Mary Beth Writes

This morning the Washington Post has an article about how we make memories. Interestingly, just because we say we are “making memories” doesn’t mean we are. Most little kids will not start making many memories until they are around age 8. Memories get stuck in our mind if they involve several senses and we are going slow enough to pay attention. If one WANTS to remember something, stop paying attention to everything else that is going on, focus in on the thing you care about using more than one sense. Recall it again later. Deep sleep on it overnight and good luck with that. Deep sleep happens but not at our command. Right?

Here’s the observation that caught my attention: One of the things that’s important is that memory is kind of social exchange,” says Nora Newcombe, a psychologist at Temple University. Traditionally, “part of a female role is creating social cohesion, family cohesion — it’s pretty well-known that families with sisters, when the parents die, end up more cohesive than families with just brothers. The emotional work of women is very often actually creating and sharing these sort of memories.”

Well, this is something we all know and yet, has anyone seen it in words before? That the job of creating a sense of family ALSO belongs to women? In my family my niece and nephew know I am the person who will have the Danielson family memories. My niece sometimes asks me about something from my and her mom’s childhood. I am very aware that since I have some conflicted feelings about my family, are they getting a clear and honest recalling of an event? Nope. Our kids get our stories through our filters. We build our sense of family on the remembered memories of some of the women in our family and that’s a highway that could lead just about anywhere.

The first time I heard the phrase “we’re making memories for our kids” was from a neighbor in the 80’s. She was talking about an adventure they were going to take their kids to experience. I was intrigued by the idea. Can we actually intentionally go out there and procure nice times with the plan to get those memories into each other’s and our kids' minds?

Sure, we make memories all the time. But does it make sense to do it intentionally? Do we take them to an event or place with the INTENT to create memories? Do we do a new thing in order to experience the world in a new way so that we will have more skills and understanding? Or do we just go out there to “get memories”?

It’s a subtle difference but I think it’s important. Is the world there for us to grab? Or is the world around us our only venue in which to love, act, experiment, and learn?

What do you think?

This is the article. WaPo has a paywall. If you want to read it but can’t get to it, I can probably send the article to you if you send your email address to me. (I won’t publish your address) . 



I am always astonished with my sister’s “ memory” of things I know never happened to me! I suspect she just shares these “ facts” just to get attention. But yeah, family tensions do warp our perception of what happened/ happens.
Mary Beth's picture

Oh the places we could go in the differences in sisters' memories....

On our recent road trip, I was more than aware that our kids weren't able to "live in the moment" and enjoy most of what we experienced. They just don't have the level of maturity or lived experiences that have taught them to be grateful for the here & now. (We may be able to convince them of this when we're experiencing something pretty special and we're at home & everything is "normal" and all is well... but when they're completely out of their comfort zones, being present and grateful is a pretty hard sell. LOL) My husband and I were both cognizant throughout the trip that we were making memories for them, and that they would one day look back and be glad we're the kinds of parents who take their kids on a cross-country road trip. If we didn't believe that, we wouldn't have forced them to go! I don't know if this supports what you're saying or not... but I will say that memory-making is shared in our family pretty equally. And we continue to re-share our memories obsessively, as a family unit, because we're our favorite subject. Ha ha. ;)
Mary Beth's picture

This is exactly the question, isn't it? When our kids were VERY little I brought them with me to volunteer (cooking a meal) at a shelter for women who were homeless. (I did this once per month for years.) Kids hated it. They were scared and stuck to me and wouldn't talk to the women. Discussing it with Len later, decided it was too intense and they didn't need this kind of experience, yet. They both have weird memories of those few times, but also, both are very adept in all sorts of social situations. Sometimes you make kids do a thing, some times you don't. (30 people who are homeless can be very intimidating to many. Although, once you are an adult and do this kind of thing - you discover amazing and generous people one would be hard pressed to meet any other way. Also, they loved my desserts.)

I had this discussion with my brother a few weeks ago, during a discussion about a problem he got himself into... I told him that he has placed our parents on a pedestal, and I don't because of many issues between us... And yet even with that I was the one with/caring for them at the end of their time here on this earth...
Mary Beth's picture

Maybe how we remember and talk about our families is the original lie detector test. Although no one is monitoring what's going on!

Experiences I think everyone in N America should have: 1) seeing the expanse of water at one of the oceans or Great Lakes. If at the ocean, stay long enough to hear the ocean waves at high tide. Plus, the waves are even better if you can hear them crashing against a rocky shore (if you live in The Middle, try going to Ludington in the winter and watch/hear the waves on the breakwater). 2) seeing the prairies or the High Plains, that go on as far as the eye can see, without a sign of civilization. Try it in the late summer when the Black Eyed Susans are in bloom 3) going W across the High Plains by land and getting your first view of the Rockies. They really are “purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.” I feel sorry for any one who derides that country as Flyover Land. 4) seeing the arid desert lands, that like the prairies, seem to go on forever, with no sign of civilization. They are most spectacular in the afternoon, when distant thunder clouds can appear 5) if you are from the West, try going to the hills and mountains of the East, where the green foliage seems to go on forever. 6) seeing any snow capped peak, such as Mt Baker or Mt Rainer. 7) hiking a mountain ridge trail above the tree line. For those in the Big East, the closest place to do so would be along the Appalachian Trail in NH. 8) seeing the starry firmament, far away from city lights. You might have to go to Flyover Land to get away from the lights, but you would still have to get far from truck plazas along the Interstates.
Mary Beth's picture

I really, really love this list. Coming back from eastern Canada in September 2019 (before the world changed) we drove and drove and drove through New Brunswick into Maine to Vermont and then came back east through New York state. It was the first time I was so aware of how much hilly forest there is in the east, how daunting it is now on highways and how crazy it must have been to the first European interlopers.

Women "creating a sense of family," I knew this but , to see it on paper was a wow! My late husband had 4 brothers, several of them divorced.Our home was where we created memories, it was the gathering place for extended family, a place for nieces and nephews to land, where connections were made. My girls remember these times, the drama, and the laughter . I am not only the keeper of memories in my own family, but also the keeper of it's history. I take both jobs seriously. Thank you for another wonderful post.
Mary Beth's picture

I was surprised, too, reading that line. There is so much women intuit but never put into words - and then later we wonder why we feel so many feelings...

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The picture is our wedding cake, made by my friend Karen, who drove it from Indiana to Chicago on the hottest day of that year. It was in the back seat so their two little boys had to ride in front (remember when kids could ride in front?). They got lost in the city but I didn't know that for years because Karen and her husband start early and had time to get lost and then figure it out. Sometimes wedded bliss is a lot of work. 

The following story and recipe is not about the wedding cake, but it is the photo I have...



How Do We Remember What We Remember?


The Jan 6 Hearings, huh? This is an amazing moment in US history and I’m trying to understand our incredibly intense response. Four of 10 voters have watched at least some of the hearings, which is 20,000,000 people. It’s not just me that can’t look away.

Our Terrible Canoe Adventure

The eagle photo was taken by Len - but not on this trip! 


We are fine but I have a tale to tell.

American Successes / American Failures

Did you ever have to tell the truth when it was hard? Did you ever lie to avoid a hard situation?  Did you ever know a hard, wrong thing but you told no one because it was going to be complicated and some people wouldn’t believe you and you might end up disrespected or worse for “telling on” someone else?

Most people work hard at learning truth-telling when they are 4 and 5-years old.

Molecule Moving


I didn’t know a Panoply of Dental Moments was coming my way this week, but such is life with teeth. One can brush, floss, slosh, and swish - but if one’s teeth want to crumble, they do. Yesterday I had my six-month cleaning. The hygienist said several times that I brush and floss beautifully. I was proud and thinking maybe I would give myself a “well-done” sticker when I got home. Then the dentist came in to do the check-up and said two fillings had cracks around them and needed to be replaced.

Rough Stories, Tough Week


Last Friday evening on PBS Tonight David Brooks said something like this. “I am afraid for all of us. The news just pummels us.”

There are as many tough stories as there are fingers on a closed fist. The shooting in Uvalde. The shooting in Buffalo. The corrupt power of the NRA and other obscene wealth-mongers that are destroying our society from the inside of elected reps’ pockets outwards. Ukraine. Global climate mayhem. Oh, and covid is everywhere. Less traumatic for most; long covid for some. So that’s six fingers on that pugilistic fist.

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