Everyday moments

Date

Evelyn Lewin

 

  Photo: Stocksy

When I first became a mother, I did what every new parent does: I took loads of photos and hours of videos trying to capture that precious time. But I didn't just want to remember the way my daughter looked, or sounded. I also wanted to be able to recall the way she did a half-smile, her lips plump and warm, after a feed.

As she grew, I wanted to remember the way she mispronounced certain words and the funny things she said.

It wasn't just the big moments, like her first birthday or her first step, I wanted to hold on to. I wanted to keep track of the little things because I was afraid that, with time, they may fade from my memory and be lost forever. So I started jotting these things down.

Recent research published in US journal Psychological Science, shows that I was on to something. It discovered we are more interested in reliving these seemingly mundane experiences than we actually realise.

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"We think of today's ordinary moments as experiences that are not worthy of being rediscovered in the future," says lead researcher Ting Zhang of Harvard Business School. "However, our study shows that we are often wrong. What is ordinary now actually becomes more extraordinary in the future, and more extraordinary than we might expect."

As part of the research, the study asked 135 university students to make a time capsule and put in it what they wrote about everyday events, such as a recent conversation. Three months later, when they opened the time capsule, the students had significantly underestimated how interested they would be to read these things. "People find a lot of joy in rediscovering, even though those things did not seem particularly meaningful in the moment," says Zhang. "The study highlights the importance of not taking the present for granted and documenting the mundane moments of daily life to give our future selves the joy of rediscovering them."

Which is what I've discovered whenever I read over what I've written about my kids. While looking through photos or videos makes me smile, reading about what they used to be like brings me back to the moment in a way that a snapshot can't. For instance, I recently reread notes I'd made about my daughter and came across the story of buying her first pair of shoes (pink sandals) when she was 15 months old.

I had forgotten that, while she loved holding them in the shop, as soon as we put them on her feet she stood completely still, frozen, as though these weird things had taken away her ability to walk.

Or how, when she was almost two, she woke with a fever and tears streaming down her face. After we had calmed her down, she touched her tears and said in all seriousness, "Oh no, Mummy, water face," baffled as to where the "water" had come from.

I had to laugh when I came across an anecdote about her toilet training. She was so excited about the new toilet-training seat we had bought, although my husband and I had no idea why.

She watched eagerly as we took it out of the box and placed it over the toilet. When we did, her face dropped. It wasn't until she said, "Mama, where the toilet train?" that we realised she had thought she was getting a train for the toilet, whatever that may be!

I don't just jot down anecdotes, I also like to occasionally write down what a "typical" day is like for us because, as the saying goes about life with children, the days go slow but the years go fast.

So when I'm living my everyday life, I think that whatever stage we're in will be endless, and that my memories of that time will be, too. But as time passes, and my children grow, the time (that I once thought was etched in my mind forever) melts away. Though I can still recall brief moments, the wholeness of it is lost.

We assume we'll remember the past more accurately than we really do, says psychologist Damien Adler, director of Mind Life Clinic in Victoria.

"Our memory is highly unreliable yet often our subjective experience is that we can remember things well," says Adler. He says our ability to accurately recall the details of an event tends to degrade within about 20 minutes. Worse still, he says each time we recall or discuss a memory we run the risk of changing small details, which are then rewritten over the original memory.

"Over time a memory we think we can vividly and accurately recall may be significantly different to the reality of what actually happened."

Writing down parts of a memory can help take you back to that time, says Adler. I couldn't agree more. I know the things I write about are nothing special, and I'm under no illusion that my kids will be interested in them when they're older (just like I'm never interested in seeing stuff from when I was a kid).

But I'm fine with that.

The truth is I write these things down for me or, to be more accurate, for a future version of me. One who will have time to actually finish a cup of coffee while it's hot, and be able to reminisce about these days.

Maybe, with the distance of time, when I no longer have small children, I will sit and reread my notes and think this little ordinary life I am currently living was actually anything but. •