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Memories and Music & What's it all for?

I’ve been thinking a lot about memories, lately. As many of you know, my own mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s a few years ago and I’m struck by how “in the moment” my mom has become – perhaps for the first time in her life. She doesn’t remember what just happened a few moments ago, but within each second that’s passing, she’s 100% absorbed in whatever is taking place. She is fully alive in each, unique second, bouncing from second to second very much how Dory jumps from jellyfish to jellyfish in Finding Nemo (Which, by the way, provides an excellent example of “memory loss,” should you ever have the unfortunate job of explaining it to your children).

My mom recently spent a few days at my home without my dad for the first time, and it gave me a challenging, yet wonderful (wonderfully challenging, is more like it) opportunity to take stock of where she’s at. Seeing her alongside my children – and particularly my 3-year old, Dylan – made me realize how similar they were: That moment-to-moment attention span; The way a deep feeling or dark mood can sweep over and completely consume them for a time; How my positive attitude and smile can push through many difficult moments; The fact that you cannot possibly fight every battle – sometimes, wearing the same socks two days in a row is just going to happen; How reminders to do simple things (like brushing teeth) foster an intense need for independence.

But the most compelling similarity was the fact that neither of them would remember those days the way I will, as an adult. Dylan will have zero recollection of the time his grandma spent 4 days with us. And my mom will never remember spending 4 days at her daughter’s house – despite the fact that she came to two of my music classes, we shared a coffee date together, we went shopping together, we slept on the same couch together – she won’t and doesn’t remember any of it.

It may come as a surprise to hear that your children won’t remember much of what you’re doing with them at these young ages. When I was a new mom with my son, Boden, I got out of the house EVERY day, exposing him to different experiences, people, places and classes. He’s nearly 9 now (WHAT?!) and when I ask him, “Do you remember your old preschool? When you climbed the tree and got stuck? When you bit your friend’s finger? When I held you during your asthma treatment? When we danced to Santo Natali, cheek to cheek, in the living room in front of the Christmas tree every night?” No…no…no (laughs about biting)…no…no. It’s all gone.

So why do we do all this? Why do we cart them to the zoo, to the museum, to playdates – to MUSIC CLASS? Well, in the case of our children, we are literally changing their brains. They will not remember the details, but we are changing what their brains are capable of by exposing them to all these new experiences. Exposing children to music, in particular, is proven to change the way a brain looks (on the inside) and how it reacts (brainwaves on a screen). (See below for a few studies of note). We also know that establishing rhythm and pitch before the age of 8 quite certainly ensures a solid foundation upon which to build further musical/dance instruction.

This kind of stuff doesn’t happen any more for my mom – but spending that time with her and Dylan together made me realize another truth: What we do for those we care for shapes how they FEEL. About themselves in this world. About themselves in their family. And despite the fact they won’t remember the details, they’ll remember that they were loved – unconditionally. That the world is full of exciting things. That they belong among it all.

I remember taking Boden and my daughter Elise to the zoo when they were 1 and 4 years old. We were in the Big Cats building and the lioness came up to the glass and rubbed right were Boden was standing. She sat down and looked at him and he felt more connected to nature than ever before. I told him, “You have a special way with animals.” To this day, he still says that about himself, and shows a beautiful sense of compassion and care for animals. Maybe he’ll be a vet. Maybe he’ll start a rescue organization. Or maybe, he’ll just be a good person. Either way – I know that trip to the zoo was worth it.

Keep doing what you do, parents. It matters. And you’ll have the memories, even if they don’t.

Musical Research Articles:

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