Sunday, from the backseat on the three hour drive home from The Great Leaf Leave:
Gbot: “Because! Because! Because! Because!”
Mbot: “Stop saying ‘because!'”
Me: “He doesn’t have to stop saying ‘because.'”
Mbot: “Yeah but I don’t know what it means.”
Me: “Yes you do, Silly. Your name is Mbot because Daddy and I named you that. Gbot’s name is Gbot because Daddy and I named him that.” I didn’t mention this one: we are still in the car because of a forty-minute detour. I finally remembered a good example bastardized from a favorite book, Barbara Joose and Barbara Lavallee’s Mama, Do You Love Me?): “I love you because you are my dear one.”
Mbot: “I wish I hadn’t pulled out Tesserwell’s whisker.”
Me: “I wish you hadn’t either, Bug. Why did you think of it now?”
And then I had to stop scribbling on the back on an envelope held up to the steering wheel because we were jumping between stoplights and it seemed dangerous. I wish I had a better memory because it was a good answer, something to do with not hurting the antique cat’s body, or not hurting the antique cat’s feelings, or Mbot not hurting his own feelings. But although I remember the gist, I can’t even begin to guess exactly the words, because my memory isn’t good enough. And, as the visionary architect Mies van der Rohe said (albeit probably in German), “God is in the details.” Exactly is where the beauty lies.
Yet exactly is damned hard to come by. As we all know too well, memory shifts beneath us. According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are over a quarter of a million words in the English language, and that’s not even counting super-technical terms or inflections or a few other creations like “super-technical.” Even if Mbot’s vocabulary consists of fewer than a thousand words, a seven-word sentence that includes nouns, articles, and verbs has something like twenty million permutations. The unpredictability astounds.
I use this logic to make myself feel better about my inability to remember conversations verbatim. As a child I used to laugh when my grandmother, whose memory was no worse than mine is now, got frustrated at forgetting things. My grandfather laughed at her too, but in a grownup way that included compassion as well as love. And he’d say, “That’s what pencils are for.”
What’s the most unpredictable thing you’ve heard today?