I have an undergraduate degree in psychology. The joke goes that my degree qualifies me to ask, "Do you want fries with that?" and not much else. Even so, at times I am comforted by the little psychological training I have if only because I am intimately familiar with the areas of behavioral psychology (I can train our cats to do anything), abnormal psychology (entertaining if I want to diagnose strange co-workers), developmental psychology (useful when hubby freaks out because our 2 1/2 year old enjoys playing with poo), and memory and cognition (I make a great study buddy). Trust me though, spending a semester training a rat to push on a bar, turn on lights, and swing in a Skinner box was easy peasy compared to trying to get a 15 month old to eat peas.
Despite my knowledge of developmental psychology, I still have all the usual mommy fears about development and child rearing, no doubt brought on by the prevalence of MensaMommies and SanctiMommies in our society. I still have the usual mommy paranoia that I will horribly scar my children before the age of 2 by allowing them to watch Finding Nemo for 25 days straight. But that's the small stuff and I try not to sweat it. My biggest fear, that cognitive psychology cannot dispel, is the fear that if I were to die now my children would not remember me.
Memory is a funny thing. It's inexact, inaccurate, and sometimes inaccessible. For a long time, psychologists and other scientists believed that infants were not capable of forming true memories. The theory was that the infant brain was only developmentally mature enough to begin to form memories at about the age of 3. There are three processes that occur to form a "memory": (1) encoding; (2) storage; and (3) recall. If any one of the three breakdown, memory fails us. Now, we know that between 6 and 18 months, babies are capable of receiving information, processing it, storing it, and retrieving it in much the same manner as adults. Small children can form memories, but they lose them at a much faster rate than adults. The belief is that memories are overwritten as new connections are formed in the developing brain and that smaller children simply the lack language skills necessary to properly encode and retain memories for long periods of time. But some of it still sticks.
My earliest memories start at about the age of 4, although I have flashes of events in my head that I know took place a bit earlier. The earliest event I recall happened when I must have been about 3. My pre-school and Sunday school teacher had come by to pick me up for Sunday school. I was dressed in my Sunday best and I remember a yellow dress, although I have no idea if I was wearing that particular dress that day. I do, however, remember refusing to get in the car. I was generally a compliant child, but I held onto the outside of the car door and held on for dear life. I was not. getting. in. that. car. My mother gave in and I honestly don't remember ever being sent off to Sunday school again. Like my memories of many early childhood events, it's hard to know if those flashes are true memories or simply a recall of family stories and photos. But when I look back on that event, or the telling of it, I recall feeling incredibly loved. Loved because my mother understood and she listened. Of course, it took physical resistance, but my mother didn't force me to her will.
Albert Schweitzer once said that happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory. Maybe my memory has been a bit too accurate lately. Maybe I need to "forget" a little more to get my happy equilibrium back. But I don't want to forget these years when my children are small. I want to remember the way Holden's forehead wrinkles up when he's screaming his head off. I want to remember Hollis's soulful eyes searching my face when he thinks I'm not looking. I want to remember the good and the bad, the infuriating and the wonderful. I want to remember every moment. I just hope and pray that when my children are grown, the good outweighs the bad in their fleeting and changing memories. And that they remember feeling loved.