My earliest memory is of holding my baby sister when she was born – I was 19 months old and the curtains were orange. It’s just a fuzzy picture, with no particular feelings attached.
Memory is all about perception, I guess. Parents try hard to make good memories for their children, but it’s not necessarily the special occasions or even the traumatic events that have the biggest impact. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that stay with us forever, and our parents don’t even know it.
Picture a school holiday in the early 80’s. I was about 5 or 6. My mom, sister and I had made plans to watch An American Tail at the movies. A rare treat and we were very excited. The morning of our outing, our neighbours invited us to go with them instead. Going with friends was even more exciting! I rushed over to tell my mom and she said okay, that’s lovely. And then it struck me – SHAZAM – I was being selfish. We had this great plan with my mom and now we were going to leave her at home all alone while we went off and had a wonderful time. I imagined she must have been heartbroken. She didn’t say anything to make me think this – she didn’t act disappointed or upset – and my five year old brain didn’t understand that she might relish an afternoon alone.
But suddenly it didn’t seem like so much fun anymore. My little heart literally ached (oh boy, I can feel it again right now). It was a sadness that I’d never consciously felt and understood before – pain for somebody else, not myself.
I kept saying I’d rather go with her, and she kept telling me it was fine. I wasn’t convinced. It was the first time I’d been conscious of needing to put somebody else's feelings before my own, and of somebody else doing the same thing for me. It was one of those cheesy lightbulb moments – one where I grew up just a little. To this day I can’t pass the old 3 Arts Theatre or hear Linda Ronstadt singing “Somewhere out there” without feeling like the world’s worst daughter. My mother can’t remember any of this, and thinks I’m odd. She’s right, of course. Obviously, missing the movie didn’t scar her for life like I imagined it would. I may have overestimated her devastation a teeny bit.
It makes me wonder. What are my children going to remember? Which will leave a deeper mark – the days I get things right, or the times I stuff it all up? Which days are going to be the ones who make them who they are? How many of those ‘Fivel’ days have they already had, and how many will I never know about?
Memories are like scratch-n-sniff jpegs in our heads – snapshots of important moments and random ones, good days and bad. I wonder – one day, looking back – will my children see the same ones I do?
What do you remember most about your childhood?
Read more by Tracy Engelbrecht