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Forcing Memories Is a Recipe for Disaster

Photograph by Getty Images

I knew I shouldn't have gotten so excited over going to dinner.

It seemed liked a perfect plan: We'd go to Benihana extra early, before the dinner rush; the table side show would enthrall our 2-year-old son; I could have a giant cocktail in a porcelain punch bowl.

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Who knew that a cheesy Japanese restaurant would be jam-packed at 5 p.m., and that service would be so incredibly slow? Or that it would be painfully awkward to sit at a communal table of strangers (which included two men with neck tattoos and a couple that managed not to speak the entire meal)?

How could I have anticipated that our son would be completely unimpressed by the flashing knives and the onion volcano I had reminisced about so excitedly? By mid-dinner he was so antsy we had to pull out the iPad to keep him entertained. (The thing with Benihana is that once you commit, you're in it for the long-haul.)

I came home bitterly disappointed that what I thought would be a fun family night could turn out to be so lame.

It wasn't the gleeful experience I had envisioned.

Then I recalled the time last spring, when I shepherded the entire family to the aquarium 50 miles away: One hour and $120 later, my son had lost interest and I was overwhelmed by the crowds. So we turned back around for a deflating drive home.

There was the time when I rented a cabin in the mountains so our then 7-month-old could frolic in the snow for the first time. What we remember most about that trip was spending the day waiting for the hot water repairman. We did manage to spend some time wandering in the sludge outside our cabin, but it wasn't the gleeful experience I had envisioned.

I realized that on my son's behalf, I tend to get overly excited at the idea of making memories for him, but real life rarely matches up to what's inside your head.

When I try to recreate experience from my childhood, I'm relying on the "best of" highlights of my memories, smoothed out by the passage of time. And I forget, over and over, that my son is still tiny. There is plenty of time for him to have life experiences that will allow him to form memories on his own, with or without my planning.

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By the way, if you ask my son about dinner at Benihana, he'll talk excitedly about the strawberry lemonade and ice cream he ate for dinner. The way he remembers it, we had a blast.

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