Erasing Memories

As parents we are mostly in the business of making memories.

But often it is as important to get rid of them. Like the memory of rashly made promises that you find yourself unable to keep. Or of the chocolate cake you blithely set about making with the children the night before, forgetting that you are keeping your daughter off dairy for a week.

Cake? What cake?

Cake? What cake?

“The cake needs to cool right down before we can eat some. It needs to cool down overnight,” I said, hoping sleep would induce amnesia.

This morning, as I set about erasing the evidence with a cup of tea in the kitchen, I thought gloomily that my plan was doomed to failure. My son, who has taught himself to read primarily by building up a dizzying sight-vocabulary, has a near-photographic memory. Times this by ten for memories that are inconvenient to you. Times this by a hundred for memories involving snacks.

Just yesterday he asked me about the banana chocolate chip muffins we had made last week, wondering where they were. To his great disappointment, I had to admit that they were all gone now, and he pressed me for a detailed accounting of the fate of each of the twelve muffins.

On occasions when the Fairy Godmother is babysitting I give her a quick rundown of the important information of the day while rushing out the door. “And I did say that before bed he could finish sticking the alphabet land book he was making earlier, but he’s probably forgotten about that by now,” I say dismissively.

“Yeah, all those things you say he has probably forgotten? He never has,” the Fairy Godmother replies gloomily, as I run off to work leaving her in craft-hell.

Sometimes there are things the Boy actually wants to forget, but can’t.

His intense curiosity, lively imagination and sensitivity are a bad combination when it comes to films, books or TV shows that contain what is laughably referred to as ‘mild peril’. (For the record, Disney, to a four year old, an adorable little rat being swept away on a raft by a rushing river and getting separated from his family, while being shot at with a shotgun is not ‘mild peril’. Yes, I am looking at you, Ratatouille.) The Boy will back away from the screen, squeaking in fear, his eyes still glued to the TV, unable to look away. These are memories that he will refer to later and mull over, trying to unpick their meaning.

The images that have haunted him above all else were from a Barbapapa book about pollution and animal cruelty. (I know, not the ideal topic for a children’s book. It has taught me to re-read my childhood favourites before showing them to my children…) He loved the book and wanted to read it all day, asking me questions: why were those people hunting the animals? What did they want to do to the animals? What is coming out of that chimney? Why are the animals sad? What is the dirty stuff in the water? What are those people wearing on their faces? (They were gas masks. Barbapapa doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to pushing its idealistic agenda onto the next generation). What are the people doing now? Is the air clean again now? Will the animals come back?

He woke in the night crying bitter tears, his dreams filled with smoke from chimneys and a sky that had gone black and would never be blue again. We talked, I explained, we prayed together, he slept. The next day he woke from a car-nap, again terrified and in tears because people had destroyed the earth and the sky was black.

We had really good conversations about all sorts of important things off the back of this book, but how I wished I could hide the book and erase the memories.

In the end, he worked out a way to do it himself.

“See,” he said, “This is the book all about me. It has lots of pages.”

“What book?” I said. He wasn’t holding anything.

“Here, in the air.”

I looked up. He was pointing proudly at nothing. He told me that the book had pictures, and he could look things up about when he was two or when he was three. I started to understand. The book was imaginary. It was the book of his life, with all his memories.

“But some pages I will take out,” he said very seriously. “Like the pages about the chimney with the smoke and the sky that is black. I will rip those pages out of my book.”

“That is a good idea,” I said. “And we can put nice pictures on the pages instead and fill up your book with good memories.”

“Yes,” the Boy agreed.

“Great,” I said, giving him a hug. “Let’s bake a chocolate cake.”

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Memories of the best holiday job ever

Today Secrets of the Sandpit is pleased to provide you with a unique glimpse of summers on the beach in Wales in the 1960s. This post was written by my amazing mother in law.

July 2014 208

Whilst recently having a family picnic on a sandy beach in South Wales I was reminded of my favourite summer job when I was a student in the sixties.

I lived in a small seaside town in South Wales and the council employed a number of young college students to work at the seaside. My brother had the job of hiring out deckchairs during the wettest summer for years and after two weeks relentless rain where he had not sold a single deckchair ticket he was laid off and was only employed for the occasional few sunny days during the rest of the season.

I had better luck the year I was employed to care for any lost children on the beach. It was a glorious summer. We were stationed to the rear of the first aid post with an assortment of toys and books and a nice shady area where the children could play until they were claimed by mostly grateful parents. We had a loudspeaker system which broadcast the name and description of each ‘lost’ child along the promenade.

There were a number of other students acting as lifeguards, deckchair hirers, first aiders and a couple of lads who were supposed to empty litter bins and keep the beach clear of rubbish. They spent most of their days riding up and down the promenade in an old land rover trying to look busy.

When I had no lost children to look after I would help out on the first aid post as I had a first aid certificate; we were busy applying sticking plaster to cut knees and grazed elbows one day when a lad came into the room looking rather pale as he had a fish hook stuck in his hand. This was a hospital emergency so the lads in the land rover sprang into action and rushed me and the afflicted lad and his parents to the nearby cottage hospital for the doctors to remove the fish hook.

The lady in charge of the fist aid post had a great fondness for a nice cup of tea and also had an endless supply of home made cake so we all needed reviving by her on our return from the hospital.

July 2014 188Our busiest days at the seaside were the days when coaches of day trippers came down from the valleys for their breath of sea air and a taste of fish and chips. Their children were more likely to get lost as they were not used to being disorientated by the sea and the tide as it crept up and down the sand.

Fortunately the coach drivers always pointed out the place to find lost children or receive first aid so we occasionally had an anxious mother arrive before her offspring had found its way to me in the lost children’s garden.

However we did have a few regular customers who mysteriously got lost just as the pub opened and would remain lost for about an hour while their parents had surreptitiously gone for a drink! I found the best way to flush them out was to announce to the beach at large ‘for the last hour little Johnny Jones and his tiny sister who is crying inconsolably have been waiting at the Lost Children’s Garden.’ Their red faced parents would soon appear to find said Johnny and his little sister enjoying a piece of the first aider’s cake and some orange squash!

It was a happy summer when the sun always seemed to shine, when I did the most enjoyable holiday job of my student days.

Are you still there?

I am living in my childhood holidays – except I’m not. When I was a child, England was our destination of choice for most summer vacations (because of the lovely weather of course). We would rent a little holiday home in a village somewhere and go for walks through the woods, climb over stiles, jump in brooks, go for cream teas, browse second hand bookshops and visit stately homes.

Now I live here – paying a mortgage, finding work, bringing up kids – I sometimes struggle to see how this is the same country I knew from those summers in my youth. This is the topic of this week’s poem.

Our front garden - recreating an English country walk

Our front garden – recreating an English country walk

Are you still there, England?

I remember stone cottages
on windy roads hemmed with hedges,
dogs barking in the yard at dawn
a village shop, red phone box outside.
We ran without fear, without thought,
down the road, flip flops flying,
summer clothes, always grubby,
cricket in the garden and afternoon tea.

There was a stillness that settled.
You were but the scene, painted
as backdrop for childhood adventures,
no one moving or laughing but us.
Shopkeepers waved paper hands,
painted smiles from the hikers,
they knew their role and their place,
any words tightly scripted to brighten our day.

Twenty years on I have jumped in the picture:
the cars set in motion, the volume turned up.
Outside the shop is a shattered red phone box,
the winding lanes hide speeding cars round blind bends.
The chatter is ceaseless, voices cry for attention,
each one the centre of their own universe.
I can’t hear the birds now, the rush of the river,
no one wants to play games or run after geese.

Oh England,
Is it you or my youth that has fled
in the whirl and confusion of life games
insurance and taxes, politics, violence
and final demands?

Then I step out of the front door
the dewy lawn, tall purple flowers,
a child by the hand and one on my arm
and I see them gaze in joyful wonder
at bees and planes and diggers and cats.
Bills are just paper, traffic a game,
Their eyes reflect your beauty,
England,
I look at their faces and find you again.

(c) Judith Kingston 2013

I am linking up, like every Thursday, to Prose for Thought on Victoria Welton’s blog. Click through to read some excellent poetry from fellow bloggers!

Prose for Thought

Making Home

Something I find utterly bewildering is the fact that this house, that my husband and I bought just after we married and have been filling with junk ever since, is my children’s home. All the random things we have done and not done to the house (done: made sure they each had a bedroom; not done: order and tidy our belongings) set the scene for their early childhood memories, in the same way that I look back on my own childhood and most of it takes place in my home in the Netherlands.

At my parents' house the table is always set for a fancy dinner

At my parents’ house the table is always set for a fancy dinner

I can paint you a picture of this house with my memories:
On the 5th of December, someone would knock on the door and our wicker laundry basket would be outside filled with presents from Sinterklaas. The back of the sofa in the extension could be pushed forward to create a reception desk, a bar, a bus or aeroplane. My mother would always play Scarlatti on the piano and when I was older I taught myself to play the first 16 bars of it, out of nostalgia. Now I play it on any piano I come across. My brother and I had our own computer but for most of my writing I would sneak into my parents’ study and sit at my Mum’s far superior PC to create never-to-be-finished novels and deeply sentimental poetry.  I slept in the loft and had always wanted a four poster bed, like a princess. For one of my birthdays, my parents put up curtain rails around the bed, screwed into the beams, and I woke up in the middle of the night to find my Mum quietly putting up pink curtains to make my princess bed, all ready for when I woke up on my birthday.

These are the moments that we are creating for our children right now, in this house. The enormity of it hit me this week. Hence my poem for today.

Making Home

This is the home of your youth
where your childhood takes place
where your foundations are laid
where your memories are made.

You will think back to this house one day
with a thrill of nostalgia:
remember how the wind would howl
around the house, in all seasons
– you will say –
the house on the hill, the overgrown garden?

Remember the mess, the boxes in corners
that didn’t have homes
YET, Mum would say
but there they would stay
we never looked at them, they were
furniture, part of the décor,
just papers and wires and broken CDs.

Remember how we played hide and seek
and had picnics with teddies and plastic cake;
and how we were explorers, built towers,
climbed mountains of cushions,
made a pirate ship out of your bed
and sailed off to plunder the kitchen?

Remember how I’d sneak into your room
in the dead of night, with a flash light,
and we’d talk in the dark about bullies
and loneliness and friends who were cruel?

One day you will meet, all grown up, over coffee,
the house may be sold, or you have moved out,
and your minds will have blended and softened the edges
so even sadness or sorrow gain a magical glow.

But first, you must live through these days and grow up here
make memories for later, grow love play and cry
in the unfettered joy of your childhood
build our love for each other
into a happy home.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Linking up to Prose for Thought.

Prose for Thought