There is a story I tell from my early childhood—a story I don’t actually remember because I was far too young. But it’s been repeated enough times in my family that I can actually picture the event.
My cousin and I are taking a bath together while our moms are in another room. We somehow escape the tub, the bathroom, and the apartment; descend the stairs, cross the street, and wind up at a duplex belonging to a neighbour who sometimes babysits us. The punchline of the story, as it was told throughout my childhood, isn’t about us being naked renegades, but the fact that my aunt scolded my cousin and told her she’s not allowed outside without someone older than her. My cousin responded, “Tara is older than me!” Because I was five and she was four.
Read more: Your toddler’s memory>
Every time I tell this story it sounds less and less plausible to me, but I still tell it out of habit as one of those “things were different when I was a kid” tales. I know I was a month premature, and that, at four pounds 14 ounces, I fit into doll clothes. I know that my Bubbie’s friend Seymore bought me one of the first line of Cabbage Patch Kids. My birth date and weight are trackable, but the other details aren’t memories—they’re stories that became ingrained after hearing them repeated during my childhood.
Last month, New York Magazine‘s Melissa Dahl wrote about how susceptible we are to false childhood memories. As the mother of a four-year-old, it makes me wonder how my own daughter will remember this period of her life. Will she have her own version based on what she’s absorbed from pictures? And how will that work now that digital photos are so abundant? (We could essentially make flip-books if we printed all our photos.) Will the bedtime story I just read to her about bunny friends having a sleepover become a tale she internalizes as an event she actually experienced? (Although I’d prefer she not tell people I baked broccoli cupcakes, which happens in the bunny story—and not in my own kitchen.)
Over the summer, we went on a trip with some friends where we spent a few days camping near the Atlantic Ocean. My daughter was mesmorized by the discovery of mole crabs (which she kept calling “those animals”—Google them, and agree that “animal” is a stretch). We also saw hermit crabs and spider crabs, and the shells of horseshoe crabs. She rode on a Hello Kitty ride at the boardwalk arcade (see above), and a little kid plane ride I never would have agreed to if I’d noticed sooner that they were fighter jets. At the time, each of these moments, activities and discoveries seemed like huge deals to her, but will they be lasting memories she carries with her?
Read more: Creating lasting memories with your kids>
We spent almost two weeks with my friends and their kids, who she hadn’t met before because of how far we live from each other. By the end of our trip the kids had had pillow fights, jumped on trampolines, driven long distances and shared tents together. They ate weird ice-cream flavours like “Play-Doh.” She watched intently as the older kids climbed trees and rode inflatable tires over the waves, and she came home with a few hand-me-downs outfits. No doubt I was happy to introduce her to these friends, and expose her to new adventures, but a part of me wondered how much of it she’d remember down the road. Would a kid climbing a tree jog her memory? Would she retell the story as though it was her up in that tree? Only time will tell.
At least she doesn’t have any naked renegade adventures like her mom.
Do you remember parts of your childhood that might not actually be memories?
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.