What We Remember

What is your earliest memory?

I know mine.

It was in the house we lived in until the summer I turned three, so I must have been an older two year old.  I stood with my parents in our orange-carpeted (!) living room as they introduced me to a new babysitter, before they headed out for the evening. 

I remember feeling bashful around this stranger, and I remember my strong preference for my mother.  I stood at her side, my face smashed firmly into the side of her leg.  She felt warm and safe, and I can still smell her perfume. 

Fast forward a few years, and I find that most of my growing-up memories were happy ones.  Things weren’t perfect, and my parents would be the first to say that.  But my family was a happy and peaceful one, with lots of laughter and deep conversations.  My mother will occasionally remind me of a time in which she thinks she should’ve been more patient, or less stressed, or more involved, or less involved, etc. etc.  I rarely remember it.  The good memories seem to have mostly erased the bad ones, if they ever even existed in the first place.

I think about that sometimes, where I stand now, in the trenches of motherhood.  Decisions and issues and crummy attitudes and permission slips and book reports fly at me at a dizzying speed.  And in the day-to-day settling of all these affairs, I wonder, did I discipline her firmly enough on that one?  Does he understand those consquences?  Does he get it that I’m still on his team?  Was I unkind?  Was I accessible?  Did I listen?

What is it, I wonder, that they’ll take from this moment, right now, this very day?  Standing right here, right now, spinning all these plates, am I being the mother that I hope they remember?

The question plagues me, sometimes. 

Because this parenting gig is hard.  Very, very hard.  Many nights I fall into bed with a list of things I mean to show them or meant to explain or meant to apologize for, and my heart is heavy.  I wonder if the frazzled, impatient mom is the one they’ll recall the most easily.

But then some evenings we collapse in a snorting fit of laughter at the dinner table, and I think yes, God, let this be the one they remember from today.

It’s not that I’m out to win a popularity contest in their minds.  Who my children become is of utmost important, and I’m fully prepared to be the Bad Guy occasionally, as it will surely be a necessary part of their journey.  But I want to be mindful, as we wade through the necessities of everyday-ness, that I’m not just getting them from point A to point B.  I’m building a framework of memories, things they’ll turn over and ponder and re-hash when they’re grown.  When Frazzled Mom appears–as she surely will–let me be sure that I’m balancing her out with memories of good jokes and good books and gentle pats and deep talks and easy laughter. 

Let me never forget the destination.  It isn’t soccer practice or a cleaned plate or a folded basket of underwear.  Those are tiny little stops along the way, and they’re stops that often create a sense of urgency, blinding me from the big picture. 

They’ll never remember the folded underwear.  But if I listen?  And laugh?  And encourage?  And smile?  And understand?

They’ll remember that.  And so will I.

81 thoughts on “What We Remember

  1. Molly says:

    Oh they MIGHT remember the folded underwear, especially if you IRON IT…like ma mama did…ok but we laugh about it πŸ˜‰
    Great post, thanks for writing it.

  2. Melissa says:

    Earliest memory? I think mine would be pretty soon after I turned three. I remember being so excited to help my mom pick up things from the floor, because she was so pregnant with my little sister that she couldn’t bend down.

  3. brandy says:

    The Big Picture is a daily struggle for me. I tend to beat myself up over the condition of the house and worry over completing a certain list of homemakerish duties every day. I am working on it, and I am doing better. The children are the absolute most important thing and one day they won’t be here asking me to draw with them or hold them. I know I may not write that book of poetry or have a magazine-worthy house but my children will hopefully grow up knowing how important they are to me. THEY ARE MY LIFE’S WORK. I am learning, and trying. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one!

  4. chickadee says:

    oh yes, i so know where you’re coming from here. let them remember me happy instead of frowning. me quietly reading to them instead of yelling, “Clean you room!”

  5. MamaHenClucks says:

    My earliest memory is of my mom grabbing me from a nap and running across the street to my great-grandmother’s house with me on her hip and my sister by the wrist. I would have been barely three. There was a tornado coming and our house didn’t have a basement.
    All that you’ve said? Those are the same thoughts that I have daily. You have summed up what I hope for my children, word for word.

  6. Kate Wicker says:

    Great post.
    One of my first memories is a daddy-daughter date I had on a boat. I still remember peering into the red and white Coleman cooler after my dad told me to pull out my sandwich and discovering a doll I’d been pining over. It wasn’t so much the surprise gift that made the day so special but the one-on-one time with my dad who had to travel a lot for work when I was little.
    As for my own kids’ memories, I worry that they’ll see me as trying to do too much and consequently as the frazzled, impatient mom. Even though I firmly believe my vocation is to be a wife and mom, a nasty thing called pride sometimes robs me of my inner peace and forces me to feel like I have to be more than “just” a mom.
    However, I’ve found that my stress levels begin to rise and (so do my kids’) if I try to do too much instead of focusing on the “now.” I’m not suggesting my kids can’t ever play by themselves or that I have to be on call 24/7 (although as a mom to little ones, this IS often the case). But I can’t always be saying, “In a minute,” or “Not now.”
    It’s been humbling, but I’m realizing I can’t do it all. I’m not Super Woman. I only have finite amount of energy. I can’t change the laws of physics and create more hours in my day. And my priority right now is my children – not having a perfectly tidy house, not freelance writing work, not my blog, not being an extraordinary humanitarian. If I have extra time, fine. Then write, volunteer, or clean away. But when it’s playtime, I’ve learned to let it be playtime. I try not to give my preschooler’s little plastic animals funny voices while emailing, meal planning and/or sorting laundry.
    I’ve decided to hang up my Super Woman cape once and for all and for the time being to just concentrate on being a super mom. I try to soak up the memories of these precious years and play with my kids. I stare at my toddler’s round, moving cheeks as she nurses. I watch my girls sleep. I coat my kids with kisses and smother them with hugs. And I remind myself that this is the stuff that happy memories are made of and remind myself that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at that moment.
    Whew. Sorry about that. I’m also a preggo and must have some sap-inducing hormones coursing through my bod!

  7. Rachel says:

    I sent the link to this post to my mom and dad with a note that read:
    Thanks for all the times you listened and laughed and encouraged and smiled and understood. Thanks for giving me something that grows rarer all the time:
    A happy childhood.
    Thanks for helping me honor my parents.

  8. Jen says:

    I have had these same hopes on my mind lately. Hopes that they would forget the bad, remember the good. Funny thing is, I do remember my mom folding laundry, haha! She used to do it while watching Phil Donahue. She also taught me to do it, which I appreciated in the moment and detested in years to come. But I always think of her when I am folding my own families. πŸ™‚

  9. We are THAT family says:

    So true!
    Just tonight my hubby asked if I’d pick up some cheap little wooden Christmas ornaments for our 3 kids to paint (!)
    I said, “But it will be messy and unflattering for my tree”
    “Exactly,” He said, “I was just thinking about a great memory from my childhood where we sat around and painted those ugly little ornaments. It’s one of my best memories. I don’t remember a lot, but I remember being together and being proud of that messy ornament on our tree.”
    Guess I’ll be visiting the store tomorrow.

  10. Ashley Griffin says:

    Great! Now I have tears in my eyes and a husband that is looking at me with that “whasamatterwithyou?” look on his face! You just described the struggle that I am sure I am not the only one deals with everyday. Thanks for posting this…

  11. Laurin says:

    I needed to read this tonight, especially since I feel this will be one more night where I worry if I’m being too strict or not strict enough and whether my kids’ strongest memories will be of the times I was less than nurturing or the times they had to beg me to stop kissing on them.
    And my earliest memory was at age one. It’s true. I vividly remember being dropped off at my grandmother’s because my mom had sliced her hand with a potato peeler. I remember everything about that event. Hard to believe I was only one.

  12. Kristin says:

    My earliest memory is at 6 months old. I was in the hospital a lot those days and this particular memory my mother brought a very small stuffed bear dressed in pajamas with a hat. End of memory. It is just a snippet. I was sure it must have been a photograph because I remember it so clearly but we have never found a photo, but my mother remembers the bear.
    I don’t remember a lot of my childhood, but I do remember laughing. There was lots of laughing – and me trying to sell rocks at the side of the road – a little entrepreneur!

  13. Stacey says:

    I also “needed” this post—
    I even added it to my current post in a link!
    Earliest memory — sitting on the side porch with my brother eating rock salt and turning the handle on the ice cream machine…
    Funny thing is I don’t know what flavor or even where the machine went to !

  14. MILISSA WAGNER says:

    Oh this post gave me the warm & fuzzies. I had a really great childhood…and obviously, as an adult, my parents and I have a different relationship. I do not have children, but I find it interesting when my mom talks to me about the things she “regrets” or wishes she had done differently. (She often says, “I know I did it this way when you kids were young, but when I have grandchildren, I’m going to do it the other way.” Like letting me wear dresses. She was always afraid I would ruin them and my parents didn’t have a lot of money…so the thought of having the replace the good clothes was stressful. Then I outgrew them so I didn’t get to wear them much anyways. She talks about how disappointed I was when she would tell me to put on “play” clothes. Funny. I don’t remember that at all. And then I tell her, I wish I was nicer to her when she came to visit me at my “new” job at Burger King. I was still learning the register and I was embarrassed b/c I didn’t really know what I was doing…when she brought my brother to BK for fries and a milkshake, I didn’t really talk to them. She didn’t remember it that way. She just thought I was trying to be responsible and not goof off while at work. So funny how everyone perceives things differently. (And just like a mom, to totally give her kid the benefit of the doubt.:) I’m sure your kids will have a lot of happy memories…and those are the things they’ll remember most. Because our memories do play tricks on us…and if was mostly good, we do erase the bad. That’s why they say, things were never as good (or as bad) as we remember. But for the good memories, I’d like to believe they are.

  15. Andi says:

    Great post. So often I look at my life & think that I’m not focusing on what’s important. That I get stressed when our tiny house is a mess, but there’s never enough time to sit & do what I really want to do. So, I’ve been making myself stop & listen & sit on the floor with my son, laughing, playing trains, making a mess & then not cleaning it up…

  16. April says:

    My first memory is not a happy one. I am constantly wondering what my children’s first memory will be. I never thought about praying for it. Excelent post. Thank you!

  17. Kirsty says:

    I so relate to this beautiful post. In fact I wrote one that was almost identical in theme as one of my very first blog posts.
    I often wonder which memories are the ones that are going to “stick”. Like you, my first memory is pretty random, and the rest of them are rarely tied to a big “memory making” event. I too pray each day that the memory fairies will adjust things so that they remember the fun,loving, listening mom and not the cranky stressed hair on end one in her bathrobe barking orders as pancakes and sandwiches fly around her each morning. Please let those ones go through the sieve! At the same time, maybe they should keep just a few of those. They may be a comfort to them when they are parents one day.

  18. pam says:

    Thanks SO much! I so needed to read this before turning in to go to bed tonight and feeling like the mom I wish they’d forget. Wise words, and I pray I’ll be wise and heed them. Thanks again, Shannon.

  19. Erica says:

    Thanks! I needed that. I have those same worries, especially right now as we’re going through a pretty busy and crazy time in our household.
    My first memory is when I was two. There are actually a lot of them from when I was two (my husband thinks that’s strange since his first memory is from when he was like five; I think he’s the freakish one). I wanted to pick my nose, but I knew my parents didn’t want me to, so I hid behind our orange (!) chair to pick it, like they wouldn’t notice. πŸ™‚

  20. Heather says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I often think the same things. I fall into bed at night and think, “Oh, man, I blew it THAT time, and I should have handled THIS a little differently. Tomorrow I will….” I’ve been working at really listening, getting on their level, and being the mom I want them to remember.

  21. Cascia says:

    That was beautifully written. I agree with you and often feel the same way you do. Being a parent is hard work. I wonder sometimes if I am doing a good enough job at creating good memories for my children. That is the most important part of being a parent. All the time you spend with your children is precious and should be good times. Two of my kids are still little and I often ask myself this, am I playing with them enough? Did I give them enough kisses? Sometimes we have days where I am just totally exhausted and at the end of the day I feel guilty because I didn’t play with my kids enough. I also have an older child so I understand the whole homework thing. I try my best to spend time with her too and help her with her homework. But again the guilt returns when she brings an assignment home from school and the grade is less than what I expect. But recently I helped her with a book report and she got an A+. When things like that happen I know I am doing my job right. Great post. I love reading your blog.

  22. Alisha says:

    My earliest memory is when I was 2 or 3 spinning in circles at the top of the staircase yelling, “I’m in a tomato! I’m in a tomato!” Yes, I thought tomato and tornado were the same word.

  23. Dear Daddy says:

    “When Frazzled Mom appears–as she surely will–let me be sure that I’m balancing her out with memories of good jokes and good books and gentle pats and deep talks and easy laughter.”
    That statement hit me right where I needed to be hit. I have been struggling with being super mom…cringing when I fail (often) and focusing on that with a heavy heart instead of giving myself permission to fail when I do – and just do my best at that moment. I need that balance and that will be the new prayer of my heart. Thank you!

  24. Heather says:

    You are doing a great job. Terrific, wonderful, complete. Really. If you never made mistakes they would feel inadequate in comparison. If you did everything right they wouldn’t feel their need for Jesus until the world beat them down. The most important thing you can do as a parent is to show your kids how to be human in a broken world and still find Christ in the chaos.

  25. Queen B says:

    Great thoughts. I was just thinking about those same things. My daughter’s childhood memories are being created. What kind of role will I play in those memories? It is a very sobering thought. Will she remember happy times of laughter and joy or will she remember that Mommy always seemed on edge… I appreciate your words!

  26. Amy in West TX says:

    My earliest memory is before I turned 3. I remember playing “Hands” with my great-grandmother at my grandmother’s house. My GG was sitting on the sofa (I can still picture the sofa) and I was standing next to her, facing the stairway. I can see my little hand on top of her hand. It brings tears to my eyes. She died a few days after I turned 3 and had been ill for a month before. I remember my father taking me to the hospital to see her, carrying me down the hallway. I remember sitting on her bed and playing “Hands” again, but this time her hands looked different, old. The Sisters made an exception by letting a child visit, but they knew GG wasn’t going to live (she died from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix). My next memory is of my mother going to the same hospital where GG didn’t come home just a month after GG died. I was terrified that my mother wasn’t coming home. Some friends of my parents took me to the park in front of the hospital, to wait for my parents to come out and my Mom brought me a new baby sister. Lots of memories around that old hospital! I took a nostalgia tour this summer, visited that town, showed my 16 yo where my grandparents lived, told her about my memories, took her to the wading pool across from my grandparents house, to the park in front of the hospital. It was wonderful to remember. I hope my daughter learned from my memories and knows that I had a happy childhood and have tried to do the same for her and her siblings. I’m not the perfect parent, just told my 19 year old that on the phone last night, but that I have tried to do my best for each of my kids. I still try daily.

  27. Kit says:

    Thank you Shannon. You brought tears to my eyes. I wish I could meet you in real life. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I would write more but little ones are about to wake up and we are taking care of 3 extra so there will be 7 hungry kids here momentarily.
    God is good

  28. Fatima says:

    With 3 kiddos under the age of 5 and one very much on the way, I needed to hear this today. Between the demands of pregnancy and an 18 month old who LOVES to climb as high as she can, I am not making cookies and playing on the floor nearly so often these days. As Grandma used to say, “this too shall pass away.” Better catch up all the good in your memory and do your best to survive and learn from the tough parts. Thanks for helping to keep my life in perspective.

  29. rrmama says:

    Oh my gosh, I really needed to hear that this morning. I am completely feeling the exact same way. Just this morning my oldest asked if I would stop and slow down just a bit in the morning and not yell at him to get dressed we are late! Thank you, thank you thank you. I am glad to know I am not the only mom out there in the trenches of life feeling as if sometimes I am failing and other times I feeling like I am supermom!

  30. Candace (Mama Mia) says:

    I really needed this post! I had a bad day with my kids yesterday (3 kids ages 5 and under). Thankfully today is a new day and a chance for me to be the mom my kids need for me to be.

  31. wanda says:

    Such a sweet reminder to stop and smell the roses (of parenting). Lately, I have been at war with my middle teenager (she’s like her daddy, stubborn) and every word or action between us seems to be vicious! I told her on Sunday night…how much I loved her and didn’t want to fuss with her.
    She gave me a little reminder just by her face that I need to slow down and just love her….listen to her…..not try to understand her…but be her biggest supporter.
    Thanks for spilling your own view on this mama gig! I needed it.

  32. Annie says:

    And God will remember it too. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” You’re doing your job quite well. Thank you for the reminder that I am, too.

  33. dallimomma says:

    I couldn’t agree with your post more. I just last week had a conversation with my 25 year-old son about this very thing. I told him that I was finally learning to love and accept my children exactly where they are and for who they are and not for who I wish/expect them to become some day. I felt pretty conviceted about just now figuring that out and apologized to him for my shortcomings in the growing-up years. He listened and then gave this response: “Mom, if you want my forgiveness, I can’t give it to you. I never, ever felt that you could have loved me any more than you already did. I never felt that I came up short with you. You did the best you could and it was good enough. If you made some mistakes, that’s okay because if you hadn’t have made those ones, you would have made some others. And now that I’m grown, I never doubt your love for me, even when we disagree or don’t understand each other.” What a gift he has given me. And what a gift He has given me.

  34. Meli says:

    This is such a great post.
    Thanks so much for writing it. Sometimes I get so busy running around doing the everyday things, I forget to enjoy my son. Thank you for the reminder.

  35. Sandi says:

    I can very much relate. Right now, in the middle of toddlerhood (with three boys ages 4 and under), I often feel overwhelmed and “on edge”. I worry about the times I raise my voice or get angry…I want my children to remember the good times — I want them to remember me as a loving, caring, nurturing mother — not a grumpy one who too often looked out for herself. God, give me a loving and gracious heart and help me to selflessly serve my children!

  36. BlapherMJ says:

    I can totally relate…. With 2 teenagers and a pre-teen, some days it’s tough to remember “not to sweat the small stuff”. By the same token though, time with my children is passing quickly and soon they will be grown and on their own. I try to make it a point to treasure the good times every day!

  37. lynn says:

    This was a great post. It reminded of some wise advice my sister received. After the birth of her first child she felt so inadequate and wondered how she could keep from messing up this perfect little creature. A wise friend told her – you are humna being trying to raise another human being. “Love your children (true, real, love that challenges, encourages, nurtures, guides, TEACHES). You will mess up in big ways and small ways but if you love them enough the mistakes won’t matter.”



  39. Kris @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers says:

    My earliest memory is riding on the back of my dad’s bicycle in one of those baby seats. I’m told I was about two. Dad’s tire was going flat, so we stopped at a gas station (I still remember which one and what it looked like) where Dad asked the attendant to “blow the tire up.”
    The guy blew it up alright. It exploded! My mom had to come get us in this yellow car she used to drive. I think that’s the only memory that I have of my parents married, since they were divorced and remarried by the time I was three.
    I wrote a post on my blog a couple of months ago about making memories. Often, it’s the strangest things that kids remember…and very often, the most special memories aren’t the things that parents go out of their way to do. It’s often just the day to day moments that seem rather insignificant at the time, which make the best memories.

  40. Katrina @ Callapidder Days says:

    This is such a great post, Shannon. Parenting IS hard. And I, too, am so often plagued by the questions of ‘Am I doing this right? Or even remotely close to right?’ I’m thankful that kids are resilient, God is faithful, and every day is a new chance to try again.

  41. Dawn says:

    I remember with each of my kids so far sometime around the time they’re 2 or 3, I get this overwhelming sense of responsibility because I know they could REMEMBER this. If mom dissolves in a fit of tears occasionally when they’re babies, it seems okay somehow…I know they won’t remember. But once they reach that age where I know they could remember things, I suddenly feel so aware of that. Not that it’s kept me from ever doing something I regret (I wish), but I do consciously try to make more good memories than bad.

  42. susieshomemade says:

    That is a great post!! Very thought provoking.
    I remember my mom being sick my whole life. I was always taking care of her. I had a job when I was born and now, I am doing it. I am her caregiver.
    I don’t want my girls to have any job but being who they are. That’s what I want for them to take from their childhood.

  43. sandy says:

    Oh great post Shannon, esp. to young mothers – well, all mothers! I think we gain perspective as we get more experienced. We sat at our table last night and actually drew a diagram for the kids – to explain what we were talking about. It’s a journey that I know for me is to pray that my kids will know and see God through us (even thru the yelling – PUT YOUR CLOTHES AWAY!)sigh …
    Thanks for sharing. Very touching.

  44. Sarah the secret blower says:

    very well said…
    I have so many memories from my childhood, some painful, some joyful, some solemn, some embarassing…one of those random things we still laugh about, was when my dad, a single father, back when there were none, tried to cook us meatballs, only they came out as speecy (I think it is a word we made up that describes them perfectly), spicey meatballs…that gets us cackling and him smiling everytime…never fails…and yet it was so simple…

  45. Amy @ MomsToolbox says:

    I think about that so often myself. What will they remember? And how can I make up for the icky, grumpy, irritated days? My parents must have had good and bad days and moments. But, thankfully, it’s the good stuff I remember the most. I hope I am passing that along to my children as thay did to me.

  46. Heather in SE Wisconsin says:

    Wow- earliest memory… I never really thought about it- but I am glad you asked.
    I will mull that over. I know of quite a few in the house we lived in until I was 4. So I wonder which one came first?
    Thanks for giving me the idea to write them all down.

  47. Maggie says:

    beautiful post.
    I struggle with this every minute of every day. Where is the balance in being Wife, Mom, Homeschooler, Housekeeper, Chef, and all the other “titles” that come with the job of motherhood? Thanks for reminding me of the “destination” and the importance of THAT goal, not whether the laundry has been folded or the dishes put away….

  48. SheilaG says:

    My earliest memories were not happy ones. My father walked out on us, and the first thing I remember is lying on a cot on the daycare, as a teacher rubbed my back to help me fall asleep. She was a wonderful woman, but I just wanted my mother.
    I have other memories of the day care, too. I also have ones of colouring with my mother, and of how much she loved me.
    But the wonderful thing is watching my kids and knowing that their memories are very different. They have a healthy, loving family. They have each other. And it’s so wonderful getting to live a different childhood through their eyes!
    Visit To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!

  49. Gego says:

    Oh, Sweetie,
    The hardest part of parenting is letting the fledglings fly, trusting what you have done and prayed for, and appreciating the “baby-steps” they take as adults.
    The fledglings will leave the nest, find a mate, and begin to raise fledglings of their own.
    Enjoy the trials and tribulations now, the best is yet to come.
    Love you and yours, Gego

  50. Rena Gunther says:

    You’re speaking heart, Sister.
    I’m sitting here with a huge gulp in my throat thinking the very thoughts that you and so many of us moms often think.
    “Why wasn’t I more patient? She didn’t feel good today, I should’ve slowed down more. Am I overlooking my middle daughter who is so dependable that I often lean on that? Is my oldest in basic fairing well? Did I prepare her enough?”
    And then I fall on His grace and mercy once again. And I thank God for women like you for sharing your heart and reminding us that we’re not alone.
    Many thanks,
    Rena Gunther

  51. Stretch Mark Mama says:

    I’m just waiting for the day when all three (four) of my kids sit around the table and poke fun at my mistakes. And them I’m waiting for the day when they hate me and my Smothering skills. And then? I’m waiting until they have a few kids of their own and look at me with eyes full of grace — the very way *I* now look at my folks.

  52. Brandi says:

    I think these very same things A LOT!!!! I often recall the verse, “Love covers a multitude of sins…”
    I pray that my deep love for my 3 precious kids far outweighs my frazzled moments!!! And let me tell you, there are probably more of those for me since I am my kids’ teacher, too. May God have mercy on them. πŸ™‚
    Great post! Oh, and I do have a 2 year old memory, but I won’t bore everyone to tears.

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