First memories

standard October 21, 2009 5 responses

I was four when my baby sister was born, and while I don’t remember her birth, I do remember when she got sick shortly after and had to be taken back to the hospital. Or rather I remember my mother coming home with an empty baby carrier.

I was probably four or five when I started preschool. I remember the school, the little green metal bridge we had to cross to reach the classrooms, the three classrooms, the candy that the teacher used to give us when we did something well, I even remember the vaccine clinics that they held. I’d say I remember the closing awards ceremony, but I think that my personal memories have been squashed by the photos I’ve seen of that time.

I have a few other spotty memories from that time. Carrying a scared kitten down the stairs and feeling the pain when the dog barked and the kitten clawed his way to the top of my head. The rush of fear and pain when my brand new penny loafers lost their grip at the top of our wooden staircase. Blood pouring out of my mouth after a stick punctured the roof of my mouth. Lying to my mother about cutting my finger with my sister’s pen knife. Being scared to talk on the phone.

Try as I might I have nothing from before that time. My first years, my first home, all of it is lost to me.

When C was little I always marveled at her amazing memory. She remembered where she left her toys, her sippy cups, my keys. She knew where our house was, and the location of her usual McDonald’s. She could even “read” her favorite books. And yet I knew that none of it would last. Few people have memories from before they were 4.

It was a bit comforting that 4 year-old limit. If I could create a warm comforting home, she’d remember the overall feel of it, but she’d forget the minute details. It gave me a bit of leeway. Say, the right to not always cook a meal from scratch, or not to read bedtime stories every day.

But now she’s 4. And everyday she’s making memories that she might remember.

Will it be her new school? Her daycare? Our trip to the pumpkin patch? Will it be baking pizza with Little L and I? Will it be playing dolls with her sister and her father early one Saturday morning? Will it be our outing to see Princesses on Ice?

There’s no way to know and that raises the ante. I’m fighting the urge to make sure it’s all perfect and special, so that those first memories are happy ones. And at the same time I need to remember to take a deep breath and let it go. Making their childhood happy overall is more important than making a few special memories.

But I’m still curious about what will make the cut. And I’m grateful that with Little L I still have a little leeway.

5 responses

  • My first memories were sometime between ages 2 and 4. We lived in a townhouse in St. Louis (only during those years). I remember the layout (bedroom at the top of the stairs, living room in the front of the house, kitchen in the back), my toddler bed sheets (Beatrix Potter), one particular nightmare involving an alien in the closet and the candy jar “hidden” high in a cabinet that my sister and I used to sneak to on Saturday mornings before my parents woke up.

    Like me, my 6 year old has a ridiculously good early childhood memory. Sometimes there are awesome ones like when Ariel kissed him on the cheek at DisneyWorld when he was two. Sometimes they aren’t so nice. (“Mom, remember when you had a baby in your tummy and then you didn’t?”) The best we can do is hope the good ones outweigh the bad. To help, practically speaking, photo albums are a great way to preserve good memories. We treat ours like bedtimes stories sometimes, reading them just enough to make sure not too much dust collects on them (the books or the memories).

  • This is such a thoughtful post. My boys are both past the “memory” mark, and I find that I go to bed some nights angry at myself for raising my voice or being hard on them or whatever. I just try to wake up the next day and try again. I think it’s pretty much all we can do. Sounds like you are doing a great job! -H

  • this is very provocative. My little H is only two and I haven’t thought about what will stay with her to adulthood. Let me tell you she remembers the goat that peed on the floor of the petting zoo from February. It’s hard to believe she will forget that but I’m sure she will. My earliest memory is of my 4th birthday. I got a red umbrella.

  • I remember, I’m standing in a crib that’s not my own. My parents are downstairs somewhere. There is a pink wall. 18 months?

  • I love this post. It’s so fun to think about your first memories as a child and even more fun to wonder what little ones are thinking and feeling and remembering all the time. You’ve inspired me to do a related post :)

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