What memories do you hold of your parents? If someone asked you to reflect on this, you would likely pause for a moment, carefully constructing a version of your past that you feel comfortable sharing. We all have a narrative, a carefully crafted story that shapes how the world perceives us. But deep down, there are those raw memories and emotions that flicker in our minds, the ones that form the core of our relationship with our parents. These “core memories,” as depicted in the movie Inside Out, shape our perception of them and determine the extent of our love or indifference.
As a parent with a big family of five children, people often ask me what it’s like. My response is always the same: you just learn to deal with it. There is no good or bad, it just becomes a fundamental part of your reality. It consumes everything to the point where you can’t imagine life any other way. Yet, amidst the chaos, there is a constant worry about spending enough time with each child, about their grades and their health. You become an expert in cooking meals cafeteria-style and doing quick headcounts to ensure no one gets lost when venturing out into the world.
For me, the absence of a father figure during my own upbringing has made me acutely aware of how my children perceive me. I am conscious of the impact my actions have on them. Every time I lose control and let anger take over, I know it leaves an impression. When my oldest son mimics my less-than-stellar parenting habits with his younger siblings, I can’t help but cringe. And it doesn’t help that everyone in the house seems to have picked up a few choice curse words because of my own colorful vocabulary.
Each interaction, no matter how insignificant, leaves an indelible mark on their young minds. It’s reminiscent of those decision moments in Telltale’s adventure games, where a brief text ominously flashes on the screen: “So-and-so will remember that.” It’s a simple statement, yet it feels like a threat, a weight on your chest, a judgment. You’re unsure whether it will be interpreted as a good or bad memory, but you know for certain that it will be remembered. It’s akin to the sound of an old computer saving data onto a disk.
You hope that the negative moments fade away, while the positive ones remain etched in their memories. Perhaps, in an attempt to create some semblance of balance. Taking a day off work to spend quality time at an amusement park? “Your kid will remember that.” Losing your patience and yelling because the food somehow ended up on the wall while you were in the bathroom? “Your kid will remember that.”
Growing up in a Catholic household, I was taught that every good deed earned a checkmark on your soul, while every misstep marked an “X.” At the end of your life, God would tally these marks, and as long as the checks outweighed the X’s, you would be granted entry into heaven. Confession could absolve some of the wrongdoings, but only if it was genuine. There were no shortcuts to salvation if your intentions weren’t pure.
It may sound strange, but Telltale Games and religion have somehow gamified my perception of spirituality and my relationship with my children. I am aware that this artificial and potentially damaging mindset doesn’t accurately reflect the complexities of human connections. However, I find it difficult to shake off this mentality.
When I soothe a sick child to sleep through the night, I hope that some part of them will remember the comfort. When I miss an important event due to a work trip, I fear that it will become a pattern of absence. Every time I kiss a scraped knee or console a sobbing child, I think to myself, “She will remember this.” And when E3 season rolls around, and my work demands result in long, exhausting days, I worry that my dedication will be etched in their minds as well. It’s in those incredibly right or terribly wrong moments that you can catch a glimpse of their emotions, as if their faces are silently shouting, “They will remember this.”
But in truth, we are all just guessing. We never know which memories will fade within a day or two, and which ones our children will carry with them. Life doesn’t come with floating text to notify us when these memories are being created. Instead, we create our own mental movies of our children, with only a limited control over their content. I remember their births and countless other moments, but the routine of everyday life dulls our recollections, leaving large gaps interspersed with a handful of cherished memories. Most of their childhood will eventually blend into the recesses of my mind.
Hence, I worry about how my children perceive me, anxious that the negative memories will cling while the love is forgotten or replaced with resentment. I pray that the beautiful moments are etched permanently in their hearts. And during those quiet nights when we sway back and forth in the living room, listening to songs from R.E.M. and Leonard Cohen as they drift into slumber, my heart brimming with love, I repeat this like a sacred mantra:
I will remember this. I will remember this. I will remember this.