You’re not going to understand this now, but someday, when you’re a parent you will get to the know the mixed feelings that come with raising a child. See, being your mom for these first nine years has been the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m happiest when you and me and dad are together and we’re having one of our family adventures or cuddled up in our nest. And yet I know that all of this is meant to be temporary and that you will not remember most of it. By design my job is to raise you toward independence when all I want to do is freeze time and keep things just the way they are forever.
In a few days you will turn nine. I already see the footprints of independence that will eventually lead you out the front door to a life of your own. These early childhood years have been some of the happiest of my life. We have had countless magical memories every single day and they are etched in my memory for as long as it will serve me. The dance parties in the kitchen. The reading time. The Magic Cloud bedtime stories. The Saturday Disney movie marathons. The family adventures. The sweet, loving words and notes. The quiet talks. The hugs – of which there must be a million by now because you’re so good to make sure I get my 12 hugs a day plus oodles more.
With all of this in my head, I’m haunted with the thought, “Will you remember any of this when you are my age?” These moments are all so special and have cumulatively shaped you to be who you are. But chances are you will not remember them all when you’re a grown man. My wish is that you will remember that I have been here every day, loving you and raising you the best I know how. As you turn nine, I am so immensely proud of the young man you are becoming. My life has been so incredibly blessed by your sweet spirit and joyful heart. I’ll be your memory and your mommy forever.
The bittersweet irony of a child turning nine is that this is when science says their brains have hit the beginning of their ability to form adult, permanent memories. Up until now, neurologically speaking, they have not had all the tools to form lasting memories. They lack the necessary neural processes that are required to bring together all the pieces of information that go into complex autobiographical memories, such as an understanding of dates and time, locations and relationships. This is also why most kids can’t answer the question, “What did you do in school today?” It’s all the same to them; they don’t know what to compare it to; they don’t share our adult interpretation of life.
Each year until about nine or ten, older memories are replaced by new ones. Researchers have followed children in phases asking the same questions. The earlier memories fade as new ones replace them. Since there’s not yet a structure to hold them, they experience what’s called childhood amnesia, or the loss of memories. They did find, however, that the more detail that is carried forward in conversation with parents, the richer the lasting memories will be.
So this past month, I’ve challenged myself to retrieve my own memories from 3rd grade, 2nd grade and earlier. They are vague memories. I can picture my mom in certain scenes from my childhood. I have a feeling about her. But I don’t have the small memories. The moments. The precious moments of just her and I together. Did we sing songs? Did we read books? I’m sure we did, but I cannot see them in my mind’s eye. She is a conglomeration of my childhood. She was always there. Always a part of everything. But I didn’t have the awareness or ability to know that it was temporary, that we were creating memories I’d someday like to have back.
No matter how hard I try, the memories come mostly in large packages and not the small ones that hold the individual moments. There are a few that are supported by family photos and the stories we tell at every holiday. But there are not many and that makes me so sad that I have tears as I write this. I desperately want my son to remember all the special moments that have warmed my heart every day of these nine years.
Sadly our brains don’t remember this way. It feels so cruel because the innocent days of childhood are the most precious, heartwarming and happy times for most families. I think about the small fortune we’ve left inside the parks at Disney World during these years and am glad we took a lot of pictures.
Another twist to this irony is that while they won’t remember much, the things that happen before eight or nine make them who they are.
By age nine, their character has mostly been shaped.
The years zero to three are most critical for developing emotional bonds and security.
The years zero to five are critical years for establishing the foundation for learning throughout school and beyond.
This is also the time that little kids transition to big kids.
Between eight and ten, kids transition in school. They need to start exercising their growing brains to learn and remember new knowledge. They are no longer learning to read, they are reading to learn and this is a HUGE development time for kids. This expanding neurological capacity also gives them awareness that they are individuals with their own path. Their budding independence can cause some fence walking as children yearn to hold on to their childhood while at the same time face their unique future with courage. I don’t think I’m ready to say goodbye to the sweet little boy years, but it’s going to happen anyway.
So as parents we invest in our kids from the day they are born. Creating special moments, teaching lessons, developing personalities, sharing love, supporting the development of brains and bodies, exposing them to art and nature and doing our best to grow them. We know that what we do during these early years will greatly determine who they are in life. Yet they won’t remember all we did to get them here.
I’m so glad I am a writer and an avid picture taker. I can create artificial memories for him by writing letters or keeping a journal or creating photo albums. These are all things I intended to do when he was born but haven’t done yet. Seems there’s never time to stop being his mom in the now to preserve the memories for later on in an organized way. He’s turning nine and I am feeling so much grief over the passage of this time that I have a new-found determination to share these precious years with his someday adult self. Because they have been so wonderful. And I haven’t been able to freeze the forward momentum of time.
GoodLiving Magazine is printed six times a year for families in Pinellas County, Florida, home to municipalities including Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Largo and St. Petersburg. The densest county in Florida, population is near 1 Million people. Past issues are available for viewing digitally on the website.
As an advocate for children and families, Pamela Settle serves as the local committee chairperson for The Children’s Movement of Florida, a non-partisan advocacy organization that works on behalf of the well being of children throughout the State of Florida.