I’ve been reflecting on childhood memories a lot since I had a baby.
I thought about them before then too, but my focus shifted from thinking about how I experienced my childhood to the way that I hope my daughter will experience hers. It is often still a comparison in my mind, but my primary concern now is to avoid inflicting emotional damage, or making my life baggage and scars become her inner monologue and insecurities.
It’s in our nature to repeat the good things we experience growing up, and to try to do things differently in light of the things that we believe negatively impacted us, but no matter what we do, we won’t parent perfectly, and we can’t and probably shouldn’t protect them from everything.
I hope her childhood is filled with happy memories, but it is foolish to think that she will only have happy memories.
The memories I have of my childhood are pretty inconsistent. I remember some things in startling detail, and other things are blank pages that I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to recover–sometimes entire years are blank. Maybe those are just life plateaus where nothing particularly joyful or traumatic happened. Years that were probably wonderful in their simplicity, security, and lack of drama.
Blanking on these years isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I do wish my memory held tighter to them.
As I’ve started writing more, I often turn to the remnants that I have of my childhood–photos, albums, letters, cards, toys, blankets, jewelry that has been passed on to me. Basically anything I can get my hands on that will bring the details of my life back to me.
For example, my mom ordered an 8×10 each year of all our school pictures. She kept each year’s picture framed on the mantle, stacking each new photo on top of the previous year and keeping them all together in the same frames in chronological order. She gave these to us when we were older, and looking at them now is like watching myself grow up. The awkward stages jump off the studio portraits in glaring detail and I remember.
The rest of our family memories are scattered in albums, in boxes, in storage, and divided between siblings. Some exist now only on discarded Beta Max tapes, VHS tapes, and other videos that were never converted. There are many more that were never recorded at all and remain only in our nostalgia tainted memories.
How different will my daughter’s collection of memories be?
We live in the age of the documented childhood.
I have so many scraps, moments, and milestones recorded and saved from her life so far. I have pictures from her birth (no video), I have her first t-shirt from the hospital she was born in, the first blanket they burrito wrapped her in, the hat she wore, the outfit she came home in. I have a video of her first ride in the stroller. I did one photo shoot a month during her first year; thousands of pictures. My iPhone has at least 600 pictures of the in between moments; a chronicle of her life in photo and video. I have not had time to organize them, but in various media forms and locations, her childhood memories to date are here.
Thanks to Facebook and this blog, some are documented in potentially privacy invading detail that I doubt she will appreciate when she’s older.
Maybe it is a first child phenomenon, but I am diligently hoarding her memories for her. I have a vision of presenting her with a sophisticated, high-tech (haha, assuming I can keep up with the changes) highlight reel of her life; maybe at her high school or college graduation. I hope to accompany it with an organized collection of tangible things that were important to her during the course of her life.
I’m only two years behind, so there’s still time to catch up.
If she remains an only child, and we never move or spring clean again, I might actually achieve this goal.
I saw a picture on Facebook recently of three grown children in a family. Their father passed away recently and his birthday fell during the days between his passing and his memorial. They were releasing balloons in his honor on his birthday, and they were all smiling in the picture.
Not because it was a happy day, obviously.
Probably because we are conditioned to smile anytime a camera is turned on us, and because even during tragedy, there is comfort and joy to be found with your family. Religion also encourages us not to grieve as those who have no hope in eternal life.
So we smile, and their smiles struck a chord with me.
It made me think about what moments I’m saving for my daughter.
I want the happy ones, of course. The pictures and videos where I’ve captured the perfect smile, the joy and laughter of her first steps, her achievements, her highs.
But should I discard the others? The lows? The honest photos where she’s screaming because she didn’t want to be put in ridiculous poses that day? What about the picture where her forehead is bruised because she dove out of the stroller in a toy store one day when I forgot to strap her in? Should I edit the videos to omit strained background conversations and bickering during the holidays? The milestones that happened in our living room with the sounds of reality television blaring in the background?
Maybe I should set those moments to classical music instead of Hell’s Kitchen?
But, I don’t want to whitewash her memories either (and I probably couldn’t even if that was my goal).
Behind the frame worthy, highlight reel moments, there is the reality of our lives.
And life is good and bad, happy and sad.
It is the moments that happen before and after my camera clicks that will shape her memories.
Those are the moments that matter the most.
So I’ve decided to include a little of both.
I want her to know that a truly rich and full life will absolutely contain peaceful, serene moments like this:
And it will contain just as many moments like this:
Sometimes within the same ten photo frames, and especially during a Longhorn football season with her dad.
It’s the next big thing.
I’m kidding, that will never catch on.
There will be no albums full of sad pictures, but I think funny, real pictures should definitely be included.