My daughter, Eve, has always had a good memory. It’s the reason she was reciting her ABCs and 123s before age 2. As a tot in her car seat, she could point out landmarks left and right, like the library, the hospital where we visited her grandma, and the mall where the fishes and dinosaurs are. She regularly awed me by remembering things we’d done the week before.
Now 4 years old, she still amazes me with the moments plucked from her memory.
She remembers playing on the “inside playground” during her birthday party at Chuck E Cheese five months ago, and getting her Toy Story Woody doll when she met her baby brother at the hospital last year.
At a picnic this month, Eve saw a little boy with a yellow sippy cup. She told me that was the same cup she had at Trisha’s day care, and she told me the color of her three friends’ sippy cups. Trisha’s day care closed 17 months ago, or a third of her life.
Eve’s excellent memory also means I can’t slip too many things past her. Diversion attempts of “we’ll do that later” always come back around. And she’s really good at reminding me of my mistakes.
Some “memories,” though, are stories that I’ve told her, like how she ate her first birthday cake. “First I took one finger of frosting, then two fingers, then three fingers and then a big old mouthful,” she tells me authoritatively. When I ask her about our family’s trip to Baltimore last spring, she talks about how I gave her a fiber bar for a snack and she pooped her pants (a true story and an important parenting lesson learned).
Then there are things I’m sure she’d remember that have slipped away. Or people. Eve once accompanied my friend Andrea and me on a weekend trip to Billings. The next time she saw Andrea, a few months later, she insisted this was a “different Andrea.”
Lately Eve has started conversations with “Do you remember when?” And I usually do. When I don’t, often because her explanation is vague or scattered, she gets frustrated.
This little game has made me a bit reflective and contemplative. What will my daughter remember?
Take this summer. Will she remember our family trips to the pool or riding in the bike trailer with her brother? Or will she only remember the things I hope she forgets, like the mornings I was on deadline and had to type instead of play with her?
Perhaps none of those will stick into adulthood. I have to think really hard to retrieve anything pre-kindergarten from my own childhood. And my earliest “memory” was apparently a bad dream or otherwise concocted.
I’m 3 or 4 years old, in a cemetery, looking down into a freshly dug grave. It’s glowing red at the bottom. My mom pulls me back.
Yeah, pretty sure that didn’t happen.
But my husband clearly remembers things that happened when he was 2: moving into the house where his dad still lives, the aftermath of a tornado that ripped through their farmstead.
An article on Slate.com earlier this year explained that kids do remember a lot more than we’ve historically given them credit for, and at an earlier age. But as far as which memories make it into adulthood, they depend more on the parent than the child.
Children whose mothers talk to their children about their past in highly detailed, elaborate ways have earlier first memories, the article said. So the more I tell the story to Eve of meeting her baby brother or her birthday party at Chuck E Cheese, the more likely she is to remember it. If we can gloss over my less-than-ideal moments of parenting, maybe she won’t bring those into adulthood.
My friend “Different Andrea” had another thought on the subject: “I wonder if trying to give kids memories is like trying to give them great presents. You spend a whole bunch of time looking for the perfect gift, but they end up playing with the box,” she said.
I have no idea if any of the perfect memory gifts I’m trying to give Eve will stick. But it’s my job to make sure the box surrounding them is as sturdy as it can be.
Sherri Richards is a Forum employee and mom to 4-year-old Eve and 1-year-old Owen.