Dear Jack: I Was Able to Pick You Out in Cartoon Form from a Crowd

7 years, 9 months.

Dear Jack,

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the parent-teacher classroom orientation, while you stayed home with Mommy and your sister.

As I was one of the first parents to enter the classroom, I was informed that I needed to find your desk by figuring out which construction paper cartoon was the one you created.

I got it right on the first try. I was very proud of myself.

I know my son’s art style. I was able to pick you out. I think that’s pretty cool.

Love,

Daddy

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Dear Jack: You Start 2nd Grade in the Morning

7 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack,

Tomorrow morning, you will officially be a 2nd grader. I was just telling Mommy tonight how I pretty much remember the entire year of 2nd grade. It was the first year in school where I have more than just flashes of memories from it.

I remember that was the year I officially became obsessed with getting a Nintendo so I could try to save the princess on Super Mario Bros. I remember Nonna taking me to see the movie, Big, which was the first non-kids’ movie I ever saw in a theater. And I remember that was the first time I was in a school play: I was an earthworm.

You have an exciting year ahead of you, which will bring its own little milestones in your life.

Today was your last day of summer art camp. When I picked up and reminded your teacher why you wouldn’t be returning after today, I could tell how proud you were when I said, “Jack starts 2nd grade tomorrow!”

Earlier this week, we even got to meet your 2nd grade teacher… or I should say, teachers.

Your school is experimenting with a new curriculum this year in which you will have a homeroom teacher who takes care of math and science, but then for reading and social studies, you will go across the hall where a secondary teacher will handle those subjects.

When I started 2nd grade 30 years ago in 1988, we only swapped teachers for reading. And it wasn’t until 6th grade that switched teachers for more than one subject.

You are definitely ready and eager to start 2nd grade.You were proud too, that this will be your first year at your school where your classroom is up on the 2nd floor.

If you weren’t a big kid before, you definitely are now.

Love,

Daddy

Snail Trails: Your Memory May Be the Only Proof an Event Ever Happened

Nothing, not even a blank screen. Then suddenly on April 20, 1983, life as I know it began. Not the day I was born, but the day my memory started. With all my family gathered around me at the kitchen table, my first memory of life begins with a song- “Happy Birthday”. Maybe I was simply overwhelmed by that many people in the room at once. Maybe I thought the song had a sad tune. Maybe this is where I got my fear of being in front of a bunch of people with nothing to do or say. But all I had to do was just blow out that giant number “2” candle on my Mickey Mouse cake. Instead, I cried.

Flash forward to the summer of 1985. I put on my cowboy boots, grabbed my He-Man lunchbox, stood by the front door, and announced to my mom, “Okay, I’m ready for school! I want to meet friends.” I wasn’t even enrolled for pre-school yet, but my mom took care of it and a month later I was present at First Methodist’s “Mother’s Day Out” program (the year before Kindergarten: 1985-1986).

Though I was four years old, I can specifically remember that Simon Milazzo had a toy dog that I liked so much that my mom bought me one like his. I remember Meg Guice crying one day because somebody ate her pineapples when she was looking the other way. I remember Laura O’Dell gave me a valentine with a scratch ‘n’ sniff vanilla ice cream cone that smelled really good, while Alex Igou gave me a valentine with Darth Vader that said “Be Mine or Else…”.

I remember having a daily “play time” where we all went to the dark green carpeted fellowship hall where we were often forced to play “Duck, Duck, Goose” or sing and act out “The Farmer and the Dell”. Meg Guice would always want to be the wife when “the farmer chose a wife”. I never wanted to be chosen to play a character.

Instead, one day I wandered off to play with my fire truck. Alex Igou also managed to escape from the group, going to the opposite side of the room. We both got in trouble for doing this so the teacher put us in “time out” together. Alex said to me, “Do you like your truck I got for you?” (It was the one he gave me at my birthday party.)

I used to think I was weird for having such detailed and vivid memories from such an early age. But while in my Childhood Developmental Psychology class in college, the professor asked those of us who had a vivid memory from age two or younger to raise our hands. Twenty-five percent of us raised our hands and then had to share with everyone what our memory was. We were told that having a memory that clear from such a young age isn’t common, but it’s not abnormal either.

When I think of elementary school, I don’t remember much about what I learned, but I definitely remember clear conversations and events starring my classmates: In 2nd grade (1988-1989) while in line for a relay race during P.E., I was standing next to Cody Vartanian and Charles Robertson. In honor of the new Nintendo game, Cody said to Charles, “Skate or die!” Charles firmly responded, “I don’t have to skate if I don’t want to skate and I don’t have to die if I don’t want to die”.

Last week I told the story of breaking up a fight while dressed as a giant wolf exactly ten years ago, during my final month of high school (see “Cry Wolf”). I feared that it may come across like I had in some form exaggerated the details. According to my memory, no one I was friends with was there to witness it. So I was much relieved when Adrianne McClung Smith commented on the story, saying she was fortunate enough to see the event in person.

For many childhood memories we have, however, there was not a “constant” in the equation. In other words, without someone else who was there who still remembers a specific event taking place, in essence it only happened in our own minds. It makes me think of the “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it…” question. My immediate response was always to ask if I could put a tape recorder in the forest before the tree fell. My next response was to realize I didn’t care if anybody heard the stupid tree fall anyway.

In the same way, I exclusively hold thousands of memories recorded in my mind. Memories about people I grew up with. Memories these people would never have known happened unless I tell them. Since I am the only person to verify such specific events, in theory they happened BECAUSE I remember them.

All anyone else can do is question the validity of my memory. But I know for a fact these memories are real, not simply evolved from a dream or an old snapshot. Everyone else has this ability though, at least to some degree if nothing else. Every person alive owns exclusive copyrights to memories involving other people.

I am constantly disappointed with the sad truth that even in the year 2009, there is no such thing as time travel. So badly I want to go back to those actual random memories; I want to replay them. In the back of my mind I’m hanging on to this thread of a hope that somehow someday I can revisit my past. Not to change it. Just to see it again, like a good movie.

This hope that when I get to Heaven there will be a series of doors with a different year written on each one, allowing me to revisit- in the likeness of Disney World’s Epcot Center how you can visit several “countries”. Evidently I have a condition which causes me to leave a trail of me behind throughout the history of my life, like a snail. At any given point, I am living in both the present moment and simultaneously each year of the past since my memory began in 1983.

As a writer and as an every day conversationalist, things seem incomplete to me without a nostalgic year or story in there somewhere. Some people have a habit of going off on “rabbit trails”. I end up on “snail trails” instead. My short-term memory is awful- I can’t remember who won American Idol last season. But my petty long-term memory is a little bit Rain Man-esque.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on nostalgia, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog”:

dad from day one