How old were you when you had your earliest memory? For me, it was my second birthday. I don’t remember all of it, but I can remember that my mother put me in an orange dress in anticipation of company coming over. The dress was nothing memorable until my mother produced a matching orange necklace that had come out of a cereal box.
“I saved this for you because I thought it would be pretty with your dress, ” she whispered to me, as she gave me a kiss on the cheek and placed it around my neck. I was so proud of my dress and matching plastic orange necklace.
Despite big events occurring later in that year including my first day of preschool and (apparently) a trip to Disneyworld, my next memory isn’t until a fair bit later. We were making birdfeeders in preschool with large pinecones, peanut butter (imagine doing this now!) and birdseed. Being a peanut butter fanatic, I tried to lick it out of the pinecone and was scolded by one of the teachers in front of all of my classmates. I was immensely embarrassed.
I always wonder what it was about those events that made it so that they stayed with me over 35 years later, while other big milestones (of which we have LOTS of photos) didn’t stick in my memory. Whenever I’m doing things with my kids, I’m always aware of the fact that my earliest memory was so early, and I often wonder if whatever we’re doing today will stick with them forever.
One of my daily rituals with my kids is that at bedtime, I sit between their beds on the floor in the dark and we talk about everything and nothing in general. I learn a lot about their little lives – whom they have crushes on, what their friends are eating (or not) for lunch, what big game they like to play on the playground, etc.
The other night we were sitting talking about when they were “little”. Most of the conversation was of me telling them about stuff we used to do when they were babies. Then my daughter decided to add her own memory to the conversation – it happened over a year ago on pajama day at school. I decided on a whim that I was going to pick them up early as a special treat. We walked to a little food shop at the train station next to school, picked out GIANT cupcakes, and sat on the bench on the train platform as we watched the trains go in/out of the station.
“I had a vanilla cupcake with chocolate on top. It had funny eyes and a big nose…” she giggled to herself (it was a cupcake that was made to look like a goofy monster).
My son thought for a second and then said, “Mommy…remember when you drew a happy face with hearts and put it in my lunchbox?”
“You remember that, Bubba??”
“Yes. It was the first day that I used my Thomas [the Train] lunchbox, and you told me you were happy because I was a big boy.”
My son’s memory is of their first day of preschool – they were only 2.5 years old, and I made a “love note” and put it into their lunchboxes. This would be the first time that they’d be opening their lunchboxes by themselves (as opposed to a daycare teacher helping them) and I wanted them to know how proud I was of them for being brave, big PRESCHOOL kids.
I’ve realized that making memories is not about doing big things like going to theme parks or events, or about giving birthday or Christmas presents – it’s about doing the little things that appeal to their emotions and make them understand how important they are to you. In the end, these memories are made up of the moments that really count…and I really hope that these are the memories that will stick with them forever.