Children Keep Good Memories

by Nicole Jankowski
Originally Published: 

Mama, are you all wrong today? Did you make a mess of the morning? Are you red-faced screaming at the bottom of the stairs? We’re late! For God’s sake, can’t we ever be on time anymore? Zipping coats angrily and tying up laces in fast frustration. I’m so tired, SO TIRED.

Is your patience gone, at the surface and unable to stretch? No, you didn’t even touch your sandwich. No cake, no cake, I said. And why is your face so dirty? Are you hiding in the closet, standing with your back to the bathroom door, just needing peace and quiet so you can think? So you can have some space? Are you sitting in your car after you dropped them at school? I shouldn’t have yelled so much. I should have been more patient. Banging your head against the steering wheel. Oh, why couldn’t I have been nicer today?

Are you worried about what they will remember? Are you afraid that when they reopen the package of their childhood that they will find only angry words, only the forgotten gym shoes, only the bad mornings?

Do not worry, Mama. Just breathe. Have faith. They will not remember. Remember this: They will not remember. Children don’t record the hours and unravel them backward. A child’s mind is not a computer tracking your mistakes like changes in a spreadsheet. They are not keeping score. They do not. They cannot.

When time has passed, when this space is over, they will take up their childhood as one big piece and find the comfort in the best times. They will smooth it over into one big lump, little moments surrounded by great big feelings. All the days, good mornings, good nights. Bumpy roads. The little moments of badness that seem so big right now, all your failings that make your stomach churn? They will fade. That is how it works.

They will not remember the little mistakes. They will not remember the time you forgot their snack or dropped the ball. They will not remember that one time you yelled, “Stop! Stop, my head is pounding!” when they played “You’re a Grand Old Flag” on their French horn for two hours straight.

They will not remember that you said, “Only two books tonight, I have work to do,” even if you said it crossly. If they remember, it will be that you read two books, even though you had work to do. This is how it works.

They will remember the way your face lit up when they walked from the school building to your waiting car, that you were the first one in the pickup line, in the snow. They will remember the boot prints you made, side by side. Little boots and big boots together, as you stomped up the driveway, catching snowflakes on your tongues, on your eyelashes. Darling, your cheeks are so pink, we should go in. One more minute mama. All right, one minute more, just one minute though.

They will remember that you used your cupped hand to shield the water from their eyes in the bath. They will remember the smell of your neck when you bent down, every night, or most nights, but always the best nights, to kiss them goodnight.

They will remember Wednesday night dance parties when “With or Without You” came on the radio. They will not know you were thinking of the boy you kissed on the dance floor, a long time ago, in a long blue prom dress. Where is he now? Does he ever think about me? They will only see your eyes go glossy and notice the way you twirl them around on the kitchen floor, and they will think, Oh my, Mama is so beautiful. Isn’t it wonderful to be dancing, and so alive?

©Nicole Jankowski

They will remember the awful jokes you told. Horse walks into the bar, the bartender says, Why the long face? Even long after they cannot muster a laugh at your jokes anymore, they will remember.

They will remember how you leaned in until your nose was almost touching the bathroom mirror to put your mascara on. That you always opened your mouth just a little, for some reason, as you put the brush to your lashes. That you were wearing only a half-slip and a beige bra, that your breasts and hips and thighs sloped out into something strange and foreign and comforting about womanhood, about mothering. They will remember that you let them sit nearby and watch, if they were very quiet. Or that they were there, pretending not to watch, but to really just be close and watch you and be remembering.

They will not remember that you burned the pancakes. They will remember that you made Pillsbury cinnamon rolls on Sunday mornings and that you licked the icing off the butter knife after you spread it, extra thick. They will remember that when you yelled, you said, “I’m sorry.” And “Mama is not perfect, but she loves you so very much.”

That is what they will remember. Maybe you don’t believe me. But then, ask yourself what you remember about when you were very young. I thought so. And then ask your children to tell you about last week, last year. Ask them to tell you about when they were 2. When they were 3 and 4 and 6 and 8. And they will.

Your children will not mention the little things you forgot. They will not remember the one time you lost your patience or that you swore, or that you were late once or twice or more. So, be kinder to yourself. Look at yourself, the way your children look at you. Remember what they will recall and have a little faith. They will not remember the little failings, Mama.

They will remember that you were there, Mama. That you loved. That you tried. They will remember these things most of all. This, I’m telling you, they will remember.

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