opinion | Joan Wickersham

There are some things parents never forget

The game was called “I Forgot I Had a Baby.” We invented it together, my older son and I, one afternoon when he was about eight months old. He was sitting in my lap, facing me. I let my eyes wander around the room, pretending to daydream — and then suddenly caught sight of him and said, with a gasp of happy astonishment, “Oh — I forgot I had a baby!” After a startled instant, he cracked up. It was one of those uncanny, thrilling moments of shared experience. Your child is new and relatively helpless; he has yet to acquire words; but no words are necessary. You both get the joke.

“I Forgot I Had a Baby” became a staple in our house. The wandering gaze, the hammy obliviousness, the dramatic moment when I discovered him sitting in my lap: repetition was part of the game. But it changed, too. Soon I could ask, “Do you want to play ‘I Forgot I Had a Baby’?” and he could answer— first simply by understanding the question and laughing, and then with words. Eventually we developed a variation, “I Forgot I Had a Mother,” where he got to call the shots: how long to let his gaze wander away from mine, how to dramatize the shock of finding that he did, indeed, have a mother, who was holding him in her lap.

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