along with expressing a sincere “How can I make this up to you?”—will serve you well in most situations. Be a swell person and, hopefully, your friends and family will forget to be angry with you for very long.