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When Hollis was 14 months old, he tossed his pacifier over our fireplace gate and into the flames. I guess he wanted to see what would happen. I discovered the little pyromaniac's sacrifice later that day when I asked him where he'd put his pacifier and he kept dragging me over to the gate. I looked in and all that remained was the charred tip of the silicone nub. I guess he learned his lesson because no more toys, or pacifiers, have been tossed into the brink. (At least not by Hollis.) I didn't think much about the pacifier toss until recently, when Hollis, now 30 months old, proceeded to tell me about the pacifier that had "all burned up" in the fireplace. I was actually shocked that he remembers torching his beloved "Phi" at such an early age. But even so, I was simultaneously disturbed and reassured by the thought that Hollis may remember some of this early time in his life.

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.

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Blogger Alpha DogMa said...

Well now we know what topic will haunt my dreams at 2am and drive me over the edge: the fear that if I were to die now my children would not remember me. AAAAHHHHH!
That's pretty amazing that Hollis remembers his soother bonfire. I kinda hoped that the first 24 months would go unrecorded in their little brains. Damn, I may yet be held accountable for my general incomptency. Which lingers even now.

Blogger newnorth said...

wow, that is cool that he remembers that!
From the way you talk about them, it sounds like they'll definetly remember being loved :)

Blogger PT-LawMom said...

Great post! My son will say things out of the blue that makes me think he remembers early memories, but I wonder how much will linger as he grows and new memories push their way in? It will be interesting to see. ;)

Blogger Amy W said...

I am too shocked at the things Ashley remembers....and I don't remember a thing.

Blogger bubandpie said...

Your early memory is scary! Bub often begs not to go to Sunday School, and we don't give into it. Until now, I thought that was me being firm and consistent! To be fair, though, he doesn't seem desperate - just reluctant.

Blogger D said...

It's amazing to me that I can remember all the way back to when I was 2 and my kids can barely remember when they were 2 (well except the 2 yr old). I have no idea why I can remember falling into the Christmas tree, but J cannot remember breaking his thumb. The ability to remember is an amazing thing. This is why I started remembering for my kids. I don't want them to forget anything: good, bad, & ugly!

Nice to see you posting.

Blogger DD said...

What I've noticed with my son's memory is that the younger he was, the more "expanded" his memory card seem to be. He remembered travel trips; stores Grandma would go to when she would watch him once every two weeks; toys that go missing, etc.

However, the older he gets, the less and less of his younger memories he retains, which I find fascinating since he's able to vocalize more, which would make you think that if he can tell the story, he would be more inclined to remember it longer.

Blogger Treadmillista said...

the fear that if I were to die now my children would not remember me.

Yes, that is a horrible thing to dwell on. It always reminds me of something a friend shared with me...her friend with two small sons (2 or 3 and a newborn) was diagnosed with cancer, she went to visit him at the hospital, and he was writing out cards to each of the kids for all of their special days to come in their lives...on your 16th birthday from Dad, on your wedding day from Dad, etc. Shit, I am crying just typing that.

I guess we all need our kids to remember us, but aside from a terminal disease most of us shouldn't dwell on it. It would just make us crazy.

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

B&P - I remember being frantic about not getting in the car. It was very unusual for me, not just the typical please don't make me go stuff. I think most kids would prefer hanging out on a Sunday over Sunday school!

Donna - Yes, perfect reason to scrapbook and blog. Like we need excuses!

Blogger slouching mom said...

LM, The memory stuff was funny for me to read, because my PhD is in psychology. I taught wee ones like you Intro, Experimental, and so on Who knows, maybe I taught you!

Once when Ben was two, we drove to a lake that we had visited once a year earlier, when he was sixteen months. We drove over a mountain, at which point he stuck out his arm, pointed to a road going to the right, and said, "There. The lake is that way." (There were no pictures of a lake, promise.)

I don't think we could have been more scared if he had just turned his head around 360 degrees.

My almost 5-year-old remembers EVERYTHING....a random Happy Meal toy "lost" last year, a story I told her months ago. Her memory is amazing.

All we can do is try our best at this parenting thing and our children will hopefully remember being happy and content and taken care of and loved. All the happy moments will rise to the surface...the bedtime stories, the playing in the yard, etc.. I try not to dwell on all my imperfect mothering moments and trust me...there are many!

I tend to be a control freak and a perfectionist, which are two qualities that I flog myself with when I feel I "screw up" as a parent.

p.s. love that picture of you and your mom

Blogger CPA Mom said...

I just wrote how I remember very little from childhood. I'm haunted that I do not (if that term is right). I hope my kids remember more. At least, the good stuff and not me yelling HA! Very good "thinking" post. And a beautiful testiment to your love for your children.

Anonymous Momish said...

Wow, I am amazed he remembers an event from that early. That kinda scares me too, to think my kid might remember all the inexperienced mistakes I made way back then!

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Slouching Mom - You know, now I remember reading that on your blog. You're not *that* much older than me though!

Blogger Justice Jones said...

It really is amazing how much kids can remember things. I too fear that I'm going to do something that will result in one of my children growing up to be a bad spouse, parent or just unhappy individual for doing something like too many timeouts. Or, giving them too many toys. Parenting is hard. Let's hope they remember only the good and the rest, burns in flames like "Phi."

Blogger jen said...

oh, yes. this. i've spent some time here myself, and took to writing M letters periodically and making J promise to tell her certain things in the case of my demise.

very nicely written, sister.

what a beautiful post! I have many of the same feelings.

And this..."the fear that if I were to die now my children would not remember me..." OMG, THIS is my greatest fear too. That is one of the reasons I am glad that I have blogged about my son over the last year. He would have something of me to read after I was *gulp* gone. God forbid!

Excellent post! I thought I was the only crazy woman that worried about this kind of stuff!

The Princess is an anxiety-ridden perfectionist, and I often worry (HMMMMM....wonder where she gets it!) if she is truly happy. Also, I am always waiting for the police to knock on our door, because if you had ever seen one of her meltdowns, you would SWEAR we beat her! (We don't....it's Junior Mayhem that catches the beatings around here!) :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow...man, my memories don't go back that far..it takes pictures to let me remember anything before 5.

- Jon
- Daddy Detective
- www.daddydetective.com

Blogger ExPatSW said...

Children remember things that 'mark' them in some way. I have memories of some events which happened before I was three. Not necessarily good or bad things, just events that resulted in strong emotions of some kind.

I know adults who lost their mothers at very young ages. S. lost his mother when he was seven and remembers very little about her. However, his brother was only two at the time and has infinitely more memories than S. My theory is that, with five children ranging in ages from one to seven, she had no time for the older ones beyond meeting their basic needs. The one year old and two year old received more affection and attention at that point so their memories are clearer.

LM, you make a tremendous impact on your children every day of their lives because that's the kind of mom you are. I feel confident that H&H would remember you very well. They may not remember how much you love dark chocolate or shopping but they'd remember how much you loved them and how much individual attention you give them.

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