A daughter and mother tries not to forget

May 14, 2000|By SUSAN REIMER

She asked me what I thought motherhood was about, and I said I thought it was about remembering and forgetting.

She is a poet, as well as a mother and a daughter, and we were talking about the poetry, bad and great, inspired by the act of giving birth or by the state of being a child.

My answer sounded like I was trying to hold my own in a conversation with a poet, but the more I thought about it, the more true it seemed to me.

As Mother's Day approached, memories of my mother, dead so short a time, ambushed me with increased frequency. As the end of another school year approaches, I hear the clock ticking and resolve again to remember every moment with my children before they leave my life for their own.

And then I am appalled by what I don't remember.

My sisters will recall some anecdote from our childhood, and I will swear that I was raised in a different family. The nickname "Joefuss" will fly into my memory out of nowhere, and I can't believe I have forgotten what my son was called for years.

As my children pass through their teen-age years, I try to conjure up my own. (It is easy. I seem to be stuck there.) I am hoping these vivid recollections will inform my raising of them, but I realize instead that I have almost no memory of my mother during that self-absorbed time in my life.

Suddenly, I feel invisible, like a ghost reaching out to my children from another astral plane in a misguided effort to connect with a world I no longer inhabit. Do they see me? Are they forgetting me already?

They say that the pain of childbirth does not remain in the memory so that the species will continue to reproduce, but I remember every cramp, every needle stick, every moment as if it were a video loop playing forever on a monitor above my kitchen sink.

But the first year of my daughter's life is lost to me. I was juggling a 2-year-old and a newborn and nothing that happened during that chaotic year had the slightest chance of imprinting on my memory.

I read words I wrote then and don't remember the woman who held the pen.

I remember thinking often, "I must remember this moment," but I have forgotten them all.

I worked so hard to "make" memories with my young children and realize that I remember almost nothing of my life before the age of 10. Will they remember none of my memory-making, too?

Then I see a picture of my children as babies or toddlers, and I can feel again the weight of them in my arms. I can smell them, feel their silky skin, feel their fingers tangled in my hair and I am not simply remembering my babies. I am with them again.

Then I look at my hands or catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror, and my mother is in the room again with me.

I don't want to remember my mother or my mothering, because in order to be remembered, these things must first be forgotten. I want to have it all right here, right on the tip of my mind's eye.

Some things are best forgotten. How hard it was. How much it hurt. How bad you felt. But pain and sadness are just the things we don't forget. It is the little happinesses, the routine pleasures, that escape our memories like canaries from a cage. So difficult to retrieve.

These days, I forget where I put my keys and my glasses. I forget what I came into the kitchen to retrieve. I forget birthdays and lunch dates.

I don't mind those lapses. It is my life as a mother and a daughter that I don't want to forget.

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