Don't you remember?!

Memory is a fascinating thing. I wish I understood better how we form and access memories. I understand that a memory can be accessed by some sensory information that was stored with it; like a song can remind you of your high school love or a certain smell takes you back to your Grandmother's kitchen, but it is much more complicated than just that.
My husband's entire youth seems to have a soundtrack. He hears a song from when he was in high school or college and he can remember exactly when the song came out, how old he was, what he was doing then, who his friends were, etc. It's weird. He'll ask me,
"Do you remember what year this song came out?"
And I'm like, "No. I don't even know who sings this."
And he says, "Really!? It came out the year you graduated high school. You don't know it?"
Like I'm supposed to remember this particular song just because it came out the year I graduated high school, along with hundreds of other songs that came out that year - twenty years ago. But he remembers.
On the other hand, I can picture in my mind every house, inside and out, that I ever lived in from the age of three on, even though that is more than fifteen houses.

Orangeboy's memory recording scheme is the one I don't understand at all. He forgets things of vital importance from recent history and then clings to something that happened in passing several years ago. For example, the very first time he had pizza he was three and half and we were in China. We couldn't get the Chinese server to understand our order, so we finally just pointed to a photo of a large "Hawaiian" pizza and ordered that. That is not what we would ordinarily prefer and, up until then, I had never put pineapple on any pizza I had made. Nevertheless, that remains to this day what Orangeboy will prefer when asked what he wants on his pizza. Even though I prefer veggie pizza, and we now know he can't eat cheese, he still wants pineapple and ham on his cheeseless pizza. How the heck does he remember that he had pineapple and ham on his first ever slice of pizza? It was weeks and maybe months before he had pizza again and he was in a different country by then. I didn't ask what he wanted and just gave him pepperoni pizza, I think - I don't remember for sure. He didn't like it. The next time he had a chance to choose pizza toppings, he chose pineapple and ham.
And yet...
I had to remind him this morning whose funeral we were going to this afternoon. We were all at the funeral home visitation just yesterday for about two hours. There were pictures of my Uncle everywhere and all the family and friends gathered were talking about Don. We had just been over at my Aunt and Uncle's house for the holidays and my Uncle was there and in a grand mood and he talked and joked with the kids. Despite all that, when I handed the kids the notes for their teachers that said they would be checked out early today for a funeral, I just had a feeling that I needed to ask.
"Now if your teacher asks who in your family passed away, are you going to say, "I don't know."?
I was answered with silence.
"Your Great Uncle - DON. My Uncle - who we saw at Christmas. Remember the pictures we saw yesterday?"
Orangeboy repeated, "Great Uncle Don?"
Then Orangeboy said "Great Uncle Don" to himself about five times as if he wouldn't remember otherwise.
He KNOWS -or knew my Uncle. We'd seen him at his house and he's been to our house. He and my Aunt were not strangers. Why did Orangeboy act like he couldn't remember from yesterday to today who had died?

I don't get it. He can remember all the levels, characters, and points values on several video games, but he acts like he doesn't live in our house if I ask him to put something away. He can't remember the names of classmates he's been going to school with for three years, or remember that I've told him a thousand times not to scoop his food off the edge of the plate toward him but to work from the top of the plate and push food toward the middle so it doesn't end up on the table or in his lap. (And yes, I've made sure he understands by demonstrating many times.)

He's in the gifted class at school but he only recently started to get the correct order of t-shirt and pullover. ("Again, the t-shirt goes on first and the pullover sweater next so that the sweater is on the outside. Didn't you think that t-shirt was little tight over that bulky sweater?")

Some teacher or therapist (I don't remember who) told me that because he likes math and numbers and order that I should number things or quantify events to help him remember them. That works pretty well with some things, but it's obviously not a total solution.

I just can't figure out exactly what is his memory bank priority code.


  1. You touched on learning styles as a key to memory (for example, your husband's memory may be auditory and sequential. Music, also, is highly emotional). Orangeboy's memory may well be gustorial, as well as tied within routines. And may have difficulty processing novel stimuli. Yours might very well be visual and spatial: the memory of an interior decorator!

    Like Orangeboy, I have to say things out loud. Like which relatives I sit near at a restaurant gathering.

    My sequencing abilities are perhaps in the lower quartile.

    What about body memories?

    Psychology Today's January issue has some great clues on why we remember what we remember, especially where firsts are concerned.

    Heartbreak and Home Runs: the power of first experiences

  2. Memories are very tricky things. For instance, myself and two of my friends went to a camp together and we all played monopoly. Pretty basic right? Well, it should be, except myself and one of my friends DO NOT remember our other friend playing! And she's the person that won!

    I work in a 1-3rd grade autism class, and like you, I am constantly trying to figure out why each kid remembers or does the things that they do. They never cease to amaze (and confuse!) me.


If you get it, please comment! At least LOL.