I met a friend for lunch today. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so it was nice to catch up. We talked about the usual suspects – kids, spouses, work, our spouses’ jobs, that sort of thing. It seems like at least one of these topics will always lead one of us to getting lost in the fanciful nature of life. Today it was a story about her eldest child. I’ve known her oldest kiddo for his entire life and I have loved watching him grow up. (Fun fact: I 1st met my friend when she was 8 or 9 months pregnant with him). I used to teach in his school when he was younger so I had also had the luck of being able to take part in his day-to-day care. Those days are long gone now but I still consider myself invested and interested in his development.
Anyways, back to the story. I don’t remember how the topic came about but she was telling me how his memory still seems a little spotty. He can’t always relate events at school as they actually happened but will occasionally bring up events from months ago with amazing detail. This is a pretty common phenomenon for preschool/early elementary aged kids and it is something that always makes me smile. We started talking about how probably a lot of the things he does say he remembers are actually just stories that have just been repeatedly reinforced by adults. Really, we went on to say… isn’t that the case for all of us? How many memories are uniquely made by us and are we even able to tell the difference between those two things?
“When he gets older, what do you think he will say his earliest memory is?” I asked her
“You know what,” she said, thinking distantly “I don’t actually know. That will be interesting to see”.
We continued to talk for a bit about how far back we think we have legitimate self-made memories and what sort of stories we were told, or what documentation our families had for us to be reinforced with. We both agreed that we have little to no actual memories before the age of 4.
“You know what that means, right?”
“What?” she looked at me curiously
“That means, when he gets older… he won’t remember any of this. The little boy we have known for his entire life up to this point… will never have existed to him.”
We both stared at each other for a few minutes. Then we continued talking about that crazy thing we call a brain and just how weird it is to watch a little human develop. It’s such a pure and open look into how a mind develops. It’s almost otherworldly.
The conversation ended hours ago but I still can’t stop thinking about it. 4 years of living and being present… 4 years of knowing, learning, seeing, feeling… In 2 or 3 years the details of memories will become distant and questionable for him. Two more years after that? The memories will be nothing but background noise… if they are even anything at all. How crazy is that?
The human brain is truly an amazing thing.