There is something magical about a first memory.
Think about it: there is a whole period of your early life when you’re so absorbed in each little thing life puts in your line of sight that singling out specific images to hold in your memory is almost too much. Everything is new to a small child, and this explains the oft-mentioned inclination of babies to love the boxes their birthday gifts come in more than the toys themselves. They don’t know any better, and really, who’s to say that the box isn’t better? When I was a toddler, my parents took me to Disneyworld, but I can’t remember it any more than I remember going to the fabric store ten minutes from our house with my mom. What I do remember is having a happy childhood full of love and security, and those recollections would exist even without Mickey Mouse.
Research shows that children under the age of two lack the ability to store memories, and what episodic memories they do manage to retain from the age of two to four start to fade by the time they’re seven. It’s called childhood amnesia, and I’d conjecture that it’s one of the reasons why parents frantically record each precious step their children take. They need some memento from those priceless early years, and their own brains certainly aren’t going to provide it. I often find myself looking at C through the viewfinder of my camera because I want to remember for her. I want to hoard her every move so that someday she can look back on the scraps I pulled together and have a more complete history of her life.
Eventually, though, children’s brains develop and they form memories outside of the ones that are plastered in their baby books (or blogs). As they begin to develop self-awareness, they also become aware of the events and images that shape their lives.
And that’s why I think first memories are kind of magical. They are relics from our earliest personal histories. They are cave paintings and the development of our native tongue.
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