THAT NEVER HAPPENED

Little Myndi’s in front with the blue vest. Apparently I’m chilin’ with my cousins and sister (she’s the tall brunette in the back) in front of a giant freezer. For some reason we all seem to think we’re five. Perhaps it’s further proof of childhood delusion.

“No, Myndi.  That never happened.”

I heard this phrase a lot growing up.  It was usually my mom speaking it, in response to some memory I was relaying to any relative, friend, or random poor soul that I’d cornered with a willing ear.  My folks used to like to say I never met a stranger.  I think it was just a nice way of saying that I never shut the hell up.

The problem with my memories as a kid was that they always included some kind of unreality.  Like the time I encountered a unicorn grazing with the cattle in the pasture behind our house.  Or the time I saved the day by rounding up a wayward calf on the back of our Doberman (her name was Matilda’s Boot, she was real, and she was awesome).  Or the time at the zoo when I picked up a still-lit-but-mostly-smoked cigarette off the ground and gave it to a monkey to smoke…because he told me to.

The thing about these childhood memories is this: I know they’re not real.  My grown-up brain tells me that in no uncertain terms.  But they’re still so freaking vivid.  Vivid like how the sky is blue and you know it’s blue because there’s no possible way that it could possibly be any other color than BLUE.  Vivid like the smell of Little Miss Took after her bath – all warm and sweet and impossibly PURE.  Vivid like Ginny Sue’s fur as she sleeps under my feet while I’m writing – coarse and soft all at once, and a little oily.  Unquestionably DOGLIKE.

All those things are real, and vivid, and true.  Just like my impossible childhood memories.

Except, a thing can’t be impossible and true at the same time.  Can it?

These days the hat I wear most often – and most proudly – is that of Mama Supreme.  The thing a much younger Myndi once swore she’d never do, that she’d never want to do, is now the thing I do with the greatest amount of relish.  Being a mom, simply put, rocks.  Rocks so hard my muthatruckin’ socks have flat-out disappeared.

But now I catch myself saying things like, “WillyJ, that never happened,” or, “VV Mike, there’s no possible way you could remember that,” because whatever story my endlessly charming and unquestionably brilliant offspring are telling the checker at Target (or the mailman or The Guy Who Stopped By To Give Us An Estimate On Our Roof) simply isn’t true.  Can’t be true.  Believe me, I’d remember if it were.

…or would I?

Sometimes their stories are bits and pieces of life actually lived.  Example:  WillyJ knows we lived in Hawaii for a spell, but he was too young (about two years-old when we got there) to really remember it.  He swears, though, that he does.  His memories usually sound something like this:

“Remember when we were at the beach and there was this giant tsunami and the water went away and came back and almost got us but we drove away really fast and VV Mike ate a giant snail and I cried ’cause it was my friend and then a lady yelled at you ’cause you were wearing white and a thunderstorm was coming and you took us to see it and the wind knocked me over and we almost got hit by lightning?”

Let me ferret out the truth here.  (1)  If you live in Hawaii, you go to the beach.  (2)  We lived in Hawaii when the tsunami hit Sumatra.  It did not, however, hit Hawaii.  (3)  When we’d go to our favorite tide-pool at low tide, WillyJ’s little bro would eat snails.  BABY snails.  I never saw a giant snail in our two years there.  Maybe he just ate them before I ever got the chance.  (This, by the way, was a seriously disgusting habit.  Imagine the cutest one-year-old boy on the planet, mouth black with snail-stuff, dribbling it down his chest, grinning at you like he’d just won the escargot lottery.  I won’t even try to describe what the subsequent diapers were like.) (4) Thunderstorms were such a rarity there, that we’d always go out to watch – oftentimes to the shouts of “Lolo wahine, take the keiki home!”  I can’t, however, think of any occasion where I was yelled at for wearing white.

So, his suppossed memories are close to the truth…but not quite there.

His little brother’s memories are a different story.

Lately, VV Mike’s been telling this story: “One time, at the zoo, I fell in with the alligators and they almost ate me.”  He wholeheartedly believes this happened – so much so that when we recently made a trip to the Omaha zoo (the place where he believes this near miss to have happened) he experienced an impressive amount of anxiety about it happening again.

We did our best to assure him that (a) it never happened, and (b) it never would, but the memory is VIVID.  Relentless.  We came out of the nocturnal exhibit (where the alligators are) with one white-faced, shaking child.

See, to him, that near-miss with those toothy, hungry critters is real in his head.  Just like WillyJ is sure his one-year-old brother once ate a giant snail.  Just like a six-year-old Myndi would swear she rubbed a unicorn’s nose while playing in the back pasture.  Thirty-three year-old me knows it didn’t happen, but six-year-old Myndi is still trying to claw her way to the front of my brain insisting that it did.

I don’t really know where I was going with this post, other than wondering about childhood and perception and memories.  Do we drain the color and wonder out of the world around us as we age?  Or are we so naive and wide-eyed as kids that anything is possible and everything is fantastic…and maybe blown way out of proportion?

I wonder…

It’d be really, really cool if it turned out that unicorn was real, though.

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41 thoughts on “THAT NEVER HAPPENED

  1. I have several very specific and very real memories from when I was two, so I know it’s possible. Whether your son’s memories are true or not, your post was very entertaining, as usual.

  2. I think our memories get mixed with fantasy over the years. Take my husband’s memories of how we met, for example. He tells a completely different story than I do. I tell him, “That’s not the way it happened!” Or did it? Maybe my memories are the fantasy ones. Who really cares? They make for great stories. I love your son’s snail story. I’m going to laugh all day about the escargot lottery. :-)

  3. my daughter is the same way. even though she’s now 14, she still has these wild memories that i can’t figure out how she came up with. most of mine i’ve attributed to dreams from my childhood – playing hide and seek with frankenstein and finding and wild cat in the house – so who knows where hers are coming from.

  4. Tempted to ask, what were you smoking, little Myndi, when you gave that monkey a cigarette and encountered that unicorn? Snort!

    I’ve read that our brains don’t know the difference.

    Throw that in the blender with the fuzziness of childhood memories, mixed with other influences like stories heard, pictures in books, images on TV, and you can end up with anything from a raspberry smoothie to a NYC sky rise built of Lego blocks and cheese.

    This is why visualization is so effective, it takes the adage, practice makes perfect, to a whole new level. If you tell yourself you can do something, even visualize yourself doing it, you believe you are capable because your brain has been convinced you’ve done it once before. The visualization gives you the confidence to do the task ‘again’.

    The flip side of visualizing success at a task can be counter-productive: if your brain is convinced you’ve already completed the task, for instance, typing ‘The End’ on your current manuscript, you may not have the drive to do the work because you believe the book is already finished.

    • I don’t know what they were putting in my sippy cup back then, but it was exceptional stuff, and I haven’t tasted the likes of it since. :)

      Once, when I was in fifth grade, I was on a basketball team – the kind where everybody gets to play regardless of how good you were. I was terrible. Awful. Watching me dribble a ball is like watching somebody trying to bounce a pancake. It just. Doesn’t. Work.

      ANYWAY, I decided I’d try visualizing me getting the ball (as if any of my teammates would be stupid enough to pass it to me), dribbling gracefully down court (I’ve described my dribbling technique; my running one isn’t far behind), and sinking that bad-boy in a nothing-but-net-oh-lawdy-lawdy-Myndi-just-won-the-game moment.

      Wild as it sounds, it worked…up to a point. My teammate passed me the ball. I dribbled down court (and felt oh-so-graceful doing it), and sunk that ball like I’d been doing it since infancy.

      That’s when I heard the groans. And the laughter. I turned around to face a bunch of angry teammates and laughing opponents. I swear, every parent in the place was laughing their asses off.

      Because I’d just scored in the other teams goal.

      I must have forgotten to specify WHICH goal while I was visualizing. :)

      • LOL I think I’ve seen that video.

        What we remember did happen. It’s stored in a different part of our brains, the limbic system and brainstem, than what we usually call memories

        The process of recall works largely with the prefrontal cortex. This part of our brains isn’t well-developed before age 3. We can’t recall memories from a time when our prefrontal cortexes weren’t participating very much.

        Part of the proof of these kinds of memories is the research that shows how our personalities are already formed by the time we are age 3. Here’s an example: http://www.psy.miami.edu/faculty/dmessinger/c_c/rsrcs/rdgs/temperament/caspi_jpsp2000.father2theman.pdf

      • Okay, so I’m not all fluent in science-speak (*grin*) but am I to understand that what you’re telling me is:

        I ACTUALLY DID SEE AND PET AND PLAY WITH A UNICORN?

        AND THAT THERE’S SCIENTIFIC PROOF THAT CAN BACK THIS UP?

        If so, this is life-changing stuff. It might actually go to my next high school reunion. I mean, come on. I’d HAVE to rub that in the faces of my peers.

      • Our memories are stored in whatever part of our brain was developed enough at the time to participate. Since our feeling brain, the limbic system, is fully developed before age 3, many of our early memories are stored as feelings.

        When our feeling memories pass into our prefrontal cortex for awareness and expression, they might not get translated into something understandable by others. That doesn’t mean the events that caused our memories weren’t real.

        As an example in the comments, we can understand that the “trapped in a burning house and unsuccessfully tried to claw her way out” memory of a feeling was caused by something that really did happen in that person’s early life. Her telling other people throughout her life is her way of trying to bring forth her feeling memory into her awareness and trying to integrate it. She will succeed when she can get to the origin of her feeling, and find out what the burning house really was.

        I think that would qualify as a happy ending, wouldn’t it? :)

  5. Matilda’s Boot? Matilda’s Boot. Okay. That does it. You’re my favorite. For all eternity. Let’s become Indian blood sisters and travel the world together.

  6. First off, I’d like to say that I believe you that you touched a unicorn in the pasture.

    To a child, there is something so mystifying about a world that is big and new. Even if it is not “real,” it is real to you when you imagine it as a child. I have several memories of misconceptions as well as valid imaginings as well. As does nearly everyone. As adults, we look back and sort of elevate it as the magic of childhood. But when you’re a kid, it is reality. And sometimes what happens in your head is downright scary. Or magical. Or certain details are more amplified. And they are usually not the details that an adult would expect. Which is kind of scary from the adult perspective because you never know what a child will end up actually carrying with them in long-term memory.

    As adults, I do think that we drain the color out of life because of the way we look at things. But it is also necessary that we live there in our minds, because we have to guide the children and run the world. It is the natural order of brain development. But sometimes it behooves us to remember to play as we did as children. That’s why I think it is so important to build margin into our lives, instead of jam-packing our days with activities and tasks, because we simply won’t ever go there in our minds unless we have the time.

    I love you, my friend! And I love your writing.

    • I can’t read your inflection here. Are you all like, “Who cares if it’s real?” because you’re a sweet guy and are trying to make me feel better about my skewed memories, or are you all like, “Who cares if it’s real?” because you’re jealous of my AWESOMESAUCE memories?

      If it’s the latter, you can steal my monkey memory. I don’t mind. I’ll even back you up and be like, “Oh, yeah. I was there. That monkey TALKED.”
      :) :) :)

  7. Love this post! I had such an imagination as a child, I too, sometimes have to ask my mom “did that happen?”. I was really, really sick several times as a child and had hallucinations. Many of those I remember vividly, like they happened, and that was over 30 years ago. Strange, the mind is a very interesting thing:)

  8. Dreams can be creepily vivid and insanely realistic, so it’s entirely possible that the little one dreamt he fell into the alligator pit. At that age, I think I’d have a hard time distinguishing some of my dreams from reality, too. Overactive imaginations can have the same effect. I’ve caught myself daydreaming before and wonder “Did that really happen?” I think you’ve got some wonderfully creative children on your hands. Lucky you!

    On a side note, Firefox tells me “dreamt” isn’t a real word. That’s some epic failsauce right there. And now failsauce isn’t a real word? Shenanigans!!

  9. I have a friend who has an extremely vivid memory of the day she was trapped in a burning house and unsuccessfully tried to claw her way out. That’s right, in this memory she died. She used to tell the story when she was little and it NEVER changed or got blown out of proportion, like so many stories do that come from little mouths. Her family always believed that it might be from a previous lifetime. That would be quite an interesting notion!

  10. Those are all awesome stories. My husband and I just bought a house and every night for two weeks now (since we moved in) I’ve been wondering what the strange noises are that come from the woods every night. I’m sure it must be a unicorn, or perhaps two, because whatever it is never materializes no matter how long I watch those woods. So perhaps your childhood unicorn is now living in my woods. Or maybe it’s a giant snail. No, snails don’t make that much noise.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • !! Hey, if you get the chance, stand on your back porch and shout a hello to ol’ Uni for me. Your neighbors won’t mind (or think you strange). Really. :)

      Getting used to the noises of a new house is HARD. We’ve been in our house for a year, and I still wake up hearing weird things. It’s probably just my overactive imagination (once again), but I swear this place is haunted.

  11. I love your post!!! Jason and I were just talking about childhood memories last night when I mentioned a few challenges I was having with Zac. Seems he was a perfect child, could do no wrong, so when Zac misbehaves it must be coming from my side. of course. And I always argue that he couldn’t possibly remember what an angel he was at 3, but I wasn’t there so I can’t argue too passionately.
    Zac also has cute and terrifying memories of when we “lived on a side of a volcano in Hawaii.” He is so fascinatted by lava. He is always drawing volcanoes, or only stepping on the blue squares floor tiles because the black ones are lava, or making me promise we’ll never again live in a house that was swallowed up by lava! We even showed him our old house in Hawaii to prove that it wasn’t true but he looks at me like I’m trying to pull one over on him again.
    Childhood memories are indeed fun and good to hold onto some illusions, I have some good ones too, so I am just going to let Jason hold on to the notion that he was a perfect child and when Zac grows up and remembers he was too, I’ll let Jason deal with that. :)

  12. I have a few very detailed memories from when I was about two, including going under anesthesia to get my tonsils out. It’s definitely possible, and I’ve seen it with my daughter (she’s 6). She can remember stuff that happened four years ago, and it’s usually things you want her to forget.

    Love the imagination in your kids, Myndi. It’s amazing what they’re capable of!

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