Balancing Act

Looking for a lifetime guarantee on memories

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Preserving memories

Turning memories of happy events into a narrative can help children hang on to them much later in life. (Tuan Tran / Getty Images/Flickr RM / March 19, 2013)

A few days before our recent wedding, my now-husband and I sat with a dear friend, a newly Internet-ordained minister, to nail down a few details.

"The most beautiful thing," he told us, "is that, of everyone there, your kids will have the longest memories of the day."

Decades after the adults have passed on, our three kids (4, 8 and 12) can sift through the pictures and regale their friends with bits of nostalgia from the night we became, officially and forever, a family.

I spent about three minutes loving this notion and the next two weeks obsessed with making it reality.

I once read a Slate.com piece that compared childhood memories to tiny pieces of orzo pasta that are collected by the brain and woven into enduring reflections.

"Adults have a fine-mesh net to catch the orzo. Babies have a big-holed colander: The orzo slips through," the story said. "It's only around 24 months that children seem to get better colanders: They get better at catching the orzo — at organizing and processing information in a way that makes a memory out of an experience."

We're talking the happiest day of our lives here. A colander is not going to cut it. Especially not when WebMD tells me children's earliest recollections are replaced by newer, longer-lasting memories made between ages 10 and 13.

(I'll let you draw your own conclusions about a bride who spends more time on WebMD than Pinterest.)

Anyway, you can bet I tracked down Nicholas Day, the Slate writer and author of "Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle" (St. Martin's Press).

How do I ensure clear memories of this blessed event for a good 70, 80 years? How do I replace my children's metaphorical colanders with metaphorical airtight, double-seal Ziploc bags?

"Narratives are key to shaping our sense of the world," Day told me. "When we tell our children stories about things that have happened and things that are important to us, they're more likely to stick if they're in that narrative form."

I'm pretty sure he just gave me permission to tell endless stories about my wedding, which I appreciate. I really do. But I'm no dummy. My kids can tune out a bullhorn if they're not in the listening mood. I'm going to need more to work with.

"Research shows that the way we talk about the past and the way we talk about what's important affects how well certain memories are embedded," Day said.

His Slate piece said that children of "highly elaborative" mothers (those who narrate in a detailed way and ask lots of questions) have earlier and richer memories. This matters, say researchers, because when kids remember and discuss an event, their brains fire the same neurons and they, essentially, relive the moment.

That got me thinking. Why am I intent on my kids reliving this wedding forevermore? It won't make them more employable or better at friendships or more willing to give back to their community.

"Memories are part of our shared world," Day told me. "There are moments that make my son who he is and I want to shine a light on some of those moments so when he looks back, he can follow the lights and trace how he got to where he is."

I love that. And that's definitely part of it. But I think even more, I want my kids to carry through life the emotion in the room that night. I want them to feel committed to and loved unconditionally and part of something huge — a family that adores each other.

So I will tell a bunch of wedding stories. And I will make them watch and re-watch (and re-watch) videos of their toasts and look through countless photos of us dancing and laughing and hugging friends.

But mostly I'll work to build a home that reinforces what we proved that night. A home that lives up to its potential. A home that strives to be as healthy and joyful and warm as we felt at our wedding.

And if their colanders don't catch me in my dress, at least they'll catch me living out my vows.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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