What Makes a Memory Memorable?

I have always had a thing about memories, even when I was little. I filed certain moments away that I can recall with perfect clarity, like a mental string around my finger- er, brain. So what is that makes a moment special enough to be a prominent memory?

In our adolescent years I think it’s easier to know why we remember what we do because it’s attached to a strong emotion of some sort. Of course I remember valentines day in sixth grade, my friends sent my crush a flower some club was selling for a fundraiser, why do I remember that? Mortification! But what about those moments when we’re really young? Think really hard about your earliest memory. What makes it important?

I have a lot of early memories at three and up, but I have a few that I could not have been older than 18 months. I remember my brother -14 months younger than me- in his infancy, but I think that might be because I went from only child to oldest…I mean I wasn’t resentful, buuuut, I wasn’t not resentful either. I remember a dream I had when I was about two, I dreamt there was a trashcan full of brand new toothbrushes in the bathroom, and I specifically remember telling my mom about it, so that’s a confirmed memory. I remember her taking a picture of me with a bonnet on around two years old, too. Nothing special but I remember it. I remember the little neighbor girls dumping sawdust in my little plastic pool, and them telling me to get in and play; They put a glass in it and stomped it…I also remember the stitches AND the pain. It’s a lie, I tell you,  when they say you can’t really recall pain.

There was one particular memory that I have that was a moment of no consequence, but I wanted to remember that moment. I was standing between a couch and a chair, and watching my younger brother play with the twins who were in walkers, I was almost five. I thought to myself, “I hope I remembered this moment when I’m old.” I remember thinking those exact words because there were so many things I would forget, but I wanted to remember that moment. I do. Looking back, those were deep thoughts for a kid.

A few years ago my husband nearly cut off his thumb and the emergency room doctor was just keeping a conversation between us to distract him while he was trying to get a bleeder under control, and he was talking about when he was a little boy and had to get stitches, and that was his first memory. My husband told him he didn’t really remember anything before he was four or so years old. I said that seemed odd, I could remember watching my little brother getting rocked as I played in the floor and I wasn’t yet two. The doctor said that THAT was odd, that most people don’t remember anything that young.

Since I have had kids, I have wondered from time to time what they will remember, and why they will remember it. I remember so much, and I am thankful that my memories aren’t steeped in trauma. There are a couple of things that I remember that I didn’t understand until I was older, like my dad bringing home the biggest tomato plant I ever saw- with no tomatoes. Of course I investigated, and my mom promptly snatched me up and yelled at my dad to get it out, then proceeded to scrub my hands with water so hot I still feel it. That “tomato” plant…my cousin let the cat out of the bag on that one when I was about seven, I still chuckle at that memory.

All in all, I had good memories. I want my kids to have those memories, too. I want my daughter to remember standing on the toilet lid and me “doing” her makeup while I do my own. I want my son to remember how tight I held him the day he came to the hospital to meet his first baby sister. I want them to think back on being little and have memories that make them smile for no real reason other than they were content. I asked my son, who is eight, what he could remember from being really little and he surprised me. He told me about walking down the road at our old place and looking at the cows, I was pregnant with sissy. He was around three, and I asked him why he remembers that and he said because it was nice, “you took a picture of me, mom, remember because you made me throw down my stick.” Yes, I remember, my boy. My four-year old daughter is a whole other story, she said “Ummmmmm, I remember you got cupcakes the other day!”

When I am doing homework and my son is trying to show me his drawing, or I am trying to calm a screaming baby and my daughter is telling me nonsensical knock-knock jokes I try so hard to give them the attention they need, and sometimes I just don’t. I fall short, because I am human, and I hope that those aren’t the moments their little minds hang on to.

Every moment has the potential to be a snapshot in the mind of our little ones, something that they will revisit and retell to their little ones after we are gone. I have stories from my mom, from her mom, from hers that all stem from a memory that has been passed from generation to generation. In that way we are immortal, so the next time the kids are driving you crazy, or you’re so busy you can’t see straight, remember that it might be the moment your child captures in their memory. Will they remember that you stopped for just a second, and laughed with them? Will they remember they tried so hard to show you something and you didn’t have the time? Maybe that moment will slip through the cracks of their mind, like so many do.

What is your first memory? These kinds of things fascinate me, because I have such great long-term recall, but there are times I’m looking for my phone while it’s in my hand. Life is what you make it, so make every moment count, you never know which one will be the one your kids will carry with them all of their life.