Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Between impressions and who we really are

The kids have seen two sets of people this spring break: other kids who remember them only as vaguely as they remember those kids; and adults who remember them well, even if the adults aren't recognizable to my kids.

The kids with the other kids, happily -- that's easy. I have pictures of this group together as infants and toddlers, even if they have no memories of their earliest introductions. These kids live on in name vaguely like distant cousins. You know them, remember? They're over there. And today the sun was out and we spread the chalk on the porch and punctured the foil on new bottles of bubble potion and they were tiny and now they're eight and seven and six and four and still happy, only now the biggest are planning sleepovers and FaceTime dates.

Adults are harder, I think. They're fixed in the firmament, unchanging. That one is always the one who smells like smoke and that one is always the one who brings presents. The kids remember the adults, some affectionately, some warily, and the degree of absence of apprehension seems measured by how the adults regard the kids. It's hard for adults to see kids and not see them for a year or two and still know them. A kid of a year ago is a totally different person from that kid of today. She eats entirely different food; his favorite color is changed; the things she got excited about last time you talked, even if you should get or hope for credit for remembering, are now so childish as to be embarrassing.

My kids will entertain adults for varying lengths of patience and then usually retreat to each other, and bless their sibling relationship that they see each other as their strongest, safest cohort. They're being kids, after all, and adults are only reciprocally entertaining for just so long. But watching them reframe themselves in these adults' eyes as their current versions overlaid on the adults' past memories of their former selves has made me think about my own relationships with people I rarely see. Spending time around our parents (mine and the lovely husband's) and all of their friends can bring those lens layers into scrutiny. Am I known for who I am? Or the versions told in the stories presented second-hand and the memories I've left behind? And I suppose that's true where ever we go. We know ourselves but anyone else only knows us as much as they can see today and remember from yesterday.

After more than a decade in a career with a very narrow professional specialty, I took a new position in my agency that's more universal and now I specialize in communication. It's what I think about always, now: this is what I'm saying but this is what you'll hear me saying.

The two are never quite the same, are they?

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