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On the Bittersweet Passage of Time

In my house we have an afternoon tradition: each day after preschool my 3- and 5-year-old stop at the end of our front walk while I continue on to the house. As soon as I’ve reached the porch I turn around to face them, oversized backpacks dwarfing their tiny frames.

On your mark, get set, GO! I yell. The two of them come galloping toward me like miniature thoroughbreds out of the gate. Whoever reaches me first calls, I WIN! I got to Mommy first! I get to pick the dessert!

It’s a silly childhood tradition whose origin I can’t recall, but it’s become part of the rhythm of our family’s life. I have to wonder, though, will they remember it?

One of the most difficult concepts for me to wrestle with as a parent is this: that until my children are at least three-and-a-half, it’s unlikely that they’ll remember anything about their lives. It’s called “childhood amnesia,” the blank slate of early childhood.

So that trip we took to Disney World this summer? Only my 9-year-old will recall the hotel with the awesome water slide and how daddy belly danced that night at Epcot. The memories we’ve made in the house we’re moving out of next month will one day fade away. And their great grandfather who passed away last winter? My younger two will only have our photographs and stories to go by.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

I thought of this one recent Sunday morning as I read the New York Times’ Motherlode blog. One of my favorite writers, Gretchen Rubin, contributed a great post, “Why Little Bear Made Me Burst into Tears.” I was intrigued by the title because as a sentimental mama myself, I can certainly relate. But the post wasn’t as much about the emotional grip of children’s literature as it was about the swift passing of time, especially the childhood years.

According to Rubin, “Remembering happy times in the past is an important way to boost happiness in the present, and children need parents’ help to sustain happy memories.” But when their memories haven’t yet fully imprinted in their minds, how can we as parents foster them?

In the days since I read her words I’ve been mulling it over a bit. I thought of one of my daughter’s favorite activities: hearing the story of her birth. She certainly can’t remember the day she was born but delights in the story nonetheless. She also loves looking through her baby pictures with me and listening as I give her details.

This was your favorite toy.

Grandpa’s friend made you that cradle.

I loved the way your brothers made you laugh.

From the huge smile on her face as I tell her these things, I can’t imagine she’d be any happier if she remembered the details herself. Maybe Gretchen Rubin is correct: it’s the parents’ job to collect the memories and recount them, to create a solid base for happiness as they grow up.

And I can see her now: my daughter, several years older, with lanky legs and a missing front tooth.

Tell me about when we raced up the walk to you, Mommy. 

Even though she’ll be too big for my lap then, I’ll make a spot for her, pull her close, and tell her how she looked as she ran. Oversized backpack and all.

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

More by Mary Lauren:

Expert Tips for Tackling Tough Toddler Questions

Lengthening the Fuse: 5 Tips for Becoming a More Patient Mom

Why I Won’t Apologize for Blogging about My Family

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