Friday, January 7, 2011

What We Lose

That title sounds more depressing than it's meant to.

The wife and I were just discussing the idea that when we think of what it will be like to have a second kid, we envision a different version of the guy in the picture above and not a completely new person with his or her own appearance, personality and quirks. I imagine that this happens to everyone, it's not that strange, and what else do we do but project unto the future what we've experienced in the past?

It's the past that's on my mind right now. I usually don't like saying how everything changes when you have a kid, even though it's true. It just sounds so pompous the way some people say it, as if people without kids don't go through their own set of changes over time. If I had to clarify the statement, it's not that life changes more or less when you have a kid, it's that you have a constant reminder of how much it's happening. Before kids, our lives did alter in important ways from year to year, month to month, and in really extreme cases, week to week and day to day. But we only became aware of it after some significant event (a death, birth, wedding, graduation, ect.) that caused us to take a moment, look back, and realize that who we were back at point A was not who we are here at point B.

What having a baby does is insert a point of constant point of contrast. Think about it. In the first two years of life we go from taking our meals at mom's boobs to eating bread, potatoes, broccoli, chicken, whatever adults eat. We go from being a spasming, screeching blob to someone who can walk, run and climb. We learn a language. We get teeth. We learn how to use one of the two features that distinguish humanity from the rest of animal kingdom, our hands. We think of our brains as being so developed but really, we probably never learn as much after the age of two than before it.

Like all parents, we've taken a lot of pictures and a bunch of videos over the last nineteen months. Talking about the next baby led us to go back over our documentation of the current one. What struck me so hard wasn't just how far K has come since he was born, but how much I've forgotten about it. My mother thinks K might have been colicky those first few months and the wife tells me that yeah, he did cry a lot at first, but try as I might, I can't remember if he did or not.  I walk around thinking I remember everything about his life to this point, except the pics and video prove otherwise. We used to really, really worry about when he would walk. Other kids his age, and some a little younger, started way before him. We questioned each other all the time. Is it normal? Did we do something wrong? Now he runs around like a maniac and that is what is normal. Until I saw a video the wife took while I was in Ireland of K crawling around the apartment, I'd completely forgotten all those fears and doubts, and, more disconcerting, I'd forgotten how he used to crawl. The way he'd come across a toy or a shoe, pick it up, inspect it, toss it behind his back and move on. For a certain amount of time that was the defining feature of how he moved, and now it's just gone.

It makes me wonder just how much we'd lose if we didn't have the ability to record some moments. A year from now, if I never returned to this post and didn't have access to a certain video, will I remember the way he first said the letters of the alphabet, specifically, his way of saying Y, "Yahiiiii...," and W, "Double-Oo!" Will I forget how he'll find the dog laying on the floor, sit down and scoot backwards on his butt until he's sitting with his back leaning against her stomach? Would all this just be gone, or are cranks correct when they say that modern technology has made our brains lazy and without all the gadgets I'd be forced to remember more?

I suppose it's inevitable that some things will stick and some won't. There are faces of guys I worked with or people I hung out with in college that I could not for the life of me attach a name to, and these people I saw every day for months and months. But I thought it would be different with my own kid, you know? Sometimes I wonder why I've retained what memories I have from when I was kid. It isn't like they form a coherent vision of what my life was like during those times. Mostly it's a jumble of random moments I have a hard time setting in the correct order. I used to think, Well, you were a kid, not fully formed, a lot going on, unaware at that point that at some point in the future I will want to think back and remember the smell of a room or the sound of someones voice or what it felt like the first time I really rode a bike without training wheels. Now I think it has less to do with being a kid and more to do with the nature of our memories. The conscious portion of our brain is a shadow of our unconscious in terms of size and capacity. The unconscious is the one doing most of the work and it chooses what to retain and what to jettison independent of what I may want at the time. And the amount of what it chooses to lose dwarfs what it deems necessary to keep.

I said this post would less depressing than the title, and despite all that stuff up there, I meant it. Having consciousness is great and all, but I think we forget sometimes that the more basic functions of the neural network encased by our skulls are what's really important when it comes to kids, love, family, and the memory of all the interactions we experience that constitute our relationship to the world outside our minds. The information that is lost vs. what is kept is crucial to our existence, don't get me wrong, but where they are impermanent and fleeting, the true muscles of the subconscious--instinct and emotion--usually last as long as we do. I may not remember the details of every last milestone K reaches, or those of babies that have yet come to pass, but that feeling I get from watching them happen will always be there, and I'll recognize it for what it is every time. That's all I really need. The rest is just details.

And anyway, we have a camera.




  2. Its funny because I pop in to your place from time to time and each time K is in a different stage of childhood. I notice what was before is now gone and replaced with a new feature (eg crawl/walk, coo/alphabet) each time I parachute in.