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KALIS: Our brains work in such mysterious ways

• Aug 15, 2017 at 2:00 PM

It’s funny, to me, how the brain works. I can belt out countless lyrics to songs I didn’t even realize I knew, but then forget the reason I went upstairs.

Some may call that a brain fart. Well, then, my brain has a serious case of flatulence!

I know my nephew and nieces’ birthdays, but I have no idea how old they actually are. I can’t recite the capitols of every state; however, I know more Sponge Bob quotes than I care to admit.

The thing is, I used to be really smart in college, but all that I learned seems to have turned to mush — the result of a well-known condition called “Mom Brain.” All usable knowledge once retained disappeared just like that, yet I can spew out the phone number of the college pizza parlor like I just ordered a pie yesterday.

Now, some may say it’s the repetition that engraves things into our heads, and if you don’t use it you lose it. Well, while I do believe that does hold some truth, how do you explain things like forgetting your PIN number to withdraw cash so the ATM won’t give you back your card, or forgetting what floor your doctor’s office is on after 19 years as a patient? To this day, when I get in the elevator, I have to push the 2 and 3 both because I’m still not sure. Weird.

Do we unconsciously pick and choose what to remember? Is there a limited amount of storage space in our brains? Do we unknowingly clear things out to make room for new things, like a clearance rack of phone numbers, names, information and secrets?

Some things, of course, are never on clearance, and not to be removed. These memories have earned a permanent space — people and events that meant a lot or touched our lives in some way: family vacations, athletic accomplishments, wedding days and babies born. Sometimes they are memories of people we barely knew.

Both my grandmas died before I was born, and my grandpas both when I was very little. I was especially young when my “Grandpa with the Airplane” passed away. I called him that because he had his pilot license and a small plane I think he owned with a friend. I remember him taking us to see it, and when he opened the door, it came off the hinges.

There are other snippets of memories, too: Sitting on the seawall talking, calling him on the phone and singing to him (a song to which I still remember the lyrics, of course!), and him giving me one of the duck decoys he made. He was a hunter. I recall the animal heads in the living room all looking at me, and I remember when the bed was put there after he got sick and was too weak to go upstairs. Pepper the cat (yes, I remember his name) was curled up next to him as he slept.

I might not recall algorithms and theories, but the small windows of time I remember with my grandpa are far more valuable to me. So what if the things I remember and things I don’t sometimes seem strange — at least the things that are really important are securely in storage.

Yes, I’m sure I’ll find myself at the top of the stairs again trying to remember why I’m there. I’ll backtrack to spark the memory and head back up, only to do something completely different than my original thought.

But, whether it’s due to mom brain, flatulence, lack of repetition or an unconscious purging, instead of getting frustrated, I think I’ll just sing one of the many songs I know — maybe even the one I used to sing to my grandpa.

And who knows? What I was going to do might just come back to me. Then again, it might not. The point is — ah heck, I forget.

— By Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist

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