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Moms Talk: I Don’t Want To Forget This

Will a one-sentence journal make me my family’s memory curator?

The other day, my husband casually remarked that I’d be much more likely to get Alzheimer’s than he. 

Can you even imagine saying such a thing?

Given the fact that we’re neck-deep in gut-wrenching family Alzheimer’s drama right now, his comment was particularly nervy. Someday in the extremely distant future, I may speak to him again. Either that or I’ll forget he said it by the weekend.

Oh, wait

Anyway, since then, I’ve been doing what any sane and rational person would do: completing crossword puzzles and furiously trying to remember things I want to remember when I can no longer remember things.

(HONESTLY. My husband has known me for 17 years. Theoretically, he should have a handle on my neuroses. The fact that he said that is making me seriously question his own faculties.)

Between watching the progression of my mother-in-law’s disease and having had a grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s (and perhaps other family members; naturally, I can’t remember), I am terrified by the thought of this prognosis.

The idea of my own boys (at any age) watching me become a person who doesn’t remotely resemble their mother — who eventually doesn’t even remember she is their mother — is nearly paralyzing.

Which is why I decided to take a recommendation from Gretchen Rubin.

I read Rubin’s best-selling The Happiness Project last year and earlier this month saw her speak in Brookline about her new book, Happier at Home. And honestly, she and I could not be more different (reading her books, and hearing her talk about her theories, is fascinating to me in the same way studying a population on Mars might be).

As she said at the Coolidge Corner Theater event (and I paraphrase): “For me, the more planned out, organized and scheduled every little detail of my life is, the happier I am.”

If I were speaking to someone about the subject, I’d say something more like, “If I planned out, organized and scheduled every little detail of my life, I might be happier — but I have no idea, as I’ve never been able to do any of those things.”

There is one thing Rubin advises doing, however, that I think I just might, maybe, possibly could perhaps pull off. 

It’s called the one-sentence journal. The goal is to write in it every day (although of course I’ll miss some days; ah, self awareness). But keeping the expectations low (I’m a writer: surely I can eek out one sentence) will increase my chances for success.

As more incentive, I bought two pretty new journals from Smock Paper to take me through the next six months (there they are in the photo above).

I’m planning to write quick recaps of our daily life — the funny moments and the frustrations.

But I’ll start with a few things my head’s been holding on to, but which I know could fade any day: The first steps, the first words, the first ride on a two-wheeler. The first day of kindergarten and the first time he raced down a hill on skis and I threw my body in his path to stop him.

The time both boys got into our bed in the middle of the night, and my effort to avoid a flailing elbow sent me crashing onto the hardwood floor. 

The day we jumped up and down to the Violent Femmes in the kitchen after dinner, and I made up G-rated replacement lines like, "Why can't I get just one (piece of) fudge?" 

The time Lucas said, “You’re here. I missed you. I’m cozy to see you.” Or when Finn refused to sign his letter to Santa with “love” (“he’s very nice to make me all those toys, but I don’t really know him”).

I want us to remember all the fort-building, leaf-pile-jumping, three-across-reading-in-bed days. But also the sleepless times, the projectile-vomit times, the times they peed all over me. The fevers, the hospital visits, the fits of insane 3-year-old rage.

As Rubin wrote on The New York Times Motherlode blog this week, “As parents, we play an important role in shaping and preserving our children’s memories of their own brief history.”

My hope is that the one-sentence journal becomes so ingrained in my routine that someday my boys have 50 or 60 years of memories to look back on.

I’m not planning to get Alzheimer’s until I’m in my 90s, after all. And if my smug husband avoids it, it’ll probably be because men don’t live as long.

Katy G. September 22, 2012 at 01:21 AM
I LOVED this article. Sarah Corbett beautifully expressed all of the poignancy and struggle that comes with being a Mom and raising kids. We have three boys and a girl. The idea of keeping a journal didn't occur to me when my older kids were small. I never seemed to have time to myself anyway. My youngest is almost in his teens. I wish that I had read this article years ago. When my oldest son finished Basic Training five years ago there was a gathering on base for family members in which we addressed by the CO in charge the training group our son was in. The first thing out of his mouth was, "How many Moms here have been remembering their son's infancy since they arrived on base?" Every Mom's hand shot up, about 200 hands. Having and raising children for all of the work and struggle is really the most productive and joyful time (until we have grand kids). When they grow up a note book full of memories would be such a great thing to have. Now I could really use one for my oldest son.
Lisa Jean Wilcox September 22, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Beautiful and insightful again, Sarah.
Sarah Corbett September 25, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Thank you, Katy and Lisa. (And Katy, you've inspired me to keep going with this...sounds like I'll be happy I did years from now!)

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