Counting to Two Hundred for Whoever Will Listen
If you want a good laugh, ask your family for stories of you as a child.
Or so I thought.
My family remembers shockingly little about me a kid. I called up my mom a few weeks ago, and I asked her for some funny stories. She told me about the time I refused to wear a dress to my eight-grade dance without shorts underneath it, but she was thrilled when she convinced me to not wear socks with my strappy sandals. We had a good laugh, but then I pressed a little harder.
“But mom, what about when I was younger than that. What was I like? My personality—can you think of a story that shows what I was like before I became an unfashionable teenager?”
“I don’t know, Steph. You always just kept to yourself. You didn’t give us any trouble. Shy, I guess that’s how I would describe you.”
I’m currently working on a memoir that covers my life from ages 18-30, but I wanted to inject a little more backstory into the beginning, and she was giving me nothing.
“Put Dad on the phone,” I barked.
I posed the same question to my dad.
“Well I remember you were four when we got Tigger. You must have been ten when we got Lady. Oh and Hannah, we got her on your eleventh birthday.”
“Dad, do you by any chance have any stories of my childhood that don’t include our family pets?”
“Well, kiddo, I find that those animals have always been good markers of time. What can I say, you never really gave us any trouble.”
Sheesh. I wonder if this is the difference between growing up before the dawn of social media. My friends that are parents showcase the hell out of their children’s personalities. Surely I must have done something that would elicit a colorful anecdote?
“Oh come on, Dad, give me something. Was I obnoxious? Was I fun to be around? What did I like to do or talk about?”
I know some of the answers to these questions from my own memory bank, but I was hoping for some outside perspective.
“Oh wait, I remember something. When your mother spent six weeks in the hospital in 1996, I remember driving you back and forth to the hospital to visit her every night. You’d play this memory game with me, where you’d ask me to quiz you on the street signs as you closed your eyes. You had memorized every street in order on the 30-minute drive to the hospital. That was a really rough time for me, not knowing if I’d ever get to take my wife home again, and you really helped distract me.”
“Wow, dad, that’s a really nice story. Anything else from that time that comes to mind?”
“Oh I remember when Hannah and Lady did the funniest things that summer.”
“Ok, I think that’s enough for today.”
It was a really nice memory in the middle of a difficult time for our family, but I still was hoping for something that would fit into the story I was writing. I called my sister because if there is anything she and I love to do, it’s make each other laugh until we cry.
“Hey, Jenn, do you have any funny stories about me when we were growing up, like when I was really little?”
“I remember when you were about three or four, you were so excited that you could count to two hundred on your own.”
“That’s right! I remember you teaching me!”
“Well, I didn’t really teach you as much as you just decided to do it. You’d stand up and announce that you were going to count, and we just let you go until you got tired.”
It’s in this moment that I start to think I was the Rain Man of our family. But then I wondered how much these two little stories actually reflect on my personality. Writers have sensitive egos coming out of our ears, and wouldn’t that just make sense? The quiet, shy kid so excited to have someone watch her perform a skill? A skill that’s really not even remarkable, like counting. Don’t we all sometimes do that? Aren’t we all sometimes, just people hoping to be acknowledged by others we love for doing something good or worthy of attention?
“Jenn, are you sure you didn’t just let me count to the highest number I could while you went off to listen to your Poison cassettes?”
“That’s quite possible.”