How much do children remember? How is it that the tiniest of events are etched on their minds, yet huge, earth-shattering milestones seem to pass them by without a shadow?
‘We’ve been here before!’ one of mine pipes up, as we pull into the nondescript car park of a supermarket I don’t remember ever visiting. ‘I was wearing that dress with pockets, and Evie cried because she hurt her thumb on the trolley.’ They break out in collective giggles at this piece of shared folklore.
They remember the tiny things. Dried apricots, eaten on an aeroplane at 18 months old. Clowns they met at Legoland when all three were still in nappies. Clothes they wore, food they ate, whether it rained… Things I would only recall if I wrote them down.
But when I ask them about their grandfather, who died just three years ago, confusion creeps across their faces.
‘Did he have white hair?’ Georgie asks, her voice full of doubt. I smile and nod, but I am breaking inside, realising my children are growing up without the influence of the cleverest, kindest man I have known.
‘We sat on his lap to have a story!’ Evie says, triumphantly, and I seize on this apparent recollection.
‘You did!’ I say, ‘he read you lots of stories!’
She continues to describe the scene, but I see her eyes flick across the kitchen, and I turn to see the photograph on the door of my father, the children on his lap. She is describing a picture. She doesn’t remember.
I feel a balloon expanding in my chest. I think it will burst.
Josh is quiet. He is thinking, staring at the floor as he searches his short life for something so elusive he can barely put it into words. He looks intently at me, the corners of his mouth slowly turning up into a smile.
‘He showed me how to wind the clock.’
I don’t turn to scan the photographs – I know there isn’t one on the door. Besides, I don’t need to. I can see the memory in my son’s eyes: I can see he is taking his grandfather’s hand and tugging him, for the tenth time that day, out to the hall, where the ancient clock stands between the umbrella stand and the stairs. He is watching him open the door, pull the metal chains to wind the clock, turn the hands slowly round again and again, until they chime the hours, fast-forwarding through time.
He is seeing. He remembers.
Perhaps, although it fills me with a sadness I find hard to bear, perhaps it is easier that children forget the big things. Perhaps it is better that they remember the trivia, the lightness, the tiny snapshots of time we grown-ups forget.
I will remember the big things, and they will remind me of the little things. Together we will remember it all.