Music and memories

I read somewhere that scent and memory are strongly linked, because of the way the brain works. You smell Coppertone sunblock, and suddenly you’re back on that beach in fifth grade, the time Angie Biederknapp let you put cornrows in her blond hair.

Wait, I totally made that up. Let me think of a real one.

Seagrams 7. If I smell whiskey, I think of my dad, who liked to sit on our back porch and drink a 7-and-7 after dinner in the summer. Every time. I think of one specific time, too, when I was in first grade, and we lived in Mentor, Ohio, in a green house, and there was a playground behind us. Dad was sitting on the porch, drinking his 7-and-7, and I’d already had my bath for the night.

So yeah, I get the link between scent and memory.

But I’ve always had a strong link between music and memory, as if certain memories have a soundtrack all their own.

When I was in sixth grade, I went to a school mixer. (i.e., a dance) It was a Catholic grade school, and there was only one class each of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, so you can imagine there weren’t more than 75 people at this “dance.” I was a dork, so no one asked me to dance. But finally, near the end of the night, this boy named Ryan said he felt bad for me and asked me to dance with him. The song was “Love of a Lifetime” by FireHouse. He smelled (there it is) like his father’s cologne, and I called my mom from a pay phone afterwards, so excited that a boy had asked me to dance.

My first real kiss was a boy named Ian something (clearly left an impression), listening to “With or Without You” by U2 in a grocery store parking lot, in the front seat of my 1989 Honda Accord. (Hey. I’m old.) He put his hand up my shirt, and I felt scandalous for letting him. We made out for the entire duration of the song, and into the silence that followed. Then the tape flipped sides (again, I’m old) and “Mysterious Ways” started cranking, making us both jump.

The day that I got the call from my agent, I drove home from work on cloud 9, listening to “Blow Away” by A Fine Frenzy. I cranked the volume, going 80 mph on the Harrisburg Expressway. I will always link that song to getting “the call.”

But the strongest one, for me, is the song “Only You,” by Joshua Radin. When Nick was born, it was the week before Mother’s Day. Nick spent eight days in the NICU, meaning I spent eight days in the NICU. There was a television in his room, and JC Penney was running a Mother’s Day ad non-stop, featuring that song. It’s a touching ad. Ever time I hear the song, I’m back in the AAMC NICU, listening to the beep and hush of the monitors, learning how to be a new mom.

And that’s possibly the sweetest music memory of all.

Yo momma.

My mother was 35 when I was born. Nowadays, you throw a sentence like that around, and no one bats an eye. There are women having children well into their 40’s. But back in the seventies, it was a Big Deal.

Mom likes to tell me about how when she was applying to adopt, a perky young social worker came to the house to interview her. The girl was probably fresh out of school, asking my thirty-five year old mother how she was going to handle being an “older” parent, and asking whether she was prepared for the challenges of motherhood.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for the challenges of motherhood. Mom was probably ahead of the game, with oodles more life experience than the girls who were pushing kids out before it was legal to pop the cap off a beer. After growing up with my fresh-off-the-boat Irish grandmother (a noble feat for anyone), going to an all-girl’s school, spending seven years as a nun, becoming a nurse, and practically saving the world, my mom was as ready as she could be.

I’ve read a lot about this whole adoption thing, how it can be more difficult for a mother to bond with her adopted child because she hasn’t carried her for nine months. I can only speak to that from my side, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s bull. Seriously, it’s crap. I can’t imagine being closer to my mother.

There’s an intuition that goes along with being a mother. You can’t explain this to people who don’t have kids. I remember when I was a child, there used to be all those Time Life books for sale, about paranormal events. Remember those? There was one on UFO’s, or one on Fairies, things like that. I remember one about ESP, and they had a clip of a mother rushing to the phone before it rang, knowing her son had been in an accident. I’ll attest to that. When Nicholas was in the NICU, he kept having difficulty keeping an IV in his wrist because he was so tiny. The nurse warned me that there was a chance they’d have to start a new one that night, and I asked them to call me (I was still in the hospital) so I could go down and hold him if they needed me to. I’ll never forget waking up at 3am, sitting straight up in my hospital bed, and calling the NICU. They were just prepping him to start the IV. My son needed me, and I went.

A lot of people think this is biological. They’re wrong. I’ll go to the grave saying Mom and I have a psychic connection, and there’s no blood between us. Most days, I only have to think about her, and she’ll call. It’s to the point that it’s sometimes eerie. She calls when I’m sick, she calls when I’m sad. She knows. She’s my mom.

Biology doesn’t matter.

She’s my mom.