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As parents we are obsessed with carefully marking all kinds
of milestones; umbilical cord detritus, first solid food, first steps, haircuts
and lost teeth. But I’m obsessed with a different kind of milestone: my kids’
first memories. A first memory is a difficult thing to track, especially when
your kids are so young and you can’t be sure what’s sticking, kind of like
trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.
At each new phase of my children’s lives I flash back to my
own childhood and compare my own experiences to the ones I’m helping them
create right now, especially my 4-year-old daughter. The fact that she is old
enough to remember and, more importantly, hold me accountable for my parenting
is terrifying. I think that’s the scariest part: being held accountable.
The knowledge that my parenting is now going down in the
history book of her brain is numbing sometimes. Parenting a baby is tough, to
be sure, but the one saving grace is that the kid is so young she won’t
remember all of your mistakes. The time you lost it and said the F-word then
cried for two hours over your stretch marks? Gone with the wind. But now? Now my daughter is carefully
observing everything I do and say. Not only do I have to be careful of what
comes out of my mouth, but I can no longer phone it in by feigning interest in
her artwork, or pretending to watch a cartoon with her while secretly reading
blogs on my iPhone. Because she’s on to me.
As a result, I’ve had to up my
parenting game or face the fact that she’ll spend the rest of my life reminding
me of that one time when I did that one thing and what a horrible mother I am
because of it.
So what will be her first memory, I wonder? My first memory
is from the age of 3 so, chances are, at 4, Violet’s is already imprinted
somewhere on her brain. The other day—apropos of nothing—she said, “Mom, remember when I threw up in the McDonald’s
bag on the way to the lake? And Grandma was there too?"
The question hit me like a sock of pennies. The memory is
accurate, it happened a full year ago when she was 3. We hadn’t discussed
it after the fact so her pulling it out of thin air like that blew my mind.
That’s a real memory right there. Not a memory of a conversation we had later about
the incident but a bona fide memory.
I’m acutely aware of the fact that I’m officially being held accountable for my parenting by the most important judge in the world: my 4-year-old.
Maybe that’s her first memory? It figures. Some kids
remember catching fireflies at dusk, and my kid remembers puking into an old
McDonald’s sack while riding in her car seat. It’s as good as any, I guess,
although I admit I had hoped that maybe sitting on our porch swing with me
during a rainstorm or strapped to dad’s back while he mowed the lawn might’ve
been the first memory. But we can’t control these things, can we?
I remember 4 years old; my 4th birthday party, playing
with my brother, my parents yelling, Cap’n Crunch tearing up the roof of my
mouth at the breakfast table, moving to our new house, my dad being there and
then not being there. I remember a lot. And now I’m acutely aware of the fact
that I’m officially being held accountable for my parenting by the most
important judge in the world: my 4-year-old.
It’s something I constantly remind
myself of whenever I’m with her. Is this something 34-year-old Violet will
remember? Sometimes it’s a good memory I’m creating for her but just as often I
worry it’s a bad one. Was I too harsh with her there? Did I yell too loud? Am I
doing it wrong?
It’s something all parents wonder, but, in dealing with our
children now, it’s helpful to envision the adults they’ll be in the future and
ask ourselves what kind of memories we’re creating for them.
What’s your first memory? Any idea what your children’s
first memories are?