Last week, after I emotionally scarred Sprog 1 by forgetting her form for an art excursion, a school mum reassured me: “Don’t worry, their brains reset at eight. She won’t remember a thing.”
I’ve done a little research and the school mum was pretty close to the money – last year, a Canadian research team released a study on children’s earliest memories. The team initially interviewed 140 children in 2005, then asked them the same questions again two years later. They found that only five out of the 50 youngest children, whose ages ranged from 4 to 7 when first interviewed, could recall their earlier first memories, even when reminded of their previous answers by the interviewers.
“The memories were just gone,” study lead author Carole Peterson, a professor of psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, said.
“Overall, 39% of the memories provided by 4- to 5-year-olds had vanished, as had 24% of the memories of 6- to 7- year-olds. But children older than 10 remembered nearly everything. By 10, their early memories are crystallized. Those are the memories they keep.”
And it got me thinking about the childhood memories I’ve kept.
My earliest recollection is my grandparents driving me to the hospital to see my sister after she was born. There was broken glass (a car accident on the way, apparently) … my mother was sitting in a hospital bed and gave me her orange juice … it had “bits” in it and was yuk (still can’t bear “bits” in my juice) … there was a dim waiting room with a brown brick wall …
I was two.
Columbia University professor Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist who studies how memories are stored, reckons memories might not be retained until key parts of the brain – the hippocampus and medial temporal lobe – reach maturity at about five to six years of age.
The result is something called “infantile amnesia”. Infantile amnesia means most early memories are created from family stories or photos.
But I can’t think a brown brick wall would have featured in my mother’s recollections and there aren’t any photos of one.
So I’m pretty sure it’s a genuine recollection.
Still, I’ve got nothing on a blogger called KC Petersen who once told her friends: ”.. and it is the absolute truth, that I could remember being a baby. I can remember being held horizontally, all wrapped up, I remember my grandmother’s lace curtains making me sneeze. I remember getting my diapers changed. I remember gnawing on zwieback when I was teething and how my gums felt. I remember breastfeeding. I remember the feel of soggy cloth diapers, being in a crib, crying on my dad’s shoulder and the feel of his whiskers.”
There are some clever types who reckon they can remember being in the womb. Not sure where I stand on that. Tempted to scoff …
Aside from my sister being born, I don’t remember much prior to school age. Other than getting sick in pre-school and climbing a ladder onto an old industrial electrical cable reel that had been re-purposed as play equipment – ah, those heady days before indemnity insurance – searching for peace. But a persistant little girl called Megz climbed up after me. We’re still friends today. I wonder if she remembers?
Oh, and my brain retains snapshots from infants school – learning to sing ‘Frere Jacques’, poking around in drains for coins to buy 6-cent packets of Chickadees from the canteen, being mortified about not pronouncing “choir” correctly during a reading test with the principal (couldn’t understand why it wasn’t choy-er), sitting on painted circles drinking warm milk out of glass bottles for morning tea, hiding my bananas behind the sink in the classroom because someone called me a monkey, sliding down a pole and injuring myself in an intimate area with a sharp bolt, blood on my undies, terror about the damage I might have caused down there, never telling a soul until now …
When I look at the Sprogs, it makes me a bit sad to think of all their memories being lost. Well, not the ones involving injuries or trauma. Totally happy for Sprog 1 to completely forget splitting her head open, shutting her finger in the car door, being cruelly dumped by her best friend etc.
But all those happy memories … our 10 months in New York, for example, are completely wiped for Sprog 2. She doesn’t remember a thing. She seemed so conscious and present at the time. Yes, yes, I’m sure it all contributed to the well-rounded person she is today. But it’s still a pity.
How about you? What’s your first memory?
PS I’ve been blogging about chook dinners at Village Voices. Last week I challenged myself to turn a 1.8kg chook into three dinners. When I told my fellow school mums, they said it wasn’t possible to feed a family of four over three nights with just one chicken. And, granted, I had a few dumplings, noodles and sheets of pastry to help … but I still reckon that chook went a loooooong way. Below is a pic of the chicken tamale pie:
To see all the three recipes go to …