On being my children’s memory keeper

By Daisy Alpert Florin

In my family, I am both the closet cleaner and the memory keeper, the one who decides what stays and what goes—Are we keeping this notebook? Can I toss this Barbie shoe? What are we doing about the Lego? And I’m good at it: I can whittle down a sock drawer or toy basket with the best of them. But I am also the person who remembers things, like which painting my daughter Ellie had in the first grade art show (the one of the flower vase) and where I’ve stored the gown both boys wore at their bris ceremonies (oh no, wait—now I remember only Sam wore it because when Oliver was born I couldn’t find it and he borrowed his cousin’s). At times, it is an uneasy alliance because while I am the one who tosses things—there are only so many science journals or Mother’s Day cards a person can save without ending up on Hoarders—I know that in the act of discarding, something else always gets lost.

On this particular day I am standing in the kitchen, a One Direction lunch box in one hand, a garbage bag in the other, and I’m not sure what to do.

“You really don’t like 1D anymore?” I ask my ten-year-old daughter, Ellie.

“I dooooo,” she says, “just not as much.” But she doesn’t, and I know it. Maybe she doesn’t want to admit that her passion for the British boy band has waned, as I told her it would. Or maybe she finds this wide sweep of emotion, from obsession to indifference, unsettling. I just want to know if we should keep the lunch box; her input at this age matters to me.

“I guess you can get rid of it,” she says with a shrug and turns back to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Despite Ellie’s okay, I hesitate. I hold the vinyl-coated lunch box in my hand and am reminded of the year she was seven, the year she couldn’t get enough of One Direction. It was cute, perhaps more so in retrospect. She had t-shirts, posters, a toothbrush that sang “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful,” and this lunch box, the symbol of her devotion during the school day. Then there was the concert with the screaming girls, so loud my husband and I had to stick our fingers in our ears, and the party we had for Niall’s birthday (he was her favorite) when I decorated a cake with British flags. It all comes back to me now, a flash of memory that drenches me like a summer storm. If I throw out the lunch box, will I be throwing these memories away with it?

Get a grip, DaisyIt’s just a lunch box. It’s not like you’re throwing her childhood away

My own mother would not have been sentimental about the One Direction lunch box. Or maybe she would have. I don’t know. Either way, she wouldn’t have kept it because we lived in an apartment with small closets and little storage space. We didn’t keep things just because—there simply wasn’t room. And maybe it was easier that way, having the decision made for you by the limits of three-dimensional space. That apartment is long gone now, and the physical reminders of my childhood have been distilled to the handful of things that survived our constant shedding, objects I now store in the attic of my suburban home: two brass lamps, a painted cabinet, a couple of rolled up rugs. Standing among them, inhaling their scent, running my fingers along their smooth and dusty edges, these objects remind me of a time and place that exists now only in my memory. And despite their presence, I know so much has been lost. If more remained from my childhood, would I remember more about it?

Perhaps part of our compulsion to remember things for our children—by making baby books or taking endless photographs—is that, when they were infants, we were the only ones who could remember what had happened. An infant’s memory exists solely in blank space, hugs and kisses are not part of their active memory but woven into the fabric of being loved and cared for. But when our kids are older and can potentially remember for themselves, is keeping the details of their childhood still our responsibility? 

I did throw out the One Direction lunchbox, in part because it was old and smelled like yogurt, but also because I just can’t keep everything, objects or memories. I picture my mind like an overstuffed closet in my childhood  home, and the year of One Direction has to go in order to make room for the next thing. And like any period of our children’s lives, I mourn its passing while welcoming the next beautiful phase. Of course nothing can bring back the year Ellie was seven—or six, or five, any of them. That’s the thing about time: it passes and our memories of it are forever imperfect, no matter how hard we try to fix them through story or keepsake or token. I put my hand on Ellie’s head, bent over the story of Harry and Hogwarts, one that will forever remind me of the year she was ten, and let her hair, slippery and fine, flow through my fingers like water.

Daisy Alpert Florin is a writer and editor. She is sorry to say that time only goes in one direction, despite her best efforts to hold onto it otherwise. Harry is her favorite One Direction band member. Read more at daisyflorin.com.

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