CHOCOLATE GRASSHOPPERS & IMPLICIT MEMORY

 

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Saturday afternoon at Café Racer, my son tasted a chocolate covered grasshopper, proffered by David George Gordon.  I tried to take this as evidence that he was growing up, finding new stores of bravery for the art of experimentation and adventure in the world. 

 

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Dr. Daniel Siegel is a giant of a thinker, theorist, researcher, psychiatrist and therapist and you can’t attend a single course in applied psychology or family therapy without hearing the instructor make reference to him and in many cases take you on a glowing oratory tangent.  He’s impossible to hate and so far as I can tell, he’s impossible to question.  He’s on the cutting edge of neurobiology, memory, child development and about six other related fields.  Also, for the record, he writes for the layperson so anyone can scoop up one of his fascinating books like The Whole Brain Child.

 

One of the things that Dr. Siegel writes and speaks about consistently is “implicit” memory.  To put it simply, these are memories that happened before we were conscious and able to develop “explicit” memories.  You can’t call up an implicit memory by sheer cognitive ability.  There are ways that implicit memory gets called up or “triggered.”  Many people don’t understand this but it can govern your emotional life, nothing less.  Have you ever found yourself inexplicably furious or inexplicably sorrowful at the drop of a hat?  Chances are that something triggered your implicit memory: a dead cat on the side of the road, for example, or a father reading the paper at a restaurant where his young daughter sits across from him clearly waiting for his attention.  And it doesn’t have to happen instantly—you could glimpse something like this and not be walloped by it emotionally for hours, or days. 

 

Since learning something about this, I have found myself gaining a great deal of ground.  I was extremely fortunate in that my education around this coincided, more or less, with the birth of my son.  Because everybody gets knuckle-balled with implicit memories when they have a kid and if they aren’t aware of the way the brain works (which most are not), they are going to be baffled and scrambled by their emotional life for a while. 

 

So when my infant son cried out at night and my own chest got tight and anxiety went up, I understood: I was left alone to cry myself to sleep when I was his age.  When my son gets pushed around the playground, my rage is so hair-trigger that I start looking for a dad to fight: I was a sensitive kid told to “use my words” and was not the Lord of any Fly.  So as the time approached for Pax to start preschool (today), I was not as confused as I would have been about my emotional state—but I’m still struck by the intensity of it. 

 

Pax told his mother the other day, “I’m going to cry so much they won’t let me stay at school,” which made me want to hyperventilate.  My own mother’s response was amusement that he had learned to be “manipulative” already.  My mother did step up and offer herself as the courier to preschool for the first week, which was tremendously kind.  What my mother did not do was actively recall under what circumstances she left me alone in a preschool classroom.  I can only assume from my own anxiety and blues during the days preceding Pax’s entrance that I was terrified and felt abandoned.

 

My son left the house with his grandmother this morning in a shark-print raincoat twirling and chattering.  He came back dirtier but in a similar state.  I don’t know if my mother is executing a “re-do” of her own style of parenting 33 years wiser, but she’s doing something right.  I doubt that Pax will lose his breath when his own child’s lower lip quivers at the notion of striking out into school—or anything else in life. 

 

But maybe each time he sees an insect eaten, an implicit memory of his father will warm him from within?   

Comments

  1. Eli,

    Now I know why I’ve been thinking about you so often this week! I’ve been talking a lot to my therapist about implicit memory and what’s held in the body (she’s a somatic therapist – have only seen her twice so far). As you know, I get absolutely enraged when the baby cries….not all the time, but enough…and I’m trying to figure out how to control it and tamp it down. She told me that it wasn’t a 1-to-1 correlation, though, not as simple as “I hate babies crying & therefore I must have an implicit memory of myself or another baby crying.” She basically said that we’ll never know what our implicit memories are, but that for me, loud noises and competing noises are clearly triggers. That could be my parents yelling, me crying, God knows what. She talks about the fight or flight impulse and the third one, the freeze impulse, which I want to know more about. Anyway, thanks for the post. I will check out the book. And love, Pax (and you) are going to be fine. I think preschool can teach a lot. You’re bound to have other (not so implicit) memories come up for you with his entry into the tumultuous hallways of public school, however pre it is…….stay on it. love you.

  2. Also, grasshoppers? I read about the cricket food guy………and while I see that it’s a great & viable source of protein, good bejesus. yech.

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