I have a multitude of safety nets in place that protect me from forgetting appointments, meetings, meds, etc. Those raggedy nets, in no particular order, are: Post-it notes; alarms on my cell phone and laptop calendars; a 4 ft. x 3 ft. chalkboard on the wall of my kitchen, which I divide into 14 large boxes that change every two weeks and display sports practices, meetings, appointments, due dates and important social engagements (happy hour). I also have audibles from my kids and husband: “Make me a hair appointment;” “We’re out of ice cream;” “Try to stay awake the whole time.” Of course, these verbal reminders as good as gone before they hit my eardrums. So I tell my people, “write it down.” For this purpose, I have a magnetic notepad on the refrigerator, on which we can all jot things down as we realize we’re out of something, especially patience.
All of this attention to remembering five other peoples important data, and by important data, I mean crap, is on top of remembering my own work-related tasks and deadlines as editor of two monthly trade magazines. Weekly deadlines bear down on me like a speeding locomotive, and there I am on the track (at my desk), jumping out of the way (hitting the send button) at precisely the last second before getting a face full of train.
The elephant in the memory room, so to speak, is age. How does one compensate for the decline in memory as one ages? Buy more Post-its? Put chalkboards in every room? (The bedroom wall chalkboard could get interesting.) Set alarms for our impending alarms? Surely, there’s got to be another way.
I contemplated this at length the other day, while driving across town (all two miles of it) and forgetting where I was going. So I asked my 15-year old passenger.
“Where are we going?”
“To Save-Mart for milk and then Play it Again Sports for cleats.”
Wow! Not only did she remember the places we were headed, but the items we were buying! Eureka! The sure-fire way to compensate for an aging brain is to surround oneself with young, fresh brains! And since I’ve got between one and four much younger brains around me most days, this had to be the answer.
To test my theory, I made sure I wasn’t alone from the time the kids got home from school, until they went to bed, so that I could compile some simple stats on how many things I didn’t let slip through the cracks. Here’s how it worked out:
On day one of my experiment, my 16-year old son told me that he needed to go to his dad’s classroom to get a book that he had forgotten (an early clue that my fresh-brain theory may not be airtight). The trip required that we first drive to the softball field where Dad was coaching, in order to retrieve the classroom keys from his truck. Halfway between our house and the softball field is the classroom, which you must drive right past; there is no other route. To illustrate just how short of a journey this is, the entire round trip takes approximately four minutes with no stops. And, the road runs so close to the classroom that the room number painted on the door can be read from the road.
Off we went, son at the wheel, me in the passenger seat, enjoying the sunset view of cows, fields and oak trees. In about two minutes, we were pulling up to the truck. We got the keys, which took ten seconds, and turned around to go back the same way we came. Two minutes later, as we pulled into the garage, I said, “Don’t turn off the car. I have to go run an errand.” My son mumbled something that sounded like “ok” as he put the car into park and set the brake. Then, we looked at each other.
“Oh my god.”
“I can’t believe....”
That’s right: In the two-tenths of a mile between the field and the classroom, we’d forgotten to stop the car. And the whole point we were in the car, at all, was to get into the classroom, which we’d driven right by on a quiet two-lane road with no traffic, no distractions, not even any conversation.
Now what do I do? Install a chalkboard in the car? Make sure a second teenager is present? Or should I call protective services? Child or adult?