This month’s MetroKids magazine features a neat little piece entitled “Having Fun Improving Your Child’s Memory.” It encourages parents to work on sharpening their children’s recall and visualization skills as a way of augmenting imagination, enhancing creative thinking, and, ultimately, developing the kind of mental discrimination that will help them realize that there is no possible world in which using a rock to scrape the ice off of your windshield is a good idea.
Unfortunately, I can’t really tell right now where my kids are on the memory spectrum because their signals are mixed at best. Sure, I can count on them to remind me (fifty times) about the gum I promised them at the end of a stress-free stop at Target. But when I see that the very important notes that I’ve asked them to courier to their teachers are more likely to be swallowed up by the black holes that are their backpacks than they are to ever see the light of a teacher’s encouraging face, I start to wonder.
The child’s brain: an ever-increasingly complex web of neuro-connections, or a sticky sweet glob of marshmallow fluff? Only time, I suspect, will tell.
To be honest, though, when I saw the memory improvement headline, my first thoughts weren’t about my kids. Lately, I’m afraid, I’ve found that I’m not so sharp on the memory score myself.
For one thing, I’ve realized that my brain has stopped tracking the date. Run a date by me, and what you’re likely to get is, “Is that next week, or the following week?” or “I know I’ve got something going on around the 14th; I’m not sure about the exact date, but whatever that Saturday is,” or best of all “Now I know that the 21st is a Sunday, because my birthday is the 21st and last year it was a Friday, and with Leap Year, it’ll be 2 days later this year. Wait a minute, maybe Leap Year was last year—or is it next year? I always thought that Leap Years coincide with Presidential Elections and the Summer Olympics. I don’t know, you may want to check the calendar to be sure.”
I figure, if nothing else, knowing one date per week will help me mathematically derive the rest. Mom’s birthday was Saturday, and a week from that was the 28th, so March 1st must have been a Sunday, so here we are on Wednesday, which makes it (don’t tell me)…March 4th!
That’s a nice little math exercise too, so see? My bad memory is actually sharpening my mental acuity. That sure was easy!
Thankfully, though, I’ve still got the days of the week under control. Sunday is church, Monday is Boy Scouts, Tuesday is Theatre rehearsal, Wednesday is Kid’s Choir, Thursday is tennis, Friday is Girl Scouts, and Saturday is free, as long as your definition of free includes shuttling kids to one activity after another in two hour increments over an eight to ten hour period.
The date thing’s gotten a little embarrassing, though, so I’m really trying to lick it. For some general brain-flexing, I’m trying to do more crosswords. I try to go listless at the supermarket, and see how much I remember (or more often forget). I read, I write, and I can tell you the names of each and every one of this season’s Top Chef contestants. Not bad, right?
Once in a while I try this brain-boosting tip that I heard a couple of years ago. It’s supposed to be mentally enriching to turn a word around in your mind so that you can see it backwards and forwards. On a related point, I’ll never forget a night almost 12 years ago when I was so jacked up on a late night cup of Earl Grey (that’s ‘Yerg Lrae,’ by the way) that I stayed up ’til 2 am watching Elton John (a.k.a. Nhoj Notle) on MTV’s Unplugged explaining how the timbre not the tone of his voice had changed (whatever, man), and making a non-sequiter, but rather impressive reference to Ebagum Trebor–that’s Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe…spelled backwards.
My memory may fail me in many departments, but one thing I haven’t forgotten over the years is a 2004 New York Times Magazine article entitled, “In Search of Lost Time.” In it, writer Cathryn Jakobson Ramin explains that mental dulling after age 30 may be directly related to the naturally occurring deterioration of a lipid layer that surrounds our brains; once the layer grows to a certain point, our bodies produce a toxic protein designed to chew up that very layer, leaving us desperately solving Sudoku puzzles just to get us back to where we once were.
So, kids, I guess the message is this: start working on your memories now, because by the time you’re 30, it’s all over.