What Do You Remember?

I have a decent memory. Better at some things – names and faces, not so great at other things – card games and jokes. But I’m missing a lot of my childhood. Don’t worry – nothing Terrible happened – more like lots of little unfortunate things, but I don’t have a ton of memories or nuanced photo images from my childhood, probably because I was moved around a lot before I was 10.

I barely remember kindergarten. Forget first grade, except for one memory of cleaning erasers. Second grade? The Challenger explosion and a very kind teacher, Miss Waldo, who came to my ballet recital. Third grade? More memories for sure. But what comes before school are a handful of very, very sad memories.

One happy one –  a birthday, when my parents were still together, and I didn’t want to eat a hot dog. Thinking they would be mad that I wouldn’t eat it, they smiled and told me it was OK, my dad’s arm around my mom’s shoulder. I must have been four, in our house on Jenifer St.

When I was pregnant I was often wracked with anxiety as to what memories I would make for my future child. The sex of my baby unknown, but going by the fond name of Cheeto (thanks to my BFF, who when she looked up what a fetus looked like at the scant weeks pregnant I was when I told her, said, “Oh, it looks like a Cheeto!”). Would Cheeto remember that I planned on reading books to s/he each night? Or would Cheeto remember something small, like an imaginary time I lost my temper and raised my voice? Or would Cheeto only remember a distant parent who preferred reading or watching TV, similar to some of my experiences? What memories would this baby have?

Believe me, those anxieties haven’t left. Miss Red is turning the page on 3, and I daily, yes, daily, wonder what memories she will have. Will they be of the cookies and smoothies she gets from our local coffee shops? Conquering the playground? Or when, last night, frustrated that she left her room for the fifth time to pretend to use the potty and it was 9 p.m., spoke louder to her than I had in her whole life, her little chin held firmly in my hand?

What she remembers matters a great deal to me. It matters not because I think it marks what kind of parent I am, but because I know how it forms her future. It matters because her memories will make her who she is, even if they plant only a small kernel. Her memories matter because I hope she never, ever, has mine.

– MD

    • Nikki Gamble
    • July 25th, 2011

    I have good and bad memories from childhood. Some of them really shape the parenting decisions I make now. I see that as a positive thing. It makes me try to be really conscious about what I am doing and saying with my boys.

    I am astonished at what Isaac remembers even from last year or 18 months ago and wonder if those are permanent memories. He sometimes talks about times that I have disciplined him or corrected him, if he is upset about it we talk about how it is my job to teach him about growing up and making decisions. More often he talks about the fun days we have had.
    I don’t think you need to worry about her remembering the times you were harsh or correcting her. Those may not even be labeled “bad” in her memory. Those are just moments that you are guding her and teaching about right and wrong. It will be for her to decide how to frame her memories and what to take from them. From what I know of you, Cora will have many things that she remembers fondly.

      • MD
      • July 25th, 2011

      Thanks, Nikki. It’s that tender, tender balance of being a parent that I feel we walk, like tightrope walkers. What makes that balance so difficult is that we do it with such full hearts. Oh, little ones!

    • Nikki Gamble
    • July 25th, 2011


    • Nanny
    • July 25th, 2011

    I wonder about the whole idea of memories too. I have many memories (both good and bad) of parents, grand-parents, neighbors, teachers, aunts and “aunties” from my elementary years. However, I have very few specific recollections from the three or four years prior to that. Mostly I remember just an overall feeling of warmth, an understanding that I was part of a huge embrace and an unquestioning sense of belonging. With H. I try to be patient and find the amusement he provides (instead of looking at the less amusing consequences upon which I could dwell), hoping that — although he will likely not have an actual memory from these early years — he will feel safe and loved and secure with himself and his choices. I believe that the earliest experiences shape what we like to think of later as self. I am not perfect, but I am patient and consistent and present. And I tell myself that this is enough.

    • Megan
    • July 29th, 2011

    With such amazing, loving parents I have no doubt that she will remember the feeling of beling loved and safe. That is the best you can hope to give a child.
    But, I agree, I still worry about what Lily will remember about me and her childhood. It haunts me at times.

      • MD
      • July 29th, 2011

      Thanks, Megan. We can only hope, right?

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