It was not my best moment.
When my daughters began loudly squealing and crying while the Hubster was on a conference call, I erupted into a “wag and shout” – wagging my finger in their faces while shouting at them. Well, except since the Hubster was on the phone, I didn’t raise my voice. Instead, I wagged and used an ‘I-mean-business’ whisper-shout accompanied by an extremely unpleasant Maleficent facial expression.
My “wag and whisper-shout” was exceptionally effective at shutting down their fight, but then I felt awful. That’s no way to teach them how to behave. That’s a terrible example to set. Later, I apologized to both girls for losing my temper, and we had a little chat about the importance of treating each other with respect and of not acting inappropriately when Mom or Dad is on a work call.
But even after that, I was still guilt-ridden. What if they remember my Maleficent face for the rest of their lives? What if my temper created an unhappy lasting childhood memory?
So here’s my question: which memories will our children remember forever and which are they going to forget? Are they going to remember the few times I got upset when they spilled their milk or all the times I told them not to worry about it? Are they going to remember all the times I attended their school events or the few times I couldn’t be there? Are they going to remember me at my best or at my worst?
Most adults remember little before their third or fourth birthdays. One 2011 study from Memorial University said that even young children can recall past events, but their earliest memories tend to change over time, being replaced with “newer” earliest memories until around age 10. Memories occurring in the preschool years tend to be lost.
Both my kids are past the preschool age, so that means they may remember Maleficent for the rest of their lives.
After obsessing about it for a few days, I decided to feel them both out.
“So,” I said out of the blue to my 10-year-old as she was listening the Frozen soundtrack and playing in her room. “What is the earliest memory you have?”
“Do you really need to know this now?” she replied, absorbed in her game of dolls.
I tried a different approach.
“Well, what’s the worst memory of your life?” I asked, holding my breath.
“Throwing up in school on the first day of Grade 1,” she replied without hesitation.
Relief spread over me.
“What’s the best memory of your life?” I asked.
“Everything we did in Florida last year,” she said. “Oh, and that sleigh ride a few weeks ago. That was awesome. Can we go again?”
Huh. I had no idea she enjoyed that sleigh ride so much.
I marched over to her younger sister’s room.
“What’s the worst memory of your life?” I ask.
She gives me a strange look, as if she just caught me eating glue or something.
“I don’t have one,” she replies. “I have too many good memories.”
“Oh,” I said, getting a little teary. “That’s good.”
Ok, enough with the Mom guilt, I tell myself. I have no idea what they are going to remember. I’m sure it will be a combination of my best and worst moments, but hopefully they will always know how much they are loved. I can’t change the past; I can only try to do better in the future. Bye, bye Maleficent face memory. You’ve wasted enough of my time.
Onward and upward.
Li’l Girl Talk
“Mom, are we just searching for food samples?” says The Oldest, age 10, at Costco.
Kathy Kaufield is a writer and communications consultant. She remembers her parents’ decision when she was four years old to ground her rather than spank her after she and two friends crossed a busy street and snuck off to the corner store without telling anyone.