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The Stuff of Which Childhood Memories Aren't Made

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Sheila (a Saskatoon mother of five-year-old triplets) dropped me an email to let me know about a really thought-provoking post on childhood memories over at Raising Weg -- specifically about when our childhood memories start (I think my first childhood memories start around age four, when my younger sister was born), and what it means to us as mothers if our children don't remember much of the first few years of their lives. She also talks about how your memories of your childhood can be different from your parents' recollection of those very same events, particularly if you had a difficult childhood. She writes:
"Becoming a mother has awakened long-dormant memories, sense-impressions even, of my earliest years. They're mostly not happy memories. When they are happy, they mimic children's books: parents are not integral to the plot.

Do my stories diverge so wildly from my mother's because mine was an unhappy childhood? By what process did the rages come to outweigh the afternoons spent baking Christmas cookies or mornings in the car on our way to church?

I don't believe there's an algorhythm for this. We can't tally up our successes and failures at the end of the day, or the week, or the year, and know how our children wil see us and see themselves -- not just next year, or in their adulthood, but as they lie awake waiting to enter dreamland in the next room. We're operating in the dark, without a guidebook. No one really knows what makes a happy childhood."

I wanted to respond to this part of the post:
"If you're prepared to accept, as I am, that memory plays a role in shaping our selves, that childhood is valuable not just for the subconcious effects it has on our inborn temperments but also for its storehouse of tales re-told in adulthood, what difference does it make that we forget most of our childhoods?"

1. It's an awesome responsibility to be the repository of someone's early childhood memories. Now that my mom is gone, I realize that a lot of my early childhood is lost, and virtually all of the memories of her pregnancy are lost. (I recently asked my beloved but rather forgetful Dad if he could remember if I was technically premature or full-term but early. He couldn't remember when I was due. All he can remember is being very happy that I arrived in December -- as opposed to in January, when I was due -- because he got a year's worth of tax deductions, even though he only had 18 days' worth of expenses for caring for me.)

2. When you're working hard in the early years of mothering, you may feel like it's a "waste" that your child won't "remember" the times when you were up in the night, all night, caring for him when he had an ear infection; or nursing every hour on the hour when she was going through a major growth spurt. But those feelings of being loved and cared for form the foundation of your relationship and your child's feelings of self-esteem and trust in the world. So while your child can't say, "My mom always made me laugh when she changed my diapers," he'll always have this sense that you mothered him with joy and love.

| posted by Ann D @ 10:42 AM