10/22/2012 11:59 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

The Memory Keepers

In an effort to become more of a free-range mom, I recently started allowing my oldest son, Mason, to ride his scooter around the block to his classmate's house in the evenings. They play in his classmate's yard, and my son has to be home by six. One night, however, he wasn't home at six. I tried not to let it freak me out completely, but by 6:10 I was worried. It doesn't take ten minutes for him to get home from his friend's house.

I walked out to the driveway with the baby on my hip, and I started calling his name. Another neighbor child was riding his bike as fast as he could toward our house. I saw his legs pumping and the look of panic on his face, and my heart stopped. I knew something had happened.

Luckily, it was not a big something. Mason had fallen off his scooter, but he was wearing his helmet, and the biggest casualty was his knee. It had a pretty impressive scrape -- a little deep and pretty bloody -- and so when my husband arrived home from work, I set out with my son, nursing baby in tow, for the pediatric emergency room to make sure he didn't need stitches. Despite a long and storied history of ER visits, stitches are not our norm. We specialize in head injuries and stomach viruses. So while I am the go-to source for information on what to do when a child falls off the bed and hits his head, I'm still happily a novice when it comes to anything involving blood or cuts.

On the way to the ER, my son was quiet. He has never had stitches. I knew he was nervous. Finally, he piped up from the backseat.

"Mom, am I going to get a Lego set?"

"What?!" I answered. "Why would you get a Lego set for going to the ER?"

"When Charlie had to get stitches in his arm that one time, he got a Lego set for being brave," he answered. "The Harry Potter Hogwarts Express."

I smiled ruefully. Two years ago, my middle son crashed into our kitchen window, hand first while roughhousing with his brother. When he pulled his arm back, he tore it open on the jagged glass. That was one of the worst nights of my mothering career and involved a lot of stitches. But my memories of that night are of the sound of the breaking glass, the way my husband yelled my name when he saw what had happened in that tone that makes hair stand up on the back of my neck, holding Charlie's hand while they stitched his arm, the realization that he would always have a scar. Until Mason mentioned it, I had forgotten that my father had immediately gone out and bought Charlie the Lego set -- feeling helpless and empathetic for my then-six year old, it was the only thing he could think of to do to help make him feel "better" -- to reward him for his bravery through the ordeal.

While bestowing gifts on my children for ER visits is not necessarily my parenting preference, I allowed it because my parents were so distraught and it certainly was an exceptional incident for everyone.

Mason didn't need stitches or bravery (or a Lego set, much to his dismay). He just needed to hold still while the doctor cleaned his wound and added a little Neosporin to his knee. But his question reminded me that, as they grow up, there will be many, many details that I will forget about my children's childhoods. Partly because there are four of them, partly because I am older and have many more cares and demands on my mind, and partly because we naturally remember the things we prioritize and my priorities will be different from theirs, I realized that my memories of them will never be truly complete. More than scrapbooks, more than baby books, my children are themselves memory keepers, especially of the details of each other's childhoods.

I will remember some of their adventures, but my boys -- and eventually my little girl -- will remember nights spent at their grandparents' beach condo in the kids' room, stacked in bunkbeds and whispering to each other with the sound of waves crashing in the background. They will remember birthday party themes and that my youngest son wanted a Dora the Explorer purple princess cake two years in a row. They will be able to recount dinners at sleepaway camp, the theme song to "Phineas and Ferb," the best hiding spots in the house for Hide and Seek, and what they were doing when Daddy called from the hospital to tell them their baby sister had been born. They will know more about each other, in some ways, than I will ever know.

So much of our days involve my children bickering, picking at, and antagonizing one another, I sometimes forget that having siblings is a complicated affair, with several layers of both negatives and positives. I worry about my middle children and whether they get enough attention, I worry about making them share so many resources, I worry about whether they will ever be friends without rivalry and look out for each other. But I never before thought about the way they keep each other as well; they will be uniquely able to bear witness and reconstruct for each other the world I am bringing them up in together.

Somehow, it both reassures me and scares me, because ... man, they have witnesses.

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