I sat on the top step and leaned against the cold wall, my little hands clasped around my bony knees. It was late and everyone else in the house was asleep. Our summer vacation was at an end and we were heading home in the morning. My mother’s plan was to drive home with the dogs and let the au pair take us kids on the train. My plan was to intercept her on her way down and beg to be allowed to go with her. I spent that long night sitting on that step, falling asleep and jerking myself awake. The memory is so vivid I can almost taste how desperately I needed to be with my mother for that long drive home.
Ever since I read this post I’ve been consumed with thoughts about childhood memories. We go to such extremes to create memories for our children. We take them to the zoo, to parks, even to the circus. We worry about traumatizing them with the introduction of a new sibling or a change in care providers. But in the end, what will they really remember?
Think about it; what’s your earliest memory?
My paternal grandmother died when I was five. I remember two things that are connected to her.
I remember the briefcase she used to carry her arsenal of prescription drugs. It’s just an image in my mind; a small brown briefcase filled to the rim with pill bottles.
I vaguely remember taking a nap with her. I was told to behave and lie still. She smelled funny. I was five when she died, but I don’t know how old I was the last time she came to visit.
I was four when I was put on a plane by myself to go visit my maternal grandmother. You would think that I would remember being on a plane all by myself, but no all I remember is sleeping on a mattress on the floor in front of the couch. She and her husband sat above me and watched TV as I fell asleep.
I was four when my little sister was born. Legend has it that I was so enamored of her that I called her “my baby.” So it’s not so surprising that I have two vivid memories linked to the time she had brain surgery, just weeks after she came home for the first time.
I remember going to the children’s hospital and seeing my mother hold up my baby sister on the other side of a huge window so that we could say hi to her after her surgery. The glass was thick and we stood on a row of chairs so that we could lean against it to see her better.
And I remember being called to the phone to talk to my mom who was calling from the hospital and being torn between my fear of the phone and my desire to talk to her.
Try as I might I don’t specifically remember anything earlier. I see pictures in my mind, but I know that they are created from photographs and stories that have been recounted. What I do get is a sense of well being, of fun, of love. The details are fuzzy, but the gist is there. Maybe that’s why we go to such lengths. The pictures will provide the details and their hearts will fill in the blanks.
For the record, my mother found me on that step and took pity on me. But before letting me get in the car she made me promise that I wouldn’t talk all the way home. I was a real chatterbox, but I still remember sitting as quiet as a mouse all the way back to Paris.