As my family has grown-up in recent years, and especially as my oldest sons have become teenagers, I’ve wondered how the kids’ childhoods will be remembered through their individual lenses of perception and memory. For instance, my older brothers have memories of me always getting my way. As the baby of the family, I don’t remember it the same (and therefore it did not happen that way).
Never, however, did I consider that might children might remember the wrong things — things that didn’t happen at all.
This past weekend, we were driving to western Maine to enjoy the fall foliage and hopefully see a moose (never happened). I was pointing out scenic views, like mountains dotted with fall colors and cows grazing in pastures, when we passed an old covered bridge.
“I remember when Lindell was afraid of covered bridges,” one of the older boys said.
“Yeah, and we made him get out of the car while we drove across,” the other one said. “And then he wouldn’t even walk over it.”
“And we left him on the other side, and he got really mad. And then Mom made us back up to get him.”
All of this was sounding very familiar to me in the passenger seat, but not because we lived it. I don’t remember my youngest son, Lindell, ever being afraid of a covered bridge. No, it was sounding familiar because it was actually … AN EPISODE OF A SITCOM.
Here’s how my inner dialogue went: I feel like I remember that, but it never happened. Why does that sound so familiar? Why do the boys remember that if it didn’t happen in real life? OH MY GOSH, it was an episode of “The Middle.”
“The Middle,” one of ABC’s longest-running comedies, features a middle-class Indiana family struggling with the everyday challenges of modern-day life. It first aired in 2009, and America quickly fell in love with Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Mike (Neil Flynn) Heck and their three kids, Axl, Sue and Brick. This October, the show began its ninth and final season.
My kids discovered “The Middle” during the winter of 2014. On cold, dark winter nights, we plowed through back episodes until we were watching them in real time in 2016. A favorite (apparently) episode originally aired in 2011 during Season 2 and was titled “The Bridge.” In it, the youngest Heck, named Brick, was afraid to go across a covered bridge, and Frankie and Mike struggled with their alternating urges to be patient and frustrated. At one point, Mike Heck throws a book on the other side of the bridge to coax the book-loving Brick over.
I turned around to face my kids in the back seat, who were still laughing about “Lindell” not going over the covered bridge, and I said, “Guys, that never happened! All three of you have embedded into your personal memories the plot of a sitcom. It was an episode of ‘The Middle.’ ”
I turned back around again and let that sink in. While the kids behind me where whispering to themselves, wondering how they could have gotten that mixed up, I started to panic. What else will my children misremember about their childhoods? What other bits of pop culture will they pirate as their own?
So, in an effort to preemptively avoid future confusion for my boys, I’d like to go on the record with the following things that also did not happen in our family’s real life:
Your father never cut off your hand. You never fell down a shaft. You do not have a twin sister that we haven’t told you about. That was “Star Wars.”
There were never any talking airplanes or talking pets. Those were cartoons.
Likewise, trains did not have faces. Sir Topham Hatt was not real. Trains do not have feelings. We are not British. That was “Thomas the Tank Engine.”
We never spent a winter taking care of a haunted hotel in Colorado. There were no clowns in the sewer or the basement. (But Stephen King did live in your hometown.)
We never left you home alone while we went on vacation.
You did not walk through a candy cane forest, past a sea of gum drops, and then into the Lincoln Tunnel that time we went to New York City. We drove.
And last, but really not least, if you ever recall a vague memory of someone named Harry having a massive head wound at our dinner party, this is entirely your dad’s fault for binge watching “Saturday Night Live” episodes that he thought were kid-friendly with you when you were toddlers. He stopped at Massive Head Wound Harry, when all three of you ran out of the room screaming.
“I think I went too far,” Dad said.
Related: Maybe we’ve gone too far watching too much television and movies.
— Sarah Smiley is a syndicated columnist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.