My Eldest is three and a half years old, and I’ve been acutely aware recently that he is in the prime window for creating and holding onto early memories. I’ve really been struck by this concept. While I’m a big believer that the first three years of a child’s life are extremely important, impressionable and formidable, they are so for ways that are less conscientious to the child. From here on out, things that happen in his life have the potential to stick in his conscious memory. Wild.
What’s your first memory? I’m not sure if I can exactly pinpoint mine. I have pictures in my mind, impressions that I’m left with, moments that I think have a shadow of an early memory, but it’s hard to tell exactly what they are or where they come from. This is confused even more by the countless photo albums I’ve memorized, or the stories that my parents have told about me. These have created a false memory, or a sense of their storytelling come to life, but I don’t think I’ve actually pulled these vignettes out of my own consciousness. Here are some of my early fleeting memories: I remember throwing a pretty big temper tantrum in the first beach house that we rented in Bethany Beach, Delaware. I remember, in this same house, building forts out of couch cushions, chairs and beach towels. I remember proudly telling a woman in the grocery store, while I was hanging on the side of the shopping cart that I was four years old (was it my birthday? hmm…). I remember carpooling to nursery school, and wanting to marry the little boy that drove with us. I remember the big houses that we passed on the drive. I remember playing in the front yard in the summertime after dinner and baths, right before bedtime.
The funny thing about these early memories is that there doesn’t seem to be any real reason why these memories, in particular, have stayed with me. They don’t seem to be huge moments in my life, glorious or catastrophic in any way. Some of them I can attribute to sheer repetition: the drive to nursery school was clearly part of a routine. Some I can atttribute to the feeling that probably accompanied it: I was proud about being four; I would imagine the fort was a fun time with cousins.
This all leads me to wonder what will the Eldest’s first memories look like. Will they be impressions of monotonous routine, such as brushing teeth, side by side with his sister, sitting on the bathroom floor? Saturday mornings at the Farmer’s Market? What about trauma — the fall he took at the playground in the city while visiting his aunt, cracking open his mouth, blood covering his face? What kind of excitement will creep into his early memory — will he remember running with his dad the last quarter mile of the 5k race, his mom and sister cheering wildly as he crossed the finish line? Will he remember the smells of mom and dad cooking in the kitchen, his childhood bath soap, the salt air at the beach, his dad’s aftershave? Songs that we listen to in the car, the soundtrack of his early years?
My little boy is day by day becoming a bigger boy, and while sometimes that is hard for this mama to swallow, mostly I look forward to sharing his life as he becomes this amazing guy. I am proud to be part of any memories that he will have, and look forward to some day, many years from now, sitting across a cup of coffee with him, listening to him tell me about what he remembers. I think I’ll be rather surprised.