Memo-reality: what do you really remember about being a kid?

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I struggled writing this post. It’s full of questions that can’t be answered. But I think they are worth asking anyway.

So here goes.

Which are the things my daughter will remember about her childhood? Specifically (and self-absorbedly), how will she remember her parents?

One of the reasons it’s difficult to blog about this subject is that the territory borders both the Great Land of Nostalgia and the Ocean of Naffness. It’s very hard to write about childhood memories without instantly sounding like a fridge magnet — unless of course you are Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) and you’re able to write about your really quite shitty childhood with enough wit to cut through the cheese.

Where all this is heading is that I have to be honest with myself. Not all of Magoo’s memories of childhood will be magnet-worthy, despite my best efforts and those of Super Defacto, her Dad. She might not actually be able to sound nostalgic about all of them one day because some of them might be (let’s be frank, will be) crap, no matter what we do.

In an effort to do a wee bit of research for this post, I emailed a few friends to ask: “what is your favourite memory of childhood?” (I must admit there was wine consumed just prior to hitting ‘send’, so I was feeling even more sentimental than usual).

However, I realised just after I sent the email how superficial it must have sounded, especially when I received a response from my friend L saying:

I realised that most of my vivid childhood memories are sad or negative and I was quite surprised and upset by that.

While L did supply me with a lovely memory, her initial response made me think.

I have a heap of painful memories from childhood despite having brilliant parents. And L’s comment gave me a really achy feeling of longing (naff, but true) to make sure Magoo takes with her some of the richest, most sparklingly beautiful, funny, loving memories of growing up. I know this is something Magoo’s Dad and I have finite control over, but hey, we’re giving it a red-hot go.

L’s comment also made me think: why do we remember certain things and forget others? What is it about events, people, places, objects, that make them stay in our heads?

To get all scientific for a moment, an article in an issue of Child Development suggests that, while traumatic childhood events can be retained by kids into their adulthood, most of the early memories that kids recall aren’t actually traumatic.[1] Good news! To this end they ask: “what happens to memories of more mundane events over time?” proposing that our memories of events from very early childhood fade during our infant years so that, often, these are gone by the time we reach adulthood.[2]

My entirely un-scientific and un-researched hunch is that the things that strike us on an emotional level are the ones that will stick around.

Hence the reason why my friend C fondly remembers falling asleep at family dinners at a restaurant, which made her feel all safe and warm and full and loved. Or why another friend, P, wrote about

just lying in the back of [their] old brown station wagon looking up and through the glass to watch the countryside pass by as we travelled homeward through the night….those times were never about worry.

Another friend, M, has a hilarious memory about being blamed for pooing in the water when she was taking a bath with her brother. And D recalls her excitement in waking up every day to colour in a huge cardboard doll that she had made from flat-pack cardboard (D is now an artist).

So my question is (and it’s a biggie): what can I do to make sure Magoo has the absolute best possible memories of childhood?

Will she remember dancing with me on my hip to Daft Punk? Or laughing at my impressions of Peppa Pig? Or will she remember the trauma that is solid food or getting changed in the morning?

Chances are — and here lies the irony — she’ll remember the things that her Dad and I say and do without even a second thought.

[Note: thanks to my friends for sharing their memories with me]

[1] Carole Peterson, Kelly L. Warren, and Megan M. Short, “Infantile Amnesia Across the Years: A 2-Year Follow-up of Children’s Earliest Memories”, Child Development 82, no. 4, (2011): 1092-1105.

[2] Ibid., 1094.


2 responses to “Memo-reality: what do you really remember about being a kid?

  1. Fantastic post, thank you so much for sharing. The answer is just to love her, I think. I remember bad moments in my childhood. But I still remember childhood as overwhelmingly positive and filled with love. x

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