Because memories are not premeditated

Perception is a funny thing. I can clearly remember looking out the car window as a small child, studying the yellow lines on the road. I couldn’t have been more than five, and I didn’t have any understanding of road rules, or how cars worked, or why every drive felt like an eternity. All I knew was that the yellow lines seemed significant, and so I asked my parents what they were. “The dashes let drivers know they can pass other cars,” my father explained. “The solid lines can’t be crossed.”

For whatever reason, I took this to mean that you could not physically cross the solid yellow lines. It wasn’t a matter of “should not”, or any sort of regulation – it was could not, end of story, impossible. Envisioning some sort of forcefield separating the lanes, I’d hold my breath when my parents drove too close to the centre line, picturing us being hurled back into traffic by an invisible energy. DRIVING IS SO STRESSFUL, I thought. So dangerous! Was there not a better way?

I don’t remember when I stopped believing this, or if it was all at once. Did I question it out loud, leading someone older and wiser to explain? Did we cross a solid line with undramatic results, leading me to conclude that my parents were wrong? Or did I simply forget, slowly and gradually, as I grew up? I’ll never know.

My children are at an age now where their interpretations are spectacular. They question everything and take in the answers so willingly, with so much trust, and yet it’s impossible to know how their minds will process the information they are given. The simple words I offer in the car or at bedtime could create a lifelong imprint without me ever knowing it – a realization that is both remarkable and terrifying. What was surely a forgettable, throwaway conversation to my parents so many years ago meant something completely different to me. It’s a memory I still drift back to occasionally, when the roads are dark with rain and the yellow lines gleam brightly in contrast. There’s a magic in how wrong I was and how sure I was, and in only being able to wonder what mysteries are unfolding in my own children’s minds.

But like my parents never knew, I likely never will. It is a pure joy and utter burden to teach all that you know without ever planning a lesson, hoping that everything will fall into place, more or less, and the memories you leave are warm. Parenting is often rooted in happenstance, which seems ridiculous but is so true. Plan all you want, and then watch those plans unravel as you improvise and make do. Just do your best, we all say, and I know I try. Some days are wins and some are fails, and often I don’t know which it’s been. The most important job in the world, and all I can really do is cross my fingers.

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