As a little girl I was always keen to prove that I – like Annie – had been adopted. One of the strongest pieces of evidence in my case was the fact that my mum used to forget my name. How could any real mother forget her own daughter’s name?
I realise now that she didn’t forget it so much as which child/animal she had given it to. As the youngest, my name usually came somewhere after my sisters’, my aunt’s and the dog’s. OK, OK, so it was hardly neglect. But still, I must have found it disconcerting enough to grow a little chip, and find a place for it on my shoulder, among all the other little chips.
So it was with a sense of history repeating that I left school the other day, having been given a tactful nudge by Betty’s teacher: could I try harder to remember her things, please? She didn’t have any shoes (I know), she had to borrow someone’s PE kit, she hasn’t got a coat (she has got a coat! I’m just not sure where it is…). I haven’t felt so ashamed in a school building since the time Alex and I locked a stray dog in the deputy head’s office.
I forget their stuff constantly. So much that it feels like a normal a feature of my domestic landscape, like sweeping the floor or putting the bins out (although, of course, I forget to do that too.)
Last Sunday is a fairly typical example. I took Betty to swimming club, which at 6pm on a Sunday, is without question the most anti-social swimming-club-time ever invented. Still, pleased with myself for not making up an imaginary reason why she couldn’t go, I got her into her costume at home and put her pyjamas on over the top. Shampoo and towels went into the bag for after. Hooray for me, efficient and organised modern woman.
Until we got there and realised I’d forgotten the bag – so she had no goggles or towel. Later on I hoiked her, wet and cold, back into her pyjamas – her classmates watching us, silently thankful they didn’t have the shit mum who brings her kid swimming with no towel or clothes. Worse than that, when I got back to the car, the bag was sitting there on the back seat. I hadn’t just forgotten it. Reader, I’D FORGOTTEN I’D REMEMBERED IT.
To an extent it’s harmless, even comical – the kind of hapless forgetting you can blame on your thrilling whirlwind of a life: I just have so much on my plate. I’m spinning too many plates. You can mostly blame it all on plates.
If you see a new plate, do not approach it
But when a real teacher says it’s a problem, it makes you stop and wonder. Shit, you think, because that’s the extent of your internal vocabulary these days. Shit, shit, shitty shit. And you’re forced to admit that this forgetting-the-kids’-stuff thing is really just the tip of your massive memory-loss iceberg.
There is forgetting where you’re going. You do that a lot. Where you’re driving along and realise you’re going in the wrong direction, and have arrived on this road by way of magic. Sometimes you have no recollection of getting in the car at all. Have you even passed your test? Or where you’re walking up the stairs and have to stop halfway up and ask yourself: exactly why am I doing this again? Is it a wee, or laundry? Your life is an episode of Quantum Leap, starring a haggard woman with parched hair and longer-than-they-used-to-be teeth.
Then there’s forgetting to do things. Doctor’s appointments, children’s parties, leaving money for the milkman and picking up the duvet from the dry cleaners, that has been there since 2013. Even though you write this stuff on the calendar and in your many diary apps and devices – it seems you can forget about something only seconds after being reminded about it. You feel sure there is an app for this too – maybe you need to start using that Siri more – if only you could remember to look into it.
There’s forgetting words, too. What do you call it? You know, that thing! What’s her name, your friend? You know who I mean! YOU DO! You say this sort of thing quite a lot these days. That’s if your sentences don’t just cut-ou…….
Faced with the evidence, you wonder if perhaps there is a serious problem here. Perhaps that decade you lost to house music, and all its associated refreshments, might not have been very good for your recall function. Your acceptable-because-it’s-middle-class addiction to alcohol probably isn’t helping either: you’ve read about the hippocampus; you know all that sauvignon blanc won’t make you any sharper. Throw in the sleep debt – oh, and the dementia in the family, and it’s easy to see why your demons are having a field day here. What if I’ve got early-onset dementia! you wail at your sisters, the table awash with sauvignon blanc.
Given the already testing circumstances in which you find yourself, you’re keen to avoid the challenges you feel certain early onset dementia would present. So you do what every woman like you does in a crisis and turn to Amazon, and food. You will read self-help books and eat your memory into shape. Armed with your list of 50 Things to Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s, you feast on Brazil nuts (for the selenium) and buy crazy-priced Scandinavian trout oil (the best omega-3, apparently). Avocados, coffee, dark chocolate, red wine, strawberries, mackerel galore. So much mackerel, you have actually grown scales. Is it making any difference? You can’t be sure. And like all the self-improvement initiatives you throw yourself behind, your enthusiasm for the memory-boosting diet fades. You forget to buy Brazil nuts.
And you come to the conclusion that whether it’s Alzheimer’s, being too busy, or simply getting older, you haven’t got the energy or headspace to worry about it. Like getting longer in the teeth and wider in the hips – it’s happening to all the mums you know. One forgot to turn up for coffee. Another forgot an appointment with the paediatrician. And yes, you all call your children the wrong name. It’s normal. Forget about it.