Childhood Amnesia
September 4, 2014 10:17 PM   Subscribe

My life from age two until five-and-a-half was spent in a cage. So, I don't have a lot to remember about that. From five-and-a-half on, I lived in terror. If there is a "great forgetting," it's that, for some of us, childhood is not a "golden dream" from which we reluctantly awake, but a nightmare that we gladly escape.
posted by SPrintF at 10:31 PM on September 4, 2014 [26 favorites]

and we don’t remember much before age seven.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that age eight was the year that most people had little memory of. Certainly applies to me. And then somebody else said, "That's because you had a happy childhood. Eight is the year you are most free to be a child. What do children care about memory?"
posted by philip-random at 10:35 PM on September 4, 2014

Ok... as a parent of an 8 year old, this freaks me out for some reason... even though I see evidence of this very effect happening.
posted by MikeWarot at 10:39 PM on September 4, 2014

Hmm... I'm sure that this theory is just that, a theory, but I know a few people who can remember a few things from before age 3.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:59 PM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Huh. I have a small handful of VERY strong memories from before age four. Little glimpses, but definitely mine and not recreated from stories. My more consistent memories start with first grade, I have teachers and the look of my classroom to act as markers. Eight years old seems late to me as an age to which to pin real memory.
posted by desuetude at 11:01 PM on September 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

My life from age two until five-and-a-half was spent in a cage.

Like a literal cage, or a crib-as-cage comparison? I hope it is the latter.

I have a handful of memories of being very young, I think more than most people. One of them is literally me trying (and failing) to climb out of a playpen.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:02 PM on September 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

my first datable memory is my third birthday, which obviously means I have memories previous to that. But I have no idea what happened (or where I was) when I turned eight. Probably hanging out with Puff.
posted by philip-random at 11:03 PM on September 4, 2014

Further proof that being a young child is practically indistinguishable from being very, very drunk.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 11:04 PM on September 4, 2014 [49 favorites]

I have memories of being a toddler that by the furniture around place me at two or under, snatches of moments that are marked by some strong emotion, mostly negative but a few pleasant ones.

I met my son at 18 months, and took him swimming shortly after that, just floating about in an infant ring or as his terrified screaming quickly led to, clinging to me like a koala while his sister dived and swam around us. We found out much later that he had nearly drowned as an infant and been rescued but not gone back into the water until I took him into the pool a year later. He has no memory of that or the grueling slow exposure therapy to swimming as a toddler, only better memories of learning to swim and play in water as a young boy with his patient dad, but it was such a vivid illustration of trauma resurfacing, an inaccessible memory that was still felt.

The Primal Scream stuff gets discounted outside adoptee circles, but I remember his happiness while we were getting ready to go in the pool, a novel experience for him, and the rigid terror when he realised he was floating and something clicked in his infant brain although he couldn't say it then and can't remember it now at all.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:10 PM on September 4, 2014 [23 favorites]

Further proof that being a young child is practically indistinguishable from being very, very drunk.

One of my earliest strong memories is of being in a hotel hallway by myself at the age of 5 or 6. My parents let me go to the Coke machine by myself to get a drink and on my way back, I panicked because I couldn't remember which room was ours. I remember lurching from door to door, trying each one, occasionally finding an unlocked door and the strange people within who smiled, which only made me more afraid.

Definitely was the same feeling as deep inebriation. Though LSD is probably a better drug for childhood simulation.
posted by honestcoyote at 11:24 PM on September 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think memories become memorized as they are replayed. You remember the memory and then remember the memory. I'm not sure why.

When I was three our neighbors who used to babyit me. Maggie was my favorite Chrissy was nice too. They had the figure eight train and their kid Tommy who had an intellectual disabity and they taught me to do a headstand. It has to be a cotemperanous memory because we moved away soon after and I didn't see them again till I was selling chocolate bars to pay for my Little League baseball uniform.

One time they took us to Wallingford playfield which had a kiddie pool, they collected money from the Mothers and babysitters in a Quaker Oats can. They then filled the pool and added soap as the pool filled and when it was a big foamy mess they let the kids jump in to blindly find pennies and nickles resulting in a bunch of kids getting an unintentional bath and crawling along feeling for change. I remember seven cents.

I am absolutely sure that all the above happened because they moved the pool two years later. Anyway memory is a capricious and occasionally vindictive "friend".

Now if someone can please point to where I left the remote I would be grateful.
posted by vapidave at 11:32 PM on September 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think memories become memorized as they are replayed.

true. most of what I remember is actually what I recall remembering. I mean, Ronald Reagan actually was elected President, wasn't he?
posted by philip-random at 11:37 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have two memories from when I was around 2-3. One was going to Disneyland and seeing Mickey Mouse's head made out of flowers. The other was hunting for Easter eggs while wearing paper rabbit ears. Going back through photo albums as I was older I've found pictures of both those events, so I'm not sure if my memories of them are real and the photos confirm what I remember, or if I saw those photos at some time when I was young and built a memory around them.
posted by downtohisturtles at 11:50 PM on September 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I mean, Ronald Reagan actually was elected President, wasn't he?

I remember, very distinctly, voting for Jimmy Carter in a kindergarten poll. Because Gerald Ford was bald.

I'm not sure the voting rationales I've applied since then are any better, really.
posted by dragstroke at 11:51 PM on September 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

One of the benefits of moving a lot when you are little is that you can be certain of certain memories based on the location.

We moved out of a town when I was < 7 and when I returned on a road trip could still make my way from downtown to our old house.

mostly snapshots of that age, but probably as much as I remember from last year!
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:56 PM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

First memory, from age 2:
Sitting in a high chair in the kicthen, I pushed a bowl of mac'n'cheese on the the floor, spilling it everywhere. My mother started to cry.

From age 3:
- We found a wounded bat outside the apartment building. Dad took it inside and tried to help it, but it died. We put it in a cool whip container and "buried" it in the apartment complex dumpster.

- I also remember eating pizza at a park and drinking root beer out of a cup with a moose on it.

- Playing in the mud (i distinctly remember wasps buzzing around us) while my mom was inside doing a tupperware party.

- Going to scout camp with my dad and telling everyone that I was three by holding my fingers in the Boy Scout salute like I always saw my dad do.

- I also remember an extremely frightening rubber mask that my dad had and when he put it on it really scared me...and for some reason, I have to most intense memory of watching the 1980s incredible Hulk cartoon and this memory is inexplicably linked to the smell of slightly soured milk.

From age 4 - 5:
This was a time of upheaval (we moved three times in about two years) and I can't recall the exact chronology of these memories, though their images are quite clear to me even now:

- Getting yelled at for going cross-eyed "on purpose" at the dinner table. I was staring at the chandelier above and wondering why it had suddenly multiplied and my mom was just yelling "stop doing that! stop doing that!" Shortly after this I received prescription glasses for a lazy eye.

- A babysitter who may have gotten naked in front of me and my brother for some reason (should be noted we lived in Ojai...a place of much hippy notions where nudism would not be altogether uncommon).

- The ice cream truck came, I got a crunch bar ice cream, then dropped it, then cried and cried and my dad just said "that's why you have to be more careful" and didn't get me a new one.

- Being offered cigarettes by the neighbor kids across the street. I didn't partake, it looked crazy to me.

- Sitting outside talking to the nice neighbor lady, wondering why my hand was kind of stinging but still talking (I was/am a chatterbox) and then finally I looked down and I had accidentally smashed a bee and its stinger was in me and I screamed and cried and ran home.

- I snuck into a boat parked out front of someone's house!

- I distinctly remember several "episodes" where I felt so much raw, balled-up energy that I had to do something with and I would just grit my teeth really hard and fall to the floor and spin my body in circles as fast as I could until the surge past.

- Getting lost trying to walk to a friends house, wandering into some random person's home (I clearly remember a cut-crystal decanter of some brown liquid they had on a table in their living room), then getting a ride home from a policeman and then my mom had to talk to the cop for awhile while I stayed in the car.

- This is the memory that is vaguest of all: I think I remember going into a trailer with my friend and an older boy, and being instructed to remove our clothes. I also remember feeling very scared and leaving the trailer. I have no idea if anything happened, but at some point a few years later I did receive some counseling for this incident.

Age 6:
Navigating the conflict of two best friends (Dylan and Nathan). Learning to ride my bike and being absolutely terrified.

Age 7:
Hm. Not sure...maybe the bitter, bitter disappointment of being left behind when all the neighbor kids got to go to the ice cream store with the nice dinks across the street but I couldn't go because there wasn't enough room and I stood at the foot of the driveway holding my dad's army-issue earplugs container full of change to buy ice cream as they sped away. I cried.

Age 8:
First "crush", piano lessons, baptism, and my sister being born.

...and interestingly after age 8 the memories really do start increasing exponentially and begin to resemble something more akin to a stream of consciousness rather than these few strong vignettes of (mostly) terrible emotion.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:22 AM on September 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

I remember....

- I remember walking for the first time. We were at Aunt Nita's house, and I was crawling about, and then figured, hey, I'll try it upright, and I did. I think it was the first time because of the surprise exhibited by Mom and Aunt Nita.

- I remember needing a nightlight as a very young kid. I remember lying awake one night, unable to sleep, while a jingle for Captain Joe's Seafood restaurant spun endlessly in my head with actually terrifying realism -- I knew it wasn't real, but I could almost hear it. I also remember a vivid dream in which I knew the Beverly Hillbillies, but Jethro had a roast chicken for a head, and another dream, with me being an astronaut, about being sucked into a black hole that was so frightening that it sent me into my parents' room -- I think it might have been the last time I did that, actually.

- I remember how indignant I felt when I was three and my brother Jason was born. I wonder if that isn't the root of why we don't really talk, or have ever talked.

- I remember Dad showing off the slot car racing set he had when he was a kid, nailed like a butterfly to an old wide panel of wood. He pushed it under our bed and after that I don't think I ever saw it again. I don't think I ever got to play with it myself.

- I remember Dr. Thaggart, our pediatrician, fitfully. He was a kind, thin, bald, old man.
posted by JHarris at 12:24 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah and I and I also have a very vivid, completely chronological (as in I can tell you everything that happened withing the space of about 30 minutes, including things I said, sensations I felt, etc...) of when I was 5 years old and I pooped my pants on the way to school.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:24 AM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I remember a ton of stuff from about 18 months on. Everything important from 4 or so, I'd guess. So much so that it freaks my family out that I can remember in detail road trips we took when I was 2 or 3 and conversations I had with elderly relatives I only met a couple times as a preschooler. Stuff like what book they were reading and the name of their cats.

Everything. Except 2nd grade. I have no memories of that at all. It's like that year was just wiped. I even called my mom to make sure I didn't skip it or something. Friends assure me I was there. Maybe that 8 year old theory is true!
posted by fshgrl at 12:27 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah it's little bit Jeopardy that we treat memories from when you were a kid as precious. Mine are completely useless.
posted by vapidave at 12:30 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

My earliest memory I can place, I was two years old and eating cereal, thinking "I did this yesterday" and "I do this every day", becoming aware of the concepts of "yesterday" and "every day", not just as words, but as what they actually meant, and thus, I suppose, becoming aware of the concept of time. I have almost no clear memories of anything before that moment, and plenty from that point on.

I also remember being three or four, and getting really frustrated by things and people disappearing. I even remember asking my father why he had disappeared, and his having no idea what I was talking about. Eventually I noticed that after these disappearances, I was always in bed. I soon figured out that what I was doing was waking up from dreams.

For the longest time, I didn't believe people who said they didn't remember their childhoods, whether they said it was nothing before age five or eight or four or whatever. It seemed odd to me that I can remember so much from such a young age and some people could and some people couldn't.
I can remember being three and four years old, playing with my vision by covering or closing one eye or the other, putting things close to my eyes and seeing the edges get more or less out of focus, staring at lights to watch the afterimages, spinning or running in circles and then stopping and watching the floor spin the other way, or covering my ears and listening to the sounds inside my head, and it makes me sad that people might have done those or any other figuring-my-systems-out kind of things that I imagine lots of kids must do, but remembering none of it.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:34 AM on September 5, 2014 [13 favorites]

Like most people on the thread so far, I have a handful of memories from before five years old (when we moved, so they're easy to date) and more thereafter. Where I've been able to check specifics, they're accurate (a particular plate, the details of gates, extremes of weather), so I suppose that's all normal enough. One particular memory would have to have been from the first few months of life; it's strong, but uncheckable, so...

I have experienced very strong recovery of not only long-forgotten childhood memories but also recognisable emotions and what seem in retrospect to be quite complex mental states from visual triggers through indole group bioassay. When this has happened, it's been very distinct and quite substantive: as with all such, it is very hard to say how much is 'genuine memory' and how much synthesised, but the episodes bear as much scrutiny as I can bring to bear afterwards given what I know about my early external and internal early life. They're quite mundane - nothing shocking or painful - but detailed.
posted by Devonian at 12:40 AM on September 5, 2014

Funny thing about long term memory - it's fungible. I read somewhere (can't find the cite) that when executing recall of a long term memory, the context within which it is recalled alters the memory in a way that "puts it back" in your "memory bank", changed by some small degree. So, the more you call up a long-term memory, the more that memory will change over time.

As for early memories, I remember things from as far back as 2 (just one snippet), with small incremental memory gains from thereon, out.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:41 AM on September 5, 2014

I recently ran into a guy online who went to the same school I went to. The name was vaguely familiar, so I asked him whether he knew anyone in my family. It turns out he was my best friend in first grade. At least that's what he says. I have no reason to doubt him. I wonder how many times we scrambled up the monkey bars or ran away from the cootie kissers together?

All I remember of childhood (and much of adulthood, for that matter) is brief moments of shock, humiliation, fear, not because I have had a bad life, but because those are the only flashes of life that burned themselves into my memory. For instance, I was with my father at the fire hall field day in the summer between fifth grade and sixth when Cindy, my fifth-grade love, appeared all tanned and beautiful and smiling and happily coming towards me. I think I must have melted into the dust and candy wrappers because I don't remember a thing after that. She probably thought I didn't care, not realizing my mind had gone in a flood of humiliation and love. She is all I remember of that summer, that year, a lightning image.
posted by pracowity at 1:05 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have two memories of my father, who died when I was three years old. So the fact that they involve my father is handy proof of about how old they must be. One memory I'm pretty certain is real, because I've never been contradicted on it. In it, I've just had a nightmare and gone into my parents' room where the bedside lamp is still on, casting a warm yellow glow. Mom is taking a shower in the master bathroom. My dad is reading a book in bed. I climb into bed with him and tell him I'm scared, and I ask him if I can sleep with him and Mom that night. He says we'll have to see what Mom says when she gets out of the shower, but I can stay for now.

The other memory is more questionable. We're sitting in a pizzeria. He lifts a slice of pizza and smiles at me. I vividly see the red checkered tablecloth. Other things are fuzzier. It could have been pepperoni pizza, or plain. The plates were probably paper, but then maybe they weren't. The tablecloth was probably made of plastic, but then maybe it wasn't. Maybe I'm mixing it all up with later memories of similar pizzarias. I question a lot about this memory because once I told my mother about it, and I described my father's moustache. She told me he'd shaved his moustache off before I was born. Now, my main point of reference for my father's appearance came from the family portrait taken before I was born, which hung above my mom's bed throughout my childhood and still hangs above it today. In that portrait, he has a moustache. My mom did confirm, though, that he would sometimes take me out for pizza after picking me up from preschool.

So was most of the memory accurate, and I just superimposed his out-of-date face on a face I didn't remember? Or is all of it suspect? I sometimes worry about that; these are the only memories I have of my father, so what if my brain actually cobbled them together from stories people told me about my dad after he died? What if I actually don't remember him at all?
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 1:28 AM on September 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

I love hearing these. There's something intrinsically beautiful about them. It's like the exact opposite of listening to other peoples' dreams. I wish I remembered stuff or had some kind of timeline from my early childhood. It's all just a blur of corduroy, huge ugly glasses and televisions the size of a chest of drawers. Now if you want details about early 90s britpop/RPGs?...or nah.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:11 AM on September 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

For a long time I thought my first memory was of going to pick out a kitten for my third birthday. I was able to describe to my father where we went etc and I remember the kittens in the basket and picking mine out.

However about a decade ago I was back in my home town for a family funeral, while at the cemetery I visited my grandfather's grave and was surprised to see he had died a few days before my second birthday. I have a clear memory of going to see him while he was ill, his bed had been moved downstairs into the front room of their house. I was able to describe this to one of my older cousin's who confirmed that this had happened so I think it is accurate.
posted by biffa at 2:23 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only clear memory I have from before age 4 is of playing with the dirt and rocks in front of the house that we just moved into. The builders didn't put down a lawn but my parents did soon after we moved in, so I can put it within a three month or so window. I was 2, and my sister had just been born but I have no memory of that. I have a far more vague memory of walking up the stairs in my grandmother's apartment building in Brooklyn. I must've been three or so. The hallways were musty but it always smelled like delicious Jewish cooking the closer we got to her door.

I remember almost nothing of elementary school, just little snatches, most bad or traumatising memories. I didn't believe my parents then when they told me they couldn't remember much of their childhoods, but I do now.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:32 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sometime in the late 1960's (I was born in 1967), I was taken to a house somewhere on Cape Cod where my great-grandmother lived. My memories of the house itself are surreal and not entirely to be trusted (though pictures I've seen of my great-grandmother's family suggest an almost Carnivale like cast of characters - seriously, they look like an Edward Gorey print).

What I do remember clearly is being on the beach. I was with my parents and some of their friends (relatives?) and suddenly I was completely lost. I couldn't see anyone I knew and I started wailing. I remember looking around desperately for anyone I recognized. Finally, I was found and returned to the blanket.

My mother tells me that I was never lost on the beach and suspects that, at my young age, I was just inches from the blanket and just couldn't see anyone I knew. That sounds plausible, but it could also be a case of her covering up the fact that she lost me (#notreally).

I also remember the day my brother was born (in 1970). I remember being left with our neighbors (who often babysat for me) and then being driven down a long road by a lake to the hospital. I don't remember actually seeing my mother or new brother in the hospital, but that ride has stayed with me for a long, long time. I think of it whenever I drive by a lake.

Now that I think about it, I have a lot of memories from that era of my childhood and I can't have been more than three or four. No wonder I don't have any room for new knowledge with memories of working on my toy cars, playing king of the mound with my dad, and eating little laughing cow cheese cubes at my neighbors' place are taking up so much space in my brain.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:33 AM on September 5, 2014

Yup’ik has a word/concept called ellangellemni, “when I became aware”, referring to the time when a child forms its first lasting memories.
posted by D.C. at 2:42 AM on September 5, 2014 [20 favorites]

From age 3 on I remember stuff at the same detail per year til the present (I'm 32). If anything, I can tie childhood memories to the age I was, whereas my mid-20's just blur together. I can remember a bunch of stuff from before I was 3, but only isolated snippets.

Three is pretty vivid, actually. My sister was born about 2 months premature and my aunt was looking after me while my mam and sister were in hospital. The house had loads of spider plants. Me and my dad would go to the hospital to see my sister - the entrance was hidden between two houses and the road sloped up - the was a car park on a slope in front of the hospital then another rise to the door. The weather was really nice. On a Saturday while my sister was in hospital my granddad gave me a Licorice Allsort sweet that made me cough. I was brought to the doctor who said I had asthma. I remember thinking I'd caught asthma from the sweet. On the day my sister got out of hospital I was allowed hold her for the first time. I was sitting on the left in the back of the car in the car park with the door open. She was tiny.
posted by kersplunk at 2:43 AM on September 5, 2014

Language. Surely a big part of human memory is the ability to tell yourself a story, linguistically, of what occurred.
posted by iotic at 3:00 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I dunno, maybe for some people. I don't think I've ever remembered anything 'lingustically' and I'm not sure what's even involved in that.
posted by kersplunk at 3:16 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

My life from age two until five-and-a-half was spent in a cage.

Like a literal cage, or a crib-as-cage comparison? I hope it is the latter.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:02 PM on September 4

About as literal as bars and locks and total isolation could make it. It was cheaper than paying for day-care, I guess. But hey! Look on the bright side! I learned to tell time by watching the shadows creep across the floor!

The really weird thing was my first day at kindergarten. It was kind of a jolt, going from "solitary" into a rambunctious classroom. After all these years, I still remember clearly encountering this girl, the first child of my own age that I ever met, bushy-brown hair and gunmetal-blue eyes, pulling me into the classroom against my terror. Back in kindergarten, we had easels instead of desks, and I recall dragging my easel into a corner of the room to block out all the noise and light of the class. It was just too much for me. To this day, I can't go to a shopping mall; too much noise and too many lights trigger anxiety attacks.
posted by SPrintF at 3:24 AM on September 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

Oh! First political memory! Driving with my dad to Laguardia airport because he was a pilot and needed to pick up his bids. We're listening to something on the AM radio. It sounds like a helicopter mixed with radio static.

I asked him what that sound was and he told me it was a helicopter taking the president away because he'd just resigned.

"Did they let the king know he resigned? " was my only other question.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:37 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think I've ever remembered anything 'lingustically' and I'm not sure what's even involved in that.

Telling yourself a story. "The first time I ate an ice cream it got all over my clothes and my mum screamed at me". Infants can't do it. Animals can't do it. The Wikipedia page notes that the passing of childhood amnesia correlates with language acquisition.
posted by iotic at 4:02 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I suspect we don't remember being a baby because if we did we'd never recover from it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:33 AM on September 5, 2014

Language. Surely a big part of human memory is the ability to tell yourself a story, linguistically, of what occurred.

...Hmm. How would you square people teaching infants sign language with this? My brother taught my niece some really simple signs when she was a baby, like "all done" for when she'd been eating and was full. And that phrasing, "all done," carried over into when she'd started speaking and wanted to tell someone to cut something out - like, she'd say "all done" to the doctor giving her vaccinations, or "all done" when my brother was doing something silly and she wanted him to cut it out. So that kind of seems like at least the potential FOR language is there when we're infants.


On the other hand, I learned how to read when I was about two, and that's when my earliest memories all date to - I know they were earlier than three, because they involve me being in the crib rather than my brother. I remember one very early morning standing in my crib and coloring on the wall with a crayon - and I also remember what I was thinking that made me want to do that, it was the thought that I didn't like the color of my bedroom walls any more, and I was going to do something about that. I also remember an idea I had as a child - I'd been standing in my crib and rocking it, and noticing it moving with me, and I remember thinking that if I just kept up the momentum I could roll it out my bedroom door and down the hall into my parent's room. The wild thing is that what I remember is the mental image I had of what that would look like.

I also remember the great fanfare that came with my getting a big-girl bed - I sort of remember it in pieces in my room, and Dad and Grandpa telling me that they'd have it set up in a little bit - and then, what must have been just a couple months later, meeting my baby brother in his crib. Someone brought me in riding their shoulders, the room was dark, and he was sleeping in the crib; then they put me down on the ground and Mom showed me a few Viewmaster viewer reels tucked into the side of the crib and said "and this is a present for you from your brother."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:41 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a very select few memories of young childhood, only one or two of them are any kind of positive. The others are either wrapped up in unreasonable shame at normal things that happen to normal children, or painful wounds from when my parents divorced messily when I was four, and Friend of the Court thought it was a good idea to have me in the room for discussions on visitation rights.

I feel strongly that many of these memories have had a lasting, and strongly negative impact on my life, and if there were a way to forget them, I would gladly do it.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:47 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do people with larger (or closer?) families remember more of childhood? Wouldn't family members help one another remember their childhoods by talking about things? You fall on your face in a puddle alone and you soon forget about it. You fall on your face in a puddle with siblings around and your siblings laugh about it, tell one another about it, remind you about it several times that day by laughing at you about it, remind you about it several times later, etc. Eventually you're an adult and everyone remembers the day you fell on your face in the puddle.
posted by pracowity at 4:47 AM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

My earliest memory I can place, I was two years old and eating cereal, thinking "I did this yesterday" and "I do this every day", becoming aware of the concepts of "yesterday" and "every day", not just as words, but as what they actually meant, and thus, I suppose, becoming aware of the concept of time. I have almost no clear memories of anything before that moment, and plenty from that point on.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:34 AM on September 5 [1 favorite +] [!]

Yup’ik has a word/concept called ellangellemni, “when I became aware”, referring to the time when a child forms its first lasting memories.
posted by D.C. at 2:42 AM on September 5 [1 favorite +] [!]

These comments resonate with me. I have two distinct examples of such first-time memories, both times when I was three and driving in the car with my mother. I remember thinking for the first time "I am Me" and being aware of my own individual existence. Some other time, I suddenly understood what death means: "I will stop being Me one day". I burst into tears, and wasn't able to explain to Mum what I was suddenly upset about.
posted by illongruci at 5:01 AM on September 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

One of the earliest memories I have is of sitting on the floor and turning this toy, a rattle with a mirror on one side and a smiling face on the other, over and over and an intense satisfaction that my face, which I knew now was me and not the rattle's face, would appear when I did that on the mirror. I know I was very small because the toy was given to my younger brother shortly after, and also in my memory, sitting upright to hold it was a bit of a struggle because my legs were baby chubby legs and I had to be careful not to lean too far as I turned the mirror in my hand because I would fall over easily.

It was very echo-y weird to watch my infant daughter go through the same fascination with a mirror, that one day it clicked that she was the baby in the mirror and she would just go close and far over and over.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:15 AM on September 5, 2014

Heh, I've got a few, so why not share. Until I was 6 we lived in Germany - army family. One day a soldier came our door - a corporal, I've been told. He had a missing front tooth, and I asked him why. He winked at me, grinned wide, and said he'd been a very naughty boy once. Then I looked right, at the staircase. That's the part I remember most clearly.

One of my schools had a yard that transitioned into a wooded area with copses of tall, bare-trunked trees, and a thick floor of brown, soft pine needles. Playing catch/hide-and-seek one day I couldn't find a hiding place. I decided to disguise myself by taking off my glasses, talking in a fake, low voice and claiming to be called Jim. It didn't work.

One day not long after at the same school, when we got picked up from school our parents had to come right into the building and escort us across the yard because there were "100mph winds". I remember thinking 100mph winds weren't all that fast.

Our black labrador, Porsche, gave birth to puppies but I missed it because I was watching the best part of The Flight of Dragons.

A NAAFI warehouse set amidst a really depressing industrial park type area. I imagined that there must be something magical and amazing inside.

Getting my head stuck in the banisters at the top floor of an apartment building, and freaking out because I couldn't escape the view down the stairwell to the ground floor. My mum told me I was rescued by a "black fireman". It wasn't until I was about 12 that I realised that didn't refer to his uniform and didn't denote some kind of special rank of fireman specialised in rescuing kids.

Many times being left in tank repair facilities under the care of jocular, geeky REME engineers. Always wanting to visit the barracks and never being allowed. Lots and lots of autobahns (we moved a lot).
posted by Drexen at 5:17 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Telling yourself a story. "The first time I ate an ice cream it got all over my clothes and my mum screamed at me".

For me it's more like a slideshow.
posted by Drexen at 5:17 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think sitting in my Dad's lap is one of my earliest memories but I do remember seeing a picture of that moment so maybe my brain invented that memory.

What worries me a bit is that I have a few memories from my childhood and then mostly a blank until the later years of school. I remember bits and pieces but nothing as specific as some of the stories in the thread.

I blame my terrible memory on the years I spent actively avoiding remembering. I hated the whole experience of being at school. But some good things were lost too: When I was 14-15 (14 years ago) we went on a trip to the south of my country and I remember nothing about it.

The brain is weird.
posted by Memo at 5:22 AM on September 5, 2014

My first memory is Oct 8, 1970. I was a month shy of 3 years old and my parents left me with the neighbors to go to the hospital to give birth to my brother. That was in Montana. Then we moved to Mississippi, which I have no memory of. Then we moved to NH, and I have a few distinct memories from there. Then we moved to Spain where I started school, and that is where my memories start to form a coherent linear story - so about age 5 or 6 is where I really remember stuff in bulk.
posted by COD at 5:26 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recall snippets of my 5-year-old-ish life. All of them, not so good.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:42 AM on September 5, 2014

I have a bunch of discrete memories from toddlerhood, and I can dates some of them by the houses they occur in, as we moved a lot. The earliest I am sure of the date in is when I was two years and one month (playing with a red wooden train on a grey carpet in the hospital when we went to bring my newborn brother home).

But it isn't until after I turned eight, which conveniently happened a few months after a move to another town, that my past became something that sits there in my memory as a whole narrative, where I can dip into any year and interrogate memories of just about anything (what did I do for my 9th birthday? Who was I friends with then? What did I want for Christmas that year and what happened next? And what about after that?)

I did apparently learn to read around the age of two, so that might be why I have a lot of memories even from back then. (Actually, I remember learning to read in quite some detail , which is pretty cool).

One thing I find weird are my husbands childhood memories from when he was a kid in Sweden. The family moved to New Zealand when he was five or six, and he stopped speaking Swedish at that point and can't even understand it now. So the conversations he remembers must have happened in Swedish , a language he no longer speaks. He says he remembers them mostly as though they happened in English, with the exception of a couple of especially memorable moments that actually allow him to recall the key Swedish words. For example, he remembers seeing a snake in the forest, and when he told me this, he was surprised to find he could recall the Swedish word for snake his father used to bring it to his attention. But a similar memory about a fox doesn't work that way. He says it's as though the conversation in that memory happened in English, which it couldn't have. Also he remembers learning to read, which he did in Swedish, but in his memory, the books were in English.

In conclusion, memory is a land of contrasts.
posted by lollusc at 5:44 AM on September 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

I found childhood boring as a child. It was mostly drudgery (with occasional terror); all those memories would be even more mind-numbing today. Good riddance!
posted by spaltavian at 5:46 AM on September 5, 2014

My childhood involved moving. A lot. I have many childhood memories (pre-seven years of age) just because they were solidified around a new location and new sets of people. I think that is what makes the difference. When so much is the same the brain re-writes. When so much is different, it begins a new chapter.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:56 AM on September 5, 2014

I absolutely have memories from before I started US First Grade at 5 and ten months. Things that aren't photographed. These memories are all negative. My mother crying and trying to sheild my face as she carried me running from our burning house to the neighbors in the night, and my feeling of shame associated with that asking others for help. I asked the Santa question when I was no older than seven, and at whatever age appropriate time I got the sex talk I was so embarassed because I knew all that stuff already.

I have no children, probably because I remember it as traumatic, or maybe I continue the habit of being the center of my own drama. And I do understand there is something to remembering remembering that cements memories.

My co-worker has a son, and she says things like "he doesn't understand what he's hearing" or "he isn't interested in girls" and I ask "why do you think that?" and she says "he's a kid!" She doesn't remember anything about being a small child other than being happy and carefree. Maybe this childhood amnesia thing is something that signals being well-adjusted. Either that or kids are all expert fibbers saying they belive in Santa till they are eleven out of fear the present train will stop.
posted by rainbaby at 6:04 AM on September 5, 2014

I had an unhappy childhood for the most part. But I'm lucky that my first memory is a happy one - the moment I was "reading" my favourite book, alone in my bedroom (looking at the pictures and trying to sound out words)...when something clicked in my brain and I was actually READING for the first time. It was a moment of pure joy.

Sometimes I look at my daughter these days, who is almost three, and wonder which of these moments she will remember someday. It's both exciting and terrifying. She's finally getting to that age when certain moments could stay with her, so I'm just hoping it won't be a time when I lose my temper or say something hurtful.
posted by barnoley at 6:12 AM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

)...when something clicked in my brain and I was actually READING for the first time. It was a moment of pure joy.

Yes, yes, THIS. Just turned three, sitting in the backseat of the car (yellow first-gen Honda Civic), 'reading' my kid magazine. "Mom, what word does m-u-d make?" "Try to sound it out, see if you can tell me." Mmmm-uuuu-ddddd. Mmmuuuuud holy cow it is MUD! M-U-D spells MUD! I AM READING! I can read any/everything now, the whole world is mine to read!

And to be honest, that was fairly accurate. I read the whole magazine (slowly) aloud to my mother on that ride home, and I've pretty much always had reading material in hand ever since.
posted by spinturtle at 6:29 AM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's not quite the Eternal Sunshine though... you forget the details but remember emotions, which are deeper and harder to change. They get turned into subconscious assumptions about the world rather than direct memories.

Also remember that memory is tied to language; before 3 yrs you don't have much language skills. (You can communicate, but not with words.)

And memory is not ROM; it is RW.

Maybe this childhood amnesia thing is something that signals being well-adjusted.

I thought there is also 'traumatic childhood amnesia'; if you can't remember things well past say 5 then maybe you have it. I know some people who can't remember a thing before 10-11 years old.

...when something clicked in my brain and I was actually READING for the first time. It was a moment of pure joy.

Since we're sharing - mine was tying my shoe. Over, under, through... and then OH MY GOD, TODAY MY SHOES, TOMORROW THE WORLD!! at least that's how it felt like
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:46 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

We wouldn't have this problem if we could enforce babies wearing bodycams.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:05 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

My requisite earliest memory is when I was still in diapers and not quite yet walking, since I recall doing a bit of toddling, then switching to crawling when I hit some difficult terrain like the single step down to the backyard. I have a very clear and distinct memory of going down that step, seeing a small snake (a garter, I have later determined), slither out of the ivy, look at me, then slither way. Not very exciting, but if I ever become a hero in Greek mythology I'm sure that incident will get slightly embellished.

Other than that, I don't really have any memories until around age 4-5. One of those is of falling off my bed headfirst, and landing on the edge of an open, metal, He-Man lunchbox. I ended up needing stitches, a fact I also clearly remember, if only for how much they didn't hurt (thanks, drugs). I am certain this early head trauma did not affect me in anyway, other than my inability to see the color puce.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:13 AM on September 5, 2014

This is the best thread. Like Potomac said, it's really pleasurable and enlightening to read other folks' recollections of early childhood.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:14 AM on September 5, 2014

Also remember that memory is tied to language;

I believe this is correct, more or less that expressed memories are relying on a medium or structure to hold them. Dreams are probably more related to primitive memories.
posted by Brian B. at 7:26 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have clear memories from being a baby under the age of two. The earliest might be of waking up in my crib at night to the light of my night light and realizing that the living room lights were off, too, and being scared of the lack of activity in our apartment as it was the middle of the night (maybe I thought my parents were always up and doing things–?).

From this same time period (could even be the same night) I remember waking up in my crib from a dream and remembering the dream (it was that the lady from the Contadina tomato paste can had come to life and was showing me a little plastic toy house. Then it was me zooming down in size and going into the plastic house).

I agree that early memories like this are like 'a memory of a memory of a memory' kind of thing. I wonder if for whatever reason I got into the habit of replaying my memories back to myself at an early age and that's why I have such clear memories of being a baby. I've always been the person in my family and among my friends who 'remembers everything'. And I'm amazed sometimes when friends have forgotten whole swaths of high school. But sometimes I'm envious of this ability to forget.

Upthread someone mentioned remembering the first time they walked. What I remember is the straightforward frustration of wanting to walk. It's always just been this feeling/image/memory in my head that took place in our living room. It was just a plain, offhand type of memory to me most of my life (I'm 46) until I stopped to think about what I was actually recalling at some point in my thirties. And of course, no one believes me!

Thanks for this post! People's earliest memories are fascinating.
posted by marimeko at 7:36 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

What's interesting about this too is the way that childhood memories return so strongly in old age and in dementia. My aunt, who had a wild, exciting adulthood - we call her the Queen of Bohemia for a reason - but now has dementia, has been remembering more and more of her childhood lately. She used to tell stories about poker games in brothels in Mexico and drugs at Carnival in Brazil and more drugs in swinging London (she did not waste her 1960s being staid, my aunt) but now she talks more about a play she wrote when she was 8 and a turtle she saw when she was 6. You can tell that those memories are more vivid for her now than the others. I think in a way that's kind of sad: I remember my childhood from about age 4 on with more or less infinite detail and I'd really rather remember my 20s and 30s better.

I do have a couple very early memories from about age 3. We went on a trip to the Bahamas and I remember walking down a street where there were big trees overhead and very distinct patches of light and shadow on the ground. I really noticed the contrast and how cool it was to walk from shadow to light, light to shadow. That was also the trip where we went to Pink Sands - my parents had built it up, talking about how oh wow, sure, I'd been to the beach before but I'd never seen PINK sand like this, so I was expecting, I don't know, fluorescent day glo pink. This was probably about 1966 or 1967, so yeah, psychedelic pink. We got to the beach and it was just sand, vaguely pale pink but regular sand, and I was so disappointed I cried. I've always kind of thought that those two memories sticking so long are why I ended up an artist, although maybe I remember those exact things because I already was.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:36 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I remember my early childhood very well, but it is not something I can do at will. It just bubbles up sometimes.

My mom got pregnant again when I was 3. She had to stay in the hospital for two months. My dad was incompetent and my life turned somewhat dreary. Spoiled milk on my wheaties and the whole nine yards.

The day we picked mom up from the hospital, I was totally pissed off about her long absence. I would not hug or speak to her. Mom put my sister in my lap and I held her all the way home. The crib wound up in my tiny room and I could stand on my bed and hoist her out. Best teddy bear ever. Giggly, crazy little thing. I had asked for a brother, but I was very satisfied.

My sister is, by many measures, much sharper than me. But she doesn't remember squat. She is very rational and I am oblique. Maybe that is it?

As my son grows up, I find that I remember being his age vividly. Memories just pop into my head. It's been a huge help in my quest to be a good dad.

"Tell me some more stupid stories from your childhood" has replaced reading in bed. I've got tons of them. Eating baking chocolate. lighting a whole pack of matches, shooting a power line with a BB gun and getting hit in the forehead by the ricochet. He finds it fascinating, and these are all things he will not do.

On his end, he vividly remembers a log exploding in the fireplace and the other logs tumbling out. He didn't just take his first steps, he ran and jumped fire to get to me. Not the wisest route, but it was something to behold.

And I've told my bear story before. Now, every time I buy a spaghetti squash, kid asks me if it's for the bears. He was not quite 3 then.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:52 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have trouble remembering my age during past events, by remember better by grades/schools.

17-18 12th
16-17 11th
15-16 10th
14-15 9th
13-14 8th
12-13 7th
11-12 6th
10-11 5th
09-10 4th
08-09 3rd
07-08 2nd
06-07 1st
05-06 K
posted by stbalbach at 7:56 AM on September 5, 2014

Bill Watterson was on point: "Half of my life is a complete blank! I must've been brainwashed!"
posted by torridly at 8:00 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My earliest memories are from about age two-three, but it was from when I broke my arm, so it's not surprising it stuck with me. I remember having paint on my hands and my ya-ya trying to get me to wash it off, but somehow I'm convinced that the stuff she's going to wash it off with will burn/sting (I think I must have somehow gotten something confused about turpentine) so I ran. This was our apartment in Singapore, and it had marble floors, and I slipped and skidded into a sofa. Next memory is sitting in my dad's lap while they try to get an IV into the top of my hand, and it takes a lot of tries.

My dad liked to tell me stories about my childhood and took a ton of photos, so I know a few of my memories probably tie back into his storytelling. These would be like the one about feeding the ducks and swans at the Botanical Gardens, turning around to see a GIANT BLACK SWAN WITH HIS WINGS SPREAD COMING AT ME when in reality he was just sort of hopping out of the pond to come get his piece of bread but I screamed and fell on my butt and my dad had to stifle his laughter as the swan took the bread and waddled off. Also the one about him coming around the corner to see me sitting on the floor in an undershirt with my underpants on the floor near me and asking me what had happened and I told him, very solemnly, that there was a bug, and he was just bugging around, so I smacked him with my panties. Those two stories are caught in my brain between "real memories" and "memories of dad telling the stories."
posted by PussKillian at 8:04 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lately, my social circle has included a lot more kids age 8-16 (children of new friends). And I often ask them what their earliest memory is, to see if younger kids have earlier memories. But no... They, like me, report their earliest memory happening around age 4. Even the 9-year-old.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:16 AM on September 5, 2014

I remember, very distinctly, voting for Jimmy Carter in a kindergarten poll.

I remember being in the voting booth, screaming into my mom's skirt, as she voted for Reagan, me going "Nnnnooooo, vote for Jimmy Carter!!" I would have been about 4 1/2.
posted by medeine at 8:18 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

When my son was about 3 1/2 he said: "The more I grow, the more I forget."
posted by dontoine at 8:29 AM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I can quite reliably date my earliest, very vivid memory. I was coming down the stairs in yellow footie pajamas, thumping down one to the next as small children do because stairs are so big, on the UGLIEST brown carpet left over from the late 60s or early 70s. I remember thumping down the last step or two to the landing, looking up at the adult standing there, who smiled at my quite joyfully, and I realized in dawning horror for the first time in my short life, my mother was not there, and I burst into tears. That's the whole memory -- thumping down the last step, the joyful adult, the horror, the crying.

It was my grandma. Who had come in the night because my parents had gone to the hospital for my brother to be born. It was the morning of my second birthday!

Although I can remember how terrified I was, it's a funny memory now, because it's such a vivid picture of our home at the time (ugly carpet!) and of my happy grandmother, and I can feel laughing empathy for a toddler who didn't understand where her mom had gone and was confronted with it upon waking up in the morning. Because it was a happy day and I had a happy childhood where I never seriously had to wonder where my mother had gone or who was going to take care of me. But yeah, I assume it was the extremely strong emotion of that moment and the novelty of my mother not being there that made it stick.

I have just a few other flashes, like I remember the bathroom at preschool, and walking with my brother in a stroller, and a few things from kindergarten, but it sort picks up as actual memories rather than short vivid flashes around first or second grade (7 or 8).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:32 AM on September 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also I remember eating a chocolate-chip cookie when I was 2 and being really excited. (I know I was 2 because my brother was drinking a bottle.)

I also remember the first time someone affirmatively TOLD me to lie. I was 5 -- almost 6 -- and it was my uncle. He told me to say I was 6 so the hospital would let me visit my mom (who had just given birth to my sister). I was SHOCKED. (Nobody asked, which is just as well!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:38 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

mine was tying my shoe. Over, under, through... and then OH MY GOD, TODAY MY SHOES, TOMORROW THE WORLD!! at least that's how it felt like.

Oh, man, I'm getting some emotional-memory flashes from when I was 3 and 4 now. Like, being at my preschool, and there was this one kid who threw his mittens way up in a tree and the school had to call the volunteer fire department to come get them. And they rolled up in a big truck and stretched out the ladder and everything, but the kid whose mittens they were wasn't there - he was hanging around over by the tire swing. And I ran over to him all excited to tell him that the fire truck had come to get his mittens - but he didn't care, he wanted to stay swinging. And I remember being absolutely shocked by that - dude, it's a fire truck, and it's in the parking lot right now, and it's here because of your mittens and you're telling me you'd rather be on the swing? Are you crazy?

My memories start to form narratives at about four - I remember some kind of play activity they had for us after reading us a story about a little kid who pretends to be an explorer and goes crawling through caves with toy "explorer flags" he's made for himself; they set up a kids' play crawly-tunnel thing in one of the play rooms and helped us make flags so we could "explore the cave". But I got so into it I crawled through the cave and straight out the door and down the hall, and was on my way up the stairs to the secretarial pool for the church my preschool was in and a lady who was coming downstairs stopped me and said "Hmm, I don't think you should be here," and she brought me back and the teachers explained to me that no, this was just pretend exploring and I needed to stay in the playroom. So I went back to crawling through the tunnel with the other kids, only this time I was thinking that, "huh....this is kind of boring, actually."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nothing makes me rage like the memory of Footie Pajamas.


Hell hath no fury like having to use a bum flap.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:47 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am 60 at present- I can remember:

The earliest memories I have are of an apartment we lived in above a garage in Urbana, IL: My parents hung red balloons near the stairway to frighten me from that in lieu of a child gate. I can remember my parents fighting on one occasion and hiding out in the forest of chair legs under the kitchen table.

I also can remember being frightened by the sparks coming from the motor of a big grey metal fan in the window. Near my crib was a lamp with a red Scottie dog as its base- I can remember sticking my finger in it's socket and getting a nasty shock. Also, I remember the bathroom was painted a hideous shade of dark red, and watching steam trains shunting cars out the window. This photo of me was taken there.

My sister was born in April of 1956: all the previous was prior to her birth. When she was born we moved to a cracker-box house on Busey Street in Urbana. I can remember (my father was a police officer) jumping on my dad's back as he was checking his weapon getting ready to go to work, and causing it to discharge, the bullet went through a framed photo on the wall, hit a clothes rod in the closet behind it, and went out through the roof. I can also remember hearing the terrified screams of horses when the University stables burned down behind our house. There are mundane details I can remember about the house and environs: We had a sandbox out back that was made out of 2x6 lumber and seemed to attract all the neighborhood cats for use as a litterbox: it made my mother furious. I verified most of these memories with my mother before she passed, so I have no reason to believe that the things I do remember from that time aren't accurate.
posted by pjern at 9:08 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I remember lying in my crib. I shared a room with my sister, and we had a night light. I was probably 2 or 3, because I was wearing light yellow baby doll pajamas, sucking my thumb, and tugging on my ear with my other hand. The ceiling was sloped, and there was patterned wallpaper.

I also remember one of my brothers cutting the noisemaker out of my baby doll, and my rage at finding the stuffing spilling out of her poor little body.

I got him back by sitting down on teh couch and looking innocent when we'd been drawing on the living room wallpaper and my mother and grandmother walked into the room. Grammie was staying with us after my Bamp died so it was 1966 and I was 2 1/2. My brother got into trouble and I didn't.

I also remember getting into trouble for popping the hosta flowers that were on the property line between our house and the elderly people who lived in back of us.

My mother had a friend who kept a big bowl of plastic fruit on the table, and I remember wondering why would someone do that, because I always wanted to eat those purple grapes.

My mother also had interesting things in her purse, one of them being a little brass cylinder with a set of tiny dice inside.

Our kitchen was painted yellow, and the stove was away from the wall, because the kittens would run away from me when I chased them and hide there.

I remember standing in our driveway and being mad at people who walked by on the sidewalk, because they were on "our property."

I remember watching my Dad laying a brick walk in sand, from the house to the garage.

After it rained, my mother would let us go outside and play barefoot in the street gutters and that was super fun.

Later, we moved to a big farm house, that had a barn and an ell attaching the house to the barn. I went back years later and everything that had seemed so big to me then was much smaller. It was like being a giant.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:28 AM on September 5, 2014

I can usually only remember the bad stuff, which was really bad (epic migraines, one traumatic surgery), but every so often I will see/hear/smell/etc something that reminds me of some hint of a thread of a wisp of a memory, and if I can tease it out very carefully I will end up with some fascinating little moment of perfectly preserved childhood, down to smells and sounds and everything.

on the other hand if i chase it too hard then i end up with the ducktales theme song stuck in my head for hours, sometimes days
posted by poffin boffin at 9:36 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I dissociate due to trauma. It is really difficult but I don't have a lot of cohesive memories before 12, when the sexual abuse stopped. Add in repressed memories of trauma as well, that I didn't start to fully grasp until I was an adult. But that's how i survived living witha sociopath. It is kind of weird now in my late 20s after I've processed much of the trauma I actually remember more of my childhood like little details and random stuff. It's nice to have some normal memories instead of just crazy trauma. But it's hard for me to discuss normal things from my childhood because I don't remember to much and most of what I do remember is absolutely terrible.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:43 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

SPrintF and AlexiaSky I'm so sorry to hear about your childhoods.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 9:55 AM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Peace to SPrintF and AlexiaSky.

Age 2 or 3ish: fighting with my sister about who would get the high chair because the oven was behind it & warm when mom opened it.

Age 3ish: playing wheelbarrow (I was the wheelbarrow) in our basement with my sister when my hand hit something wet & I sliced open my chin on the floor. 18 stitches! The bandaid was gigantic and I hated it immediately.

Age 4ish: Getting in trouble for playing in our stairwell with a tennis ball. I could not understand why in the world it would be bad to have a great time making a lot of noise in a hardwood enclosed stairwell.

Age 4ish: I walked myself home from kindergarten every day (!!), but was instructed to wait for our housekeeper to meet me at a dangerous intersection. It was just after a hill over which cars came zooming & wouldn't have time to stop. I waited & waited one day for what felt like hours (it was probably a minute at most), and then I ran like hell across the street. Got in trouble for that, too.

Age 4ish: two trip memories:
1. We were going camping for the weekend (my parents were brave: them & 4 little girls). Dad was putting the last thing in the trunk before we hit the road for the mountains. The trunk lid closed on his head & gave him a gash. I rode in the backseat with him while mom drove us to the hospital. She gave him a roasting pan to catch all the blood, I remember thinking that I really didn't understand why Dad was leaning over the pan of all that roast beef blood.
2. My parents took us to New York city. I think I was actually about 3. I remember standing up on the floor of the back seat in the cab & thinking, "man this thing is HUGE and very interesting!" Dad put us in the cab back to the hotel so he could go back to look for his wallet. (!!) That same trip I cried hysterically because I thought the policeman's horse I'd given a sugar lump to was going to munch off my hand.

Age 5ish: Dad dropped me off at school in the pouring rain with my shoes and socks in a plastic bag along with a bunch of papertowels. I was very embarrassed to be hurriedly drying my feet & putting my shoes on because I was supposed to lead the class to chapel that day.

And a bout a gazillion more.
posted by yoga at 10:19 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ok one last one:

Age 4ish: Mom & Dad took us to the drive in. The plan was for us to fall asleep in the back of the station wagon while they watched Planet of the Apes. I was terrified to be outside in the dark with a giant screen of talking gorillas who weren't friendly.
posted by yoga at 10:22 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some more context on my son's quote:

My son was about 3 1/2. We were driving past a place he'd been to many times in his toddlerhood, a place he'd remembered and recognized only two weeks prior. This time, however, he seemed to have no idea what we were talking about.

It struck us as odd, that he'd forget it completely.

That was when he said: "The more I grow, the more I forget."
posted by dontoine at 10:35 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't comprehend not having memories of childhood. My earliest memories are easily before 5 years old, some of them as young as 2 or 3. We moved house before my 5th birthday, and I remember plenty from the first house.

52-card pickup; wanting to have homework like my older sister;
wanting to do dishes with my mom (that ended soon enough);
watching "King David"(? some sort of biblical thing with a king with a crown - maybe I only associated it with the bible because of my age and knowledge of "kings" being from there) on TV while making blanket/pillow forts;
getting my headstuck in between bars of the bed headboard;
my sister playing the Jaws theme on piano;
sliding down a hill with a shield-shaped sled;
getting scratched by my cat and my dad kicking the cat out of the house;
fighting over the prizes in cereal (gum/plastic toy -- in particular I think it was rice krispies).

There's one memory I don't have - that my dad laughs about - me getting locked in the bathroom, and him reaching his hand through a hole in the wall near the door and being able to unlock the door. I was terrified of this strange hand poking through the wall, screaming and crying. Not a damn hint of the memory. But all those other things? Absolutely.

In fact two of my earliest memories are being in a crib and staring up at my mom's friends looking down at me during her Saturday Night Bible Studies, and second one was around that time and being put into this awesome cool bunk-bed the people whose house the studies were at, almost like a storage unit, bunk bed, and playclimbing thing with oval holes for ladders (I remember this well because they had it around when I was older, still - so that vividness of the thing is due to the later experiences, but the event itself, being laid in the lower bed, I remember just laying there and looking up at the blue/green frame.

There are things that are so dreamlike in quality they seem magical, and my mom knows what I'm talking about but not sure why it's magical to me, and I'm not sure either, but it was truly Elysian in feel when I think about those moments.
posted by symbioid at 10:50 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I asked my mom once what house we lived in that had a green door with a leaded glass window in it, and she said we lived there until I was 2. I only remember how the door looked when the light shone through it, but I could visualize it clearly. I think I was in my teens when I asked about it, and she was shocked I remembered.

Also - our phone number where we lived until I was 7 - I can recite it still. I can picture the playhouse we had in our back yard (7 years old) and the door. My dad promised to cut it in half so the top would open independently, and he even drew a line across the peeling white paint of it, but he never cut it for me before we moved.

My mom told us her and my dad were divorcing when I was 6 or 7, and we had a brand new toy on the floor of the car at the time, and I stared at it the whole time. Anyone else remember Alvin the Aardvark, with the velcro tongue and the fuzzy ants he could pick up?

Lots of brief visual memories, or just a fuzzy memory of how something felt or smelled, from all across my childhood. The feeling of loss and unfairness when my older brother and sister went off to school, knowing I wasn't old enough yet. How the fresh picked cotton I brought in for show and tell in kindergarten felt in my fingers. Eating peanut butter sandwiches, and how they tasted, as I sat with my brother in our home sometime around 5 or 6 years old, when he was going through his phase of only eating those and nothing else. The bar under my knees as I swung from it in the playground of my elementary school. The smell of my third grade math teacher's classroom. The view from my daycare provider's kitchen table. The seemingly heartbreaking grief I felt in fifth grade (age 10? 11?) when my mom finally showed me the newspaper she was hiding, with a front page article about a school friend who had drowned. I can picture that school friend showing me the goose egg she had, that she'd hidden from her brother in a crevice on the outside of her house foundation, and the heat of the sun on my back while we bent down to look. The way my favorite teacher in 6th grade walked across the room.

I remember lots of things like that. But if you ask me to recite everything my husband said to me about his last work trip...well. You'd be out of luck.
posted by routergirl at 10:52 AM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

My memories from early childhood are also little vignettes. I think some of mine are a little bit unusual because of how early they run. Some were (disbelievingly verified by my shocked mom) very, very early. I have a couple of strong scenes from between 6 and 9 months of age. The strongest of which were

1. Being picked up out of a crib in a small room and being comforted, over a shoulder, with brown hair in my face, with the hum of a window air-conditioner being a very calming noise (I still like the sound to this day). I was able to describe the crib and window quite accurately, which is the only reason my Mom was able to place it... and the person who picked me up and comforted me was her.

2. Being placed in my grandparents bed between two pillows (to keep me from rolling off the bed) to take a nap. Again, described the room and bed, and comforter on the bed... as being a place that my grandparents moved out of before I turned 1. I also remember the bottle I was given right before bed very vividly, as I liked to squeeze the plastic bag inside inside the bottle's frame while I drank from it.

There's a few more, but over time some of them have faded to the point where I'm sort of remembering me remembering them more than remembering them directly. I still remember a ton of stuff from after my first birthday on.
posted by Lafe at 11:22 AM on September 5, 2014

I remember riding in my baby car seat, which had a steering wheel on it, so I would turn the steering wheel back and forth to make the car go. "Want to go for a ride?" My dad was just turning the car around in the driveway, but I was excited to go for even that short ride. The plastic wheel was broken right through on one side. This was in our old faded pink Renault, which my parents got rid of before I was two. In retrospect the car seat is rather horrifying. No seat belts in the back of cars back then so the car seat was held in only by a piece that hooked over the back of the seat of the car, and there were no straps to hold the child in place, just the sort of railing that the toy steering wheel was mounted on.

I also remember climbing out of my crib and going to tell my parents I'd done so, then being disappointed that they didn't get all excited and a little upset the way they'd done the first time I did it.

The colors were very bright back then.

When I was three I would ride in the back of our Volkswagen beetle, with no seatbelts, holding on with my left hand to the strap attached to the side of the car, as I'd been admonished to. In my right hand I held my mother's ponytail, as she drove. I imagine she had to put a stop to that quickly.

I remember a dream that I had when I was five, in which my dad and I walked over a little red arched Japanese bridge, probably one that I'd seen in real life, with me on his shoulders. Dreams were very simple at that age, with almost no plot. Lots of color, though.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 11:28 AM on September 5, 2014

> The only clear memory I have from before age 4 is of playing with the dirt and rocks in front of the house that we just moved into. The builders didn't put down a lawn but my parents did soon after we moved in

1adam12, I have the exact same memory! It was probably just after my 3rd birthday because it was spring and mucky. I was wearing a mud suit, and the girl who would become my best friend for the next 20+ years asked me what my name was.

Now that I have a kid of my own, it's kind of freaky how she doesn't remember stuff. We moved across the country 7 years ago, when she was 4, and she has almost no memories of Vancouver. Or of her caregiver, whom she adored, which is even weirder to me. I mean, I remember lots of stuff from before I was 4, so I'm always looking at her like, What do you mean you don't remember that? YOU WERE THERE, it was only 7 years ago.
posted by looli at 11:57 AM on September 5, 2014

I have more memories of age 2-6 than 7-11, I think because my parents went through a messy divorce and quick remarriages. Around 5th grade the custody fighting was over. My mom one and we moved away with her, so city/house/school synced up again and it's like my brain let recording recommence.

Lots of memories from Galveston Island, TX, at around 3 I think, like:
- Walking to the U-tote-M with my sister and her friend Zoey to buy Chick-O-Sticks and green apple bubble gum.
- The seawall, with its dangerous jumbled concrete steps down to the beach, trash and jellyfish, curved slopey side that seemed really high, so many rocks to climb on, weird tidal pools, being told about Portuguese Man O' Wars and being totally unable to resolve the mouth sounds into a name that made sense for a jellyfish.
- Pestering the babysitter about wanting to be a girl, and her saying if she made me a girl would I leave her alone? I said yes, so she put my hair in a ponytail and I ran off to the other room going yaayyy.
- Zoey's surfer-dude older brother backing over me with a station wagon. I was in my Big Wheel going down the street to Zoey's house where my sister was, and when I pedalled up into the driveway the looming station wagon backed up. The driveway was sloped and I was too short to see. I remember the car going over me, and a tire ran over my thigh just above the knee. Zoey's mom took me inside and put me in the sink to run water over my leg. I'm told (but don't remember) that I was screaming and crying, and Zoey's brother was freaking out and eventually screamed "Shut up!" at me, and to everyone's surprise I shut up and did that gulping quiet crying thing. Nothing was broken, I was okay.
posted by fleacircus at 11:58 AM on September 5, 2014

I was a super picky eater as a kid and one of my strongest, most vivid memories is of being at daycare and staring down into a bowl of chili, the first one I had ever encountered, and wondering how I was going to eat around all those beans. And I have a very tactile memory of the rope we had to hold when we went out for walk.

I also have a strong memory of being really little, but knowing that I was forgetting things. I have no idea where that daycare was now, and I remember the process of forgetting where it was and being in the car with my mom on several occasions, asking if we were near where my daycare had been. Part of that was memory loss and I guess part of it was being a kid who didn't really know how to navigate the city so laying down the memory of where it was in the first place was probably pretty dodgy. So I don't remember where it was, I remember where I thought it had been, even though I was wrong. It's a very vivid picture I have in my head of this non-existent place!
posted by looli at 12:04 PM on September 5, 2014

I have a really good frame of reference for my memories because my parents separated when I was 4 and divorced when I was 5. Any memories of my mother in that house are definitely when I was 4 or younger. She moved out and took us to a new house because the house they were in together was actually from my dad's family.

My earliest memory is of my mom holding me after a bath and standing in front of the mirror talking to me. I'm not sure what she was saying but I remember it was right before my bedtime. I can vivdly see us there in the mirror. I have some kind of feeling like "this is what we do after a bath"

Playing house in the refrigerator box while my mom watch MASH.

A giant town we made in the living room floor. My mom had bought a bunch of miniature trees and fences and fabric and stuff that was on sale for like a penny at a craft store. We made the buildings out of cans that had been wrapped in fabric.

I had a little pink purse that of course I never put away. My mom had threatened to throw it away if she found it in the middle of the floor again and sure enough, she followed through. I remember my brother saving it from the trash and hiding it in the tire swing in the back yard for me.

Being woken up in the middle of the night to pick my dad up from the airport.

The only memory I have of my parents actually together in that house: my bother and I peeking around the corner of the dining room (after being told to go to our rooms) into the living room and seeing it full of cigarette smoke and my parents arguing. (It sounds sad but it's not. Those two should never have gotten together in the first place. Its a miracle that they lasted the 5 years they were together.)
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:16 PM on September 5, 2014

I have a lot of memories from my early childhood; we moved cross-country when I was four so they're easy to place. I remember the cherry tree in our front yard, helping to wash the giant picture windows in our old house with newspapers, seeing mountains in the distance wherever we drove, our next-door neighbor babysitting us and offering us Froot Loops, which I hated, an argument I had with my older brother over who made crayons (people or God?), my younger brother as a baby, the time at preschool a girl named Allie decided to take off all her clothes and run around, watching mayflies gather on our ceiling (in retrospect: grody), going to someone's beach party and being given an unlit sparkler and who gives a toddler a sparkler?, riding with my mom as she carpooled my brother and a couple other kids to kindergarten and being really annoyed at the neighbor mom who called it "kidneygarden" because ugh how babyish (I was three at the time).

I also have a very vivid false memory from around that time. It goes like this: my mom picked me up from preschool, possibly early?, because there was going to be an eclipse. On the drive home, I could see the moon in the daylight sky. When we got home, my parents and I stood in the living room and looked out our big living room windows as the sky switched almost instantly from midday to pitch-black night, then back to day, then to night again. After a few switches back and forth, the sky settled on night, and it was time for me to go to bed. I was upset and scared, and my parents tried to placate me by giving me a balloon shaped like a heart, but it looked ugly and deformed to me and I didn't want it. Nothing like this could have possibly happened, yet I remember it so clearly. Perhaps it was a dream and I didn't know how to tell the difference between dreams and waking life yet.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:27 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My memory is average. I too have lots of vivid and distinct pre-six memories, but many of my so called 'memory retaining' years (15 - 30) are a blur. I marvel at people that remember what they were doing at a given age with great specificity. I have many close friends that serve as my memory bank and often they'll tell me a story of something I did or said that I literally have no recollection of. It's fascinating.

I also know the mind's tendency to re-write history each time we remember an event, and taint it with our new knowledge, perception and experience. I think it would be incredibly fascinating to get a time machine and see again some of those key experiences that I remember so vividly (and the ones I don't remember at all) and see if I'd perceive them wildly differently now. I wonder what I'd make of myself.
posted by tatiana131 at 12:34 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read an article once ( in a parenting magazine) about how Maori children remember stuff much farther back, starting with the age of two. The article tied it to the storytelling tradition of the Maori. So they wouldn't just say, "you went to the zoo today", they'd make a long tale of it with very many details about what the child had seen and done.

Course, I don't know if it was all bollocks or something.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:51 PM on September 5, 2014

I always thought memories were linked to cognitive development and the ability to process information.
posted by Nevin at 1:48 PM on September 5, 2014

Earliest datable memory: I remember when my younger sister was born, when I was 2 years 3 months. I remember wondering why my mom wasn't home, then later seeing Sister for the first time --- heck, I remember thinking she smelled funny.

Not sure about this one, but I THINK I remember my oldest sister's first day of kindergarten; I would have been about 1 year 7 months. I DEFINATELY remember sister #2's first day the following year.

I remember moving from Connecticut to Hampton Roads, Virginia when I was 3, especially the night-time ferry ride that was part of the trip. I remember our house in Hampton, and could still draw you a layout of the rooms and furniture. I remember my Sunday School classroom, my neighborhood friends, and the day I 'married' the cute 4-year-old from two doors down.... his name was David, and I thought he was a dreamboat.

I remember moving back to Connecticut (Navy family) when I was four, starting kindergarten at five, and on and on: basically I remember highlights from age three and under, but from age four on it's pretty solid on the day to day too.
posted by easily confused at 3:46 PM on September 5, 2014

I remember quite a bit from about ages two to four, and after around age four, I remember everything fairly well. Not literally everything, of course, but I remember tons about kindergarten in same way as I remember tons about my sophomore year of high school or from when I was age 24 or whenever.

My memories aren't really emotional? They're mostly just things that were happening. Though I do remember my intense fear/shame the first time I lied. We lived in a three-floor walk up apartment building. My mom was out on the front stoop, and while going downstairs to join her, I decided to slide down the stairway railing while holding a plastic cup from Pizza Hut (I LOVED those cups). Of course I was clumsy and basically fell down half the stairs and scraped up the cup along the side of the railing (UGH). My mom asked if I'd slid down the railing and I paused and then told her no. I though, SHE'S GOTTA KNOW I'M LYING JUST LOOK AT THIS MESSED UP CUP?! but...she didn't call me on it, so maybe four- or five-year-old me was more slick than I thought.

But I remember tons, according to my parents more than they do from back then (and I remember more than they do in general). I didn't learn to read until I was six, but my memories before and after learning aren't notably different in quantity or dependability or really in any way I can tell. My family isn't large or particularly close, but I had a happy childhood, and have very few bad memories -- maybe that's why I remember so much?

Also, I have a freaky good memory in some ways. Like, I have almost total recall of spoken words/what people say and always have. Which was irritating as hell to everyone I knew during certain years when I would become obsessed with a particular show or movie and go around repeating it word for word and scene by scene over and over and over (despite pleas from people to stop. The children I grew up with were really very patient people) -- but that...talent? skill? trick? has been very useful for school! Even now, if someone asks me a question about something that I've heard a presentation or lecture on, I can almost always start repeating verbatim (of course, I'm not *sure* it's verbatim, but it seems as though it is, and the information I'm recalling is correct/verifiable) from the presentation or lecture, even if I don't consciously know the information and didn't consciously choose to remember it and heard it years ago. I worked as a waitress for years and I can still tell you what TONS of my customers ordered, as useless as that is. I've only worked in one place for longer than a year, but at that place, I'd sometimes have customers come in who I'd served months or a year previously, and I'd be able to tell them where they'd sat and what they'd ordered and who had been sitting near them and other events from the previous time they'd come. Of course, I soon learned NOT TO because people were creeped out when I did. On the other hand, I have absolutely terrible spacial memory and terrible spacial reasoning altogether, and that's always been true, too -- so I'm hopeless if I need to know where I parked or how to get anywhere. Anyway, yeah, memory is strange.
posted by rue72 at 3:56 PM on September 5, 2014

Does anyone ever feel a memory go? I've always remembered a lot from my early childhood, but sometimes I'll be going over some thought about something that I saw or felt once, barely conscious of it, and suddenly slip and be too rough, and think about it too hard. And then I'll know that I've used it up, and I'll never see it again, or I've smashed it, and some pieces will be missing forever, or I've bent it, and now parts of it will always be false. I wish there were a way of saving them, but it seems like the more I want to hold on to them, the faster they go.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:19 PM on September 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

This whole discussion is one of the best things I've ever read on Metafilter. Sidebar, please!
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:36 PM on September 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've always been SO intrigued by my very early memories. In the earliest, when I was a young toddler, less than two, my mother tells me that it's cold outside and I'll need a coat. I refuse to wear a coat. Then I go outside and indeed get cold right away. I distinctly remember wondering how long I should wait to ask to go inside so it's not so obvious that I got cold.

Two other extremely early memories feature nightmares: at two, I dreamed a garbage truck smashed my dad (in the garbage compactor), and I was too short to reach his leg to help pull him out of the truck. I woke up in my grandparents' house terrified. In the other, I dreamed a car with evil red headlights was driving up the stairs in our house, and was going to kill me. I slept on a pad outside my parents' bedroom that night.

The evil car nightmare was just straight-up scary, but the garbage truck nightmare was about feeling guilty, and the coat memory is about feeling embarassed. As the mother of an almost-9-month-old son, I often think about what complex emotion my son may be feeling, even if he's not able to articulate it yet.

My mother has often told me that until I was 5 years old and went to school for the first time, I remembered everything about my life in pretty much photographic details, right back to early infancy. I was an extremely verbal child and often discussed my memories. But after starting school, I met many new people and learned a lot of "worldly" things and forgot most of my early memories. My mom says she's still sad and wishes she'd recoded me talking about my very early memories on tape.
posted by Cygnet at 5:37 PM on September 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, I also have two incredibly vivid memories of "misbehaving" as a 2 year old. In the first, I use my stepstool to sneak onto the counter and steal some tastes of butter while my mom is busy doing something else. (I can't believe I liked plain butter then, but I did!) I knew it wasn't right to stick my fingers in the butter and I kept telling myself JUST ONE MORE TASTE. I went up and down that little stool maybe 10 times trying to stop but I kept tasting more butter. I remember really WANTING to have more self control, but I just didn't have it.

In the other memory, I accidentally disturb the dishes while they are drying and a bowl breaks. I don't say anything because I feel very guilty for breaking the bowl. Eventually my mother notices and assumes the bowl just fell off on its own. I break down and tell her it was my fault for bumping it. She cries and tells me that she's so sorry that I felt worried that she would be upset; she tells me it was just a bowl and not to worry about it.
posted by Cygnet at 5:45 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I *distinctly* remember objects ceasing to exist as soon as they were out of my sight. I'd really like to know why this doesn't happen anymore.
posted by uosuaq at 6:20 PM on September 5, 2014

object permanence
posted by rue72 at 6:21 PM on September 5, 2014

I'm relieved to know that other people have the feeling, too, that some of their earliest memories are actually memories of the memory. I used to have a memory that my mom pegged as possibly from when I was about 6 mo old and in a foster home. There was an orange chair, against a bright window with light coming through. Dazzling. Someone picks me up and takes me away. But it was all very peaceful and felt loving and...simple. Now I have my doubts about it and I've thought about it so much over the years that I can't be sure if it was ever real. But I was sure, ages ago, that it was real. What changed? Is it a lost ability to experience that memory as fully that makes it feel like a memory of a memory?
posted by amanda at 6:42 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember very little from...well honestly, from before about high school. I had a perfectly normal childhood; I just don't seem to store minor life memories very well, even today. Almost nothing I remember comes matched with an age, unless I happen to have a reference point (we never moved; my parents still live in the same house they did when I was born). The things I do remember from early childhood tend to be more like sensory flashes, usually tied to a specific thing:

- Spilling a thermos of near-boiling tea water on myself around age 4-5 (I know I was in kindergarten, because recuperating meant I missed The Major Standardized Test that year). It's a story my family still tells, so the event itself has been reinforced, but what I remember is how deliciously warm my leg felt after the initial second's worth of boiling pain passed. My mom was fighting to get my pants off me so she could stop the burning, and I wanted to keep them on because they were so nice and warm.
- The beige vinyl seats in the family sedan, and how the metal buckles burned our skin in summer
- The round, sticky-outy push-button door handles on my dad's vintage Mustang, which he kept, dusty and covered, in the garage (that was where they stored toys they took away from us, though I don't know how old I was when I figured this out and started surreptitiously retrieving them)
- My blue penguin play refrigerator, and how although I knew intellectually that it didn't cool things, I still treated it like it did
-Touching a snake in pre-school. Or rather, the sensation of the snake's skin - I don't remember the story around my touching it, just how it felt
-Being spanked, once, and the utter indignity I felt being slung over my father's shoulder and treated like that

You guys are all way better at this game than me...
posted by Hold your seahorses at 7:39 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember tons of stuff from when I was very young. I guess the funniest memory in retrospect is of the first time I wiped my own butt after pooping. I was 3 and toilet trained but my mom always helped me clean up after number twos. One day I went to the bathroom and it wasn't until after I was done that I realized my mom was outside mowing the lawn. I screamed for her to come help me but there was no way on earth she could hear me. I remember sitting there for quite a while and making the decision that I had to try to do it myself or else sit there for god knows how long until she came back inside, and I really wanted to play with our dog instead. I reached back and.. well, you know. I vividly recall my feeling of pride and excitement at my newfound independence.
posted by gatorae at 8:16 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a great thread! So intriguing to read how many people can remember things from their early life. Sit seems to go against the hypothesis of childhood amnesia?
For me, it seems more and more of early life is coming back to me as I age. The most fascinating thing was not about a memory, but a dream. For years and years I had the same recurring dream. I would be floating in a soft white space and there would be a particular smell. I loved that dream, and in a way I miss it. I could never figure out what it was about, until I was unable to breast-feed my youngest daughter for a while, and had to buy formula: there was the smell! The dream was of being fed as a baby, wrapped up in a white down comforter.
Other than that, I think my earliest memory is from when I was a 1 1/2. One is of going to a restaurant through the snow - my brother and cousin were in baskets, that's how I know I must have younger than two. At the restaurant, we were the only guests and the waiters were taking a lot of time to play with me, give me special treats and show me around. Much later, I asked my family about it, and they confirmed the evening had been just like that, it was my aunt's 18th birthday, and a special night for them too.
Another early memory I got slightly wrong: I remember walking with my uncle along a fence, with cows in it. We talked about the cows and the tall grass. It turned out it was my grandfather, which makes sense - obviously my grandfather was quite young then, and remembering the scene later, I must have made him into my uncle because he looked young. Again, it is a moment in time my grandfather also held dear, which I found out when I asked my grandparents if they could help me date it. It was in the summer, just before I was two.
posted by mumimor at 3:19 AM on September 6, 2014

Memory involves massive confabulation. I have seen this in children as young as 3-4, who begin confabulating event memories of ~birth or pre-birth events, based on family recollection, photographs, or fantasies to fill in the elision around discursive formations (usually aversive). I'm assuming as they age, some of these become crystallized into treasured, poignant memories.

In therapy, I speak with adults who often have very fixed memories of early life. They are isolated vignettes that have become totemic. Some of them might be real, whereas others seem frankly fantastical. But their experience of recalling the memory is what is important to them, and the totems are markers for how they construct their adult ideas of themselves. Some people will claim complete or almost-complete amnesia for any or all of childhood. Usually only with free association can you begin to move past the totemic isolates into recall of a kind of melange of emotional and semantic imagery.
posted by meehawl at 12:01 PM on September 6, 2014

I'm eternally grateful that I don't remember being potty trained.
posted by bendy at 4:00 PM on September 6, 2014 is excellent for this type of thing (mine is #93 - I was two and I tripped and knocked out a front tooth on my father's car tow ball. That was bad but the thing I remember most is walking from the dentists, feeling with my tongue the mushy bit in my gum where my tooth used to be, and with my hand reaching high above my head because I was holding my mother's hand and I was so little).

My brothers and sister have very few memories from childhood (or so they tell me) but I remember so much. I remember kindy, I remember the houses we lived in before we moved to our main house, I remember seeing my younger brother for the first time when we picked him up after he was adopted (he had red hair and he wore a yellow towelling outfit - he's three years younger than me and he was about 6 months old when he came to us), I remember learning to swim at three, I remember the first time I read a story by myself (Chicken Little) and being devastated that I couldn't read the next one (Sinbad the Sailor) from the Readers Digest book of fairy tales that my grandma gave us. So many memories.

My sons (12 and 9) really don't remember much of their early childhoods at all (or so they tell me), although my youngest says he can still remember wearing nappies.

It's endlessly fascinating but I am a fan of nostalgia so I would say that.
posted by h00py at 4:51 AM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I see the joys and suffering that my nephew experiences. Life, for him, is so amazingly wonderful. He gets to play, to eat great food, explore the world, try new things for the first time, cuddle and bathe in endless love.

But at the same time it's so challenging. He's still learning. He's testing boundaries. His parents say not to do something, like splash an adult when he's playing in the pool, but he does it anyway. I think he knows it's wrong and that he'll be reprimanded, but at the same time, I think he wants to see what will really happen. The end result is him feeling really bad and ashamed for quite a while afterwards.

The next day, week, or month, he won't remember feeling so terrible. Maybe that's what we're trying to hide as kids, because as we feel endless joy and love, we also feel the endless shame and embarrassment of life.

I can't imagine being an adult and having all the memories of my toddler years and the silly tantrums and fights I threw and the embarrassment and shame that I must have felt afterwards.
posted by fancydancing at 8:34 AM on September 7, 2014

All of my earliest memories are nightmares--there are three from before age four I still remember (or think I remember, or remember remembering). Other than that, it's a great blank until I was six, and still very spotty after that.
posted by proscriptus at 5:21 AM on September 12, 2014

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