A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Memories of Baby Life: Do We Have Accurate Recall?

The first stage (the developmental years) intrigues me because I wonder how much I REALLY remember. My parents and grandparents were great about repeating stories of all the cute and funny things I did as a kid. As a result I have pictures in my head of where events took place, but I wonder if the memories are mine or if I created them. 

In a comment from Wendy from Jollett etc. (memoir blog)

This is one of my mother's favorite baby photos of me.  I don't remember doing this, but my mother says that I loved getting up on this table and pretending to use the phone.  I do recall seeing this photo often when I was very young.  Looking at family photographs with my mother was a favorite childhood activity.

Baby Life:
The developmental years of infancy to preschool age childhood. (from birth to about age 5)

        A while back I presented the post Stages of Life for the Purpose of Memoir which promised a series of posts addressing each of those stages.  In this first of the series we will discuss the earliest years from birth until the time when we begin school.  

        Some might even make an argument that the memories that help shape who we are could begin before birth while we are still in the womb.  It is known that fetuses respond to various stimuli and that brain waves can be detected in the very early stages of fetal development.   There are even those who suggest that we are conceived with collective genetic memories or instincts.  Since both of these stances are highly debatable we will only mention these possibilities for consideration.  

        A greater case can be made for the influence of events experienced starting at the moment that we enter the world at birth.   The emergent child with normal sensory faculties now becomes aware of the world around them.   The infant is rapidly absorbing experiences and learning at what will probably be a faster pace of any time in life.  

       The bombarding assault of knowledge may be a hindrance to memory for most of us, yet there are some who have claimed to have memories starting at birth.  This seems unlikely as does the claim of memories in the earliest weeks and months of babyhood.  But still, the subtle influences of our environment and those who enter our lives can have an affect on who we will become and what we will believe as we grow into adulthood.

I can't remember my first birthday, but I do seem to remember sitting in this wooden highchair.  Perhaps  the chair was used by my younger sister and I actually remember seeing her sitting in it and project myself into that memory of her.  Or it might merely be that I looked at this photo so often that being actually in the chair seems to be a tangible recollection.  I seem to remember the feel of the wood and the way the tabletop surrounded me.   An actual memory?    I can't say for sure.
           There is little doubt that the stories we hear from our parents and others settle into our psyches to become the basis of our memories of very early life.  We absorb conversations around us attaching our own interpretations to them even when we don't understand what is being discussed.  Connections that we make with our personal objects, the places we live, and experiences we have teach us lessons about the world and provide information for future applications.  

            How accurate are the memories of babyhood?   If those memories can be corroborated by people who were there, most notably our parents, then the memories are quite possibly real memories if presented independently of stories we have heard previously.  Most likely though we have at sometime in the past heard the stories and don't realize it.

             Memories might be also confirmed by finding documentation that back up those memories.   Photos or other recorded mediums that we discover later in life could be a good source.  Old newspaper clippings or even historical documentaries that we view may revive memories that we have.  Comparing when something happened to the memory we have can also be helpful.

             I have many distinct memories that go back to when I was three years old and hazy recollections that may go back to my second year of life.  I have dated these according to places I lived as a child, cars that my parents owned, and specific events that happened.  

            For example, I distinctly remember my sister and I playing in an old Hudson automobile.   My parents got rid of that car prior to 1955--I turned four years old in January of 1955.  I can recall going to Michigan for my aunt's funeral in 1955.  I have several memories of a carnival tour my parents worked with their juggling act in 1955.  The memories are not contiguous as a historical progression of time, but rather highlighted moments that stand out in my mind.   As a child we have little concept of the flow of time so it makes sense that I cannot put the early memories the context of a linear progression of time.  Even in later life this is sometimes the case.

           There are many things that played a big role in shaping me to be who I am now.  One that stands out was that my mother used to say, "You have a memory like an elephant."   I liked hearing my mother say this and I believe this played a big role in reinforcing my ability to remember things.  Later, this ability became a big help to me in school.   Even now, though my memory isn't always the best, I do tend to remember a lot of details about certain things.

          Also the constant exposure to show business instilled me with a desire to be in the entertainment business and led me to be interested in all things cultural.  This interest influenced my play time in childhood and the types of jobs I pursued in adulthood.   My dream aspirations in life as well as my dreams of sleep are often related to the entertainment profession. 

          Clearly, the words my parents reinforced me with and the things that impressed me in childhood made me who I am.  Most of my memories seem to be related to these life-shaping influences.   In a way, I am much the same now as I was when I was four years old.  The biggest difference between then and now is that I know and remember more.

          What do you remember from early childhood?    Do you see any connection to what you became as an adult to how you were influenced as a baby?    What do you see as being your biggest influences in your earliest stages of development?   Can you remember or have you ever known anyone who remembers actually experiencing their own birth?

More of my baby photos can be found at the Baby Faces BlogFest on Tossing It Out.

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  1. I have quite a good memory of my early years, I can recall a man giving me a doll , I never saw that man again, could that have been my father who died when I was three years old. Other memories are playing the piano at three years and staring lessons at four. My first day at school at five. It's surprising what things I can remember.

    Loved the post Lee, very interesting.

  2. We had a Hudson too, Arlee! Thanks for this post...I remember my kind, loving father who died when I was four. My earliest memories were of him. H would take me on stroller walks around the neighborhood.
    Love your baby pics...priceless!
    Looking forward to your series...hopefully I can write up another post for you in the future,

  3. Three years is about where my early memories start, I remember having chicken pox at Christmas and everyone feeling sorry for me. (I was in the crib at that time, so could have been 2 or 3).

    I also remember having nightmares about losing my younger brother or sister. At eight (a brother three yrs younger and a sis 8 yrs younger)I was entrusted with the responsibility of babysitting them. We had a large backyard and a busy street in front. I was a serious kid, but this must have stressed me much for me to have nightmares. Being made responsible early (usual age is 11yrs) made me overprotective with my own kids. It also gave me strength to power through when things get tough.

    At this stage, my relationship with my father gelled into the mold it would have until he died. I was the daughter who should have been a firstborn son. We never got along, mainly because I learned to verbally say what I thought in a way he didn't understand. This influenced my reading of Simone de Beauvoir, and my views on feminism.

    As a child, I noticed who did what they said they would do, and who didn't. This formed my ideas of honesty.

    Interesting post Lee, sorry I got a little wordy. You open that vein of memory in me, with your own musings. Hope your weekend is great!

  4. Dear Lee, I've blogged about my earliest memory, which took place shortly before my 3rd birthday. Before that, I have not memories at all. Nothing, not even vague recollections.

    The one thing that happened to me as a child is that when I was going into kindergarten, my parents moved away with my brother and my grandmother told me they'd deserted me. This wasn't true, but the year apart adversely affected my whole personality. I thought I'd done something to make them leave me behind.

    I've never known anyone who remembered his/her birth. Peace.

  5. I don't remember much before three, but starting then, I remember lots of things. I know I didn't create them, because some of them are things my mother didn't even know about (a time I touched wet paint and hid my fingers from her, for example). There are a couple of memories I have, though, that I think are composites of events. I remembered going to a particular movie with my great-grandmother, but as an adult, I discovered that she died before it came out. I wonder if I might have dreamed it.

  6. Yvonne -- I think we can remember much more about early years than we realize if were really think about it, especially if we are reminded with stories told by others when we are growing up. I'm sure that was your father you remember. What a nice memory that is.

    Jarm -- I still love Hudsons. I feel so fortunate that I had my father until I was nearly 40. I get in contact with you about another guest spot.

    DG - You really had a lot of responsibility placed on you at such a young age. You offer a great example how our lives are shaped by the influence of others when we are very young. Thanks for the excellent comment.

    Dee -- I am very dubious about anyone actually remembering first hand anything about the years prior to about 2 or so. I guess it's possible, but I do think they are dealing with second hand information that has been enhanced by their own imaginations. How terrible to have been told that your parents deserted you. I wonder what possessed your grandmother to say that. Or did perhaps your young mind misinterpret what she said and caused you to believe the worst?

    Kelly -- I've had all of these types experiences that you describe. I've related many of my vivid memories to my mother that she had no idea about. I guess the things a child often sees as very significant are not too important to their parents or our parents are focused on other things. I'm pretty sure some of the things that I grew up thinking were vivid memories were merely dreams or imaginative interpretations of what others told me. There are images that I can still see in my mind that I now realize are quite illogical and things never actually seen.


  7. I have no memories of myself as baby. When I try to access the earliest stuff, I find it mostly blank or feeling manufactured, and neuroscience suggests we do invent that kind of cognitive content to fill in blanks. Medical problems in my teens took away a lot of my early memories, too, so the earliest stuff I'm sure I remember is when I was 7 or 8, watching an excess of cartoons, going to museums, and playing a great deal of sword-based games in the backyard. The emphasis on what I loved to do sticks with me. It's an outlook I cherish.

  8. I always find memory, especially early memory, fascinating.

    My first memory is of my grandfather. I kept stealing his peas. He kept saying, "Who ate my peas?" and acted shocked while I giggled as I sat on his lap. My mother told me this story too, so I guess it could be her memory and not mine... except I also remember him picking me up afterwards and bringing me to the sink. I washed him wet and wipe his face. He was no longer laughing and the exhausting in his expression surprised and worried me in the moment.

    Turns out he died of a stroke very soon after that memory, and I remember recalling the whole memory of the peas and then the sink sometime later. Maybe I was 4? At the time, I told myself to try to think about it a lot, so I wouldn't forget him. And I have replayed the whole scene in my mind all these years. I can still see him. As a child, I could recall the laugh and his voice, but now they're gone.

    He died when I was 2 years and 5 months. So it would seem I should remember this. My mother said I pointed to the light in our dining room weeks after he died and said whatever word I had for my grandfather at the time, with my limited language skills. He had repaired the light shortly before he died as well. I don't remember that.

    We shared a 2-family house with him and my grandmother. I was told that I spent a lot of time with him and he adored me. Maybe his loss was hard for me to understand, so I thought about that fun time a lot because I missed him.

  9. John -- This is what makes the prompts like old photographs so valuable for making connections to the past. I do think you are right about filling in the gaps with inventions so we have a sense of continuous history. Good comment. Thanks for stopping by.

    Theresa -- What an extraordinary and beautiful memory and I think it is probably very real. If we continue to connect to early memories as we grow older I think we do retain them. You made some very powerful connections. I've been noticing this with my 4 year old granddaughter. She still talks about memories when she was 2 and my wife and I will reinforce those when she brings them up to us. I also think her mother and aunts talk to her a lot and listen to her retell her memories which I think will make them stay in her mind. Beautiful story Theresa--something that you should perhaps turn into a larger piece of writing.


  10. Interesting stuff, Arlee,
    Amazing to think that it might be possible for us to remember things from infancy. I think I can remember as far back as 3 y/o.

  11. An interesting thought-provoking post Lee. It is difficult to know what we actually remember vs what we "inherit" from conversations, photos etc. I was surprised last year to discover that some of my memories of my grandmother were correct and she died before I was four. Increasingly I suspect there is some genetic memory of certain things -once I'd have mocked that theory no end.


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