In my very first memory, I am around two years old.
I was having my nappy changed, laying on my parents’ bed. I remember holding my legs up and feeling good, being told I was being helpful. I remember my mum’s smile; I was being such a good girl, holding my legs up.
A little while later, I remember going to the paper shop across the road from our terrace. My brother was in the big, old Silver Cross pram. I was in a seat fixed to the top of it. My older sister walked next to the pram, which my mum pushed. I don’t remember going into the paper shop; I don’t remember being in there. What I remember is coming out of the door, and my mum crying. she had a tissue to her face. When I turned around, I saw two people lifting something out of the road and putting it on the opposite side. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on, and I don’t know how much of the memory has been manufactured by the tall tales my older sister liked to tell, but I know now that the thing the people were lifting out of the road was our cat, Mister Sandy.
Another very clear memory is from when I was a little older. I think I was maybe 3 or 4. My mum had picked me up from nursery, and we’d walked home in the rain. I was wearing a pink jumper with a brown elephant on it; I think my nan knitted it for me. I suppose my little brother must have been with us, but I don’t recall him being there. What I recall is getting into the house, and my mum sitting me on the kitchen table while she dried my hair and took my wet shoes off. The table was wooden, with yellow check plastic over the top; something from the 1970s in my parents’ first proper home since they’d married. I remember it being a big treat, for me to spend time with my mum; just the two of us, and nobody else. We had scrambled egg sandwiches for lunch, which was a massive treat. I remember feeling so special, and like I was getting something my brother and sister weren’t: special time with my mum.
I asked some friends about their first memories, and got:
- Going down a slide on Christmas Day when I was 3
- Being in the sea and getting salt water in my mouth when I was around 18 months old
- Moving into our new house when I was 3
- I’d just turned 3 and my sister came home from her last day of second grade and told me she hated it
- Watching my dad putting up hessian wall paper when I was 2 or 3
- Standing with my dad to watch my primary school being built when I was 3
- Being in a cot in hospital when I was around 2; I was freezing but they had fans on me.. I had pneumonia.
- Being weighed as a baby – I didn’t like the crispy paper they had in the bottom of the scale!
- Drinking warm milk from a bottle, looking at Christmas decorations, aged around 3-4
- Aged 3 or 4, sitting in the airing cupboard with my teddy, reading a book
- Aged 2-2.5, sitting on the seat of our Silver Cross pram with my brother beneath me (someone else has the same early memory as me!)
- I was 1 year old, and my mum threw a bag of rubbish over the back wall because the gate was stuck
Some of these memories are based around Christmas – a time that’s exciting and fun for children. Some are based on a time of great trauma and anxiety. Both of those are reasons a memory might be fixed in one’s mind. But equally, several are just normal, every day things in life. They might have meant something to the child, at the time, but to you or I they would be as inconsequential as brushing ones teeth or going to the shop.
Interestingly, research has shown that if you ask a young child about their first memories, they will tell you what they remember… if you ask them again when they’re older, they might tell you different things. Many also remember the memories they gave before, but will now tell you they happened to someone else. Children don’t crystalise their early memories until the age of ten.
I write this because I realised that my very first memory is from around the age of two. It occurs to me that S is coming to the age where her first lasting memories will be formed. Something that happens over the next 12 months or so, will be the very first thing she remembers when she is my age… But I have no control over what those memories will be.
I mean, I’m sure that during the year I was 2, having my nappy changed was not the most exciting thing that happened to me. I have numerous photos of birthday parties; my brother was born when I was 18 months old, and he would have been christened a while after that. I have vague memories of being at nursery school, but no specific memories until I was almost old enough to start school. My first memories are random snap-shots in the life of a toddler.
My point with all of this reminiscing is this: I don’t know which random parts of the next couple of years will be forever imprinted on my daughter’s mind as her first memories. I have no control at all over which parts of the next couple of years she will pick out and cling to as the essence of her childhood.
Many people think I’m a soft touch because S ends up in my bed most nights. They think I’m stupid to have her cot next to my bed. People tell me it’s not healthy that it’s just the two of us for large portions of time, and that there is only one person I will leave her with (apart from nursery).
Just lately, having realised that my first memory is from around S’s age, I’m acutely aware that any tiny, insignificant thing from the next year or two could be the one thing she picks up as her first memory. I’d rather that tiny thing was being cosy in bed with Mummy, than crying in another room and wondering why I don’t come to make her feel better.
And yes, that photo up there is of me. It won a competition.
What is your earliest memory? How old were you? Is it a good or a bad one?