Suzanne Tobias

Kids' brains better than memory box

We were playing one of our favorite board games, Word on the Street, at the home of some friends recently, and the card read "a type of box."

The girls' team — that's right, we play girls vs. boys because we're all 6 years old deep down inside — needed a word with at least two M's to move that tile off the board and into our stash of letters.

One of my teammates proposed "memory," as in memory box. Yes, of course! Memory box! Woof!! We're totally winning this game and whipping you boys! Girls are better than boys!! Ha ha ha ha ha! (Sorry. I regress.)

My 10-year-old son was more confounded than upset.

"Memory box?" he said. "What is that? That's not even a real thing."

"Yuh-huh!" I explained. "It's a box where you store photos and letters and other stuff you want to remember."

"Um," Jack said. "That's called a BRAIN?!"

I didn't think much about his comment at the time, because I was too busy doing my obnoxious board-game victory dance. But several conversations with my kids since then have illustrated how their brains trap many, many more memories than any box — or garage-size storage unit — could hold.

Unfortunately, most involve occasions when I made a mistake, was unreasonably mean, forgot something important or looked foolish.

Jack took a test recently in which one of the prompts was, "Write about a time you thought you were right." At dinner that night we brainstormed possibilities, and Hannah immediately recalled the evening in third grade when my "help" with her math homework ended up driving her to tears and me to a shamefaced, remorseful apology for not reading and understanding the directions.

Come on! I thought. That was almost five years ago. What's the statute of limitations for holding that stuff over a mother's head?

There is none, apparently. A kid's memory, like his capacity to induce guilt, is infinite.

Jack recalls the time he got punched in the nose at Cub Scout camp (not my fault!) and the time he fell down several stairs while wearing underwear on his head (marginally my fault, I suppose, for not specifically teaching him never to blind himself with underwear).

Hannah remembers every unjust time-out she's had to endure and every horrible food she's been forced to taste, but especially the turkey spaghetti sauce that literally tasted like evil.

I've stopped apologizing. It does no good. They just keep remembering, holing things away in their memory-box brains, and I keep adding fodder: the time I laughed when Hannah ran into a pole, the time I almost forgot to pick up Jack, the time I said that word to that driver.

I can only hope there's some good stuff in there, too: the time we stopped everything and went to Denny's because Jack said it was his dream destination; the time we ate snow ice cream for dinner; the beach days and bedtimes and epic Nerf-gun battles.

If they forget, I'll be sure to remind them.