Friday, March 12, 2010

Making a Memory

In my earliest memory I waddle into an enormous kitchen, squatting on my heels. My grandma is washing dishes. She looks down at me and asks if I have a tummy ache. I nod.

In my next memory we are moving. The hallway is full of boxes and I am digging through them, looking for a doll named Brenda, scared that she will not get to the new house. We moved when I was three.

I remember being in the hospital to get tubes put in my ears and being offended when the doctor told me I was going in a "big girl crib" instead of a bed. There's no such thing as a big girl crib, stupid.

And then being in the hospital again, waking up suddenly to find my bed surrounded by strangers, rolling me down the hall. Screaming for my mom.

I have a lot of fantastic memories from later on in my childhood. I know I was loved and played with and spoiled. So why are the scary or painful memories the earliest ones my mind chose to keep? I guess trauma makes a big impression. Then I wonder about the things I don't remember, at least not in any concrete form, and what effects they may have had on me.

Just after my mother brought me home from the hospital when I was born she had to take me right back again. I had meningitis and I have been told that I owe my life to baby fat. Had I been a 6 or 7 pound baby I wouldn't have had a chance. As it was, I was nine pounds and might possibly survive, although I would definitely be brain damaged and probably blind and deaf as well. I was spinal tapped and had IV's in my head because my veins were too tiny anywhere else. I got better. I'm not blind or deaf and any brain damage I suffered didn't prevent me from getting on the Honour Roll. I don't remember this, but does it explain my hatred of needles?

I learned to walk when I was nine months old. At that time my mother was working and I stayed with a babysitter. One day my mom got off work early and came to pick me up. When she pulled in to the sitter's house a little boy ran up to her and said:
"Oh good, you're here! She's been crying all day!"
My mom was worried and asked if I was hurt or sick as she headed into the house. The kid said:
"No, she wants out of her seat. Mom keeps her there so she doesn't fall down the step."
It turns out the woman had been keeping me strapped firmly in a stroller for hours every day, supposedly so that I wouldn't topple down the single, three inch, carpeted step between the kitchen and the living room. I never had another babysitter besides my Grandmother again.
I don't remember this, but does it explain why I cannot stand to be physically restrained in any way, for any reason, by anyone?

We try to protect our kids. But everyone gets hurt, or sick, or hurt by someone sick at some point in their childhood. We may not be conscious of the memories, but are they deep inside, shaping the people we will become?

Will Skylar remember me holding her down on an X-ray table as she screamed and tried to claw her way into my arms while a nurse pulled on her broken leg just before her first birthday? I know I'll never forget it.

Will Eden remember being bitten by that dog?

Are my children's first memories more likely to be of us laughing as we jumped over waves at the beach last summer or wrestled in the snow last week, or of us yelling at them for doing something bad?

I have been guilty of assuming my children are too young to remember, telling myself they are not quite real people yet. I have had bad days and told myself it wouldn't matter. I loose my patience and yell at my kids to CALMDOWNBEQUIETSTOP! and longed for the day when they will be old enough to talk to and enjoy being friends with, while telling them that no, I do not want to play hide and seek or Barbies or Snap! I have to quit this or they won't want anything to do with me when they are old enough to do the things I want to do. Skylar is six years old now and she has an awfully good memory. I have started asking myself 'Is this what I want them to remember?' when the urge to yell creeps up on me. I just hope I can put on a convincing enough act of being a happy, involved, playful mom to make up for the times when I am not, and that we can make more good memories than bad.


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JL said...

My theory (although I'm not and never will be a Mom) is that some level of trauma/anger/upset/dissatisfaction with your kid(s) is perfectly normal and very likely totally unavoidable.

If my kid, when she is older, comes to me with any accusations of 'bad memories' or some failing on my part, I'm freely admitting to being not perfect or even really a good person, and that she can make her own life without grabbing onto me for a kind of support that ultimately no actual human can provide.

I hope many of her memories are good, but, on the other hand, I'm not going to drown myself in guilt over the bad ones.

Huh. We should do something fun today.