When the Baby was still just a topic for discussion, I was visiting a friend who had just had a second baby. She seemed quite harrassed and overwhelmed – her toddler was going through the usual “you are trying to replace me and I will have my revenge”-phase, the baby was needy and her husband had just gone back to work. As I watched and reconsidered our own second-child-plans, she imparted a piece of advice a friend had given her that she had found helpful: when they are both crying and you have to choose who to go to first, choose the toddler. The baby will not remember this time, but he will.
When a year or so later I found myself in the same situation – attention seeking first child, crying baby, husband back at work – I often repeated this to myself to help me prioritise. Things are easier now, but I was thinking about the memory aspect of it again recently: when my son is older, he will remember parts of what happens to him now. The very happy bits and the very sad bits. My own earliest memories are from when I was about his age, and they are as follows:
1. My mother was heavily pregnant with my brother. We were standing in the doorway to my grandmother’s hospital room. She was in bed knitting a pink jumper. That was the last time I saw her, she died before my brother was born.
2. I was sitting in my cot, merrily cutting up a little book with a pair of scissors I had snuck into bed with me. My dad came into the room and got very angry.
A little sad to see that both these memories are negative. One is sad – although I wouldn’t have realised it at the time. Perhaps it was more scary, seeing my grandmother like that. The other is one where joy turns to fear and guilt, as the cool new thing you have discovered turns out to make your favourite people mad at you.
I have noticed recently that the Toddler’s memory is improving. He can recite exactly how many giraffes, peacocks, birds, rabbits etc. go in Maisie Mouse’s train in one of his favourite episodes and he talks along to his favourite books. I was prepared for that, as the endless repetition must be etching these stories into his brain. When we were in the supermarket in the Netherlands, however, he startled me by casually ace-ing a pairs game on a touch screen computer provided by the store (I know! How amazing is that!). I had demonstrated a few turns, then I said to him: so where is the other umbrella/tree/house? He gave me a bit of a “what is wrong with you?”-look, like I was obviously a bit thick for needing to ask, and touched the right card every time.
For Christmas, the Toddler got quite a few puzzles, his favourite being a Maise Mouse floor puzzle with 24 pieces. He had some help the first time, but from his second attempt he has been doing the puzzle all by himself, with increasing speed. At first I thought it must be excellent spatial awareness. This might be the case, but it was something else as well. I listen to him chat to himself while doing the puzzle. He puts the two halves of Pirate Maisie together and then mutters: “mumber three… Ah, anotis [there it is]!” and connects it up to the piece with the number 3 on it. Then: “Treasure….” The treasure chest is joined up. “Flower…” And so it continues. And I realise he has learned the puzzle by heart and is reconstructing it from memory.
Most touching is his new memory of recent past events. It was snowing yesterday, and the Toddler had spent a happy half hour outside with Daddy and Mummy throwing snowballs and making snowcastle with his bucket and spade. That evening at bedtime Daddy gave him a bath, then said goodnight and I took over for the bedtime story. He shouted one last goodnight to Daddy, then turned to me and said: “Papa! Sneeuw! Mummy! Throw it. Haha. S happy.”
I really hope these are the memories that last into adulthood, and not the fear or the sadness: Daddy, Mummy, snow and happiness.