Thoughtful Thursday: Memory

February 4, 2010

Thoughtful ThursdayWelcome to Februrary’s Intelligentsia. It’s the shortest month, but thanks to the weather it often feels like the longest. Let’s honor the people who commented on every Thoughtful Thursday post for the month of January.

Lucky (and consecutive) appearance #13: Wiseguy from Woman Anyone?
#9: Photogrl from Not the Path I Chose
#9: Kristen from Dragondreamer’s Lair
#8: Jill from All Aboard the Pity Boat
#7: Lost In Translation from We Say IVF, They Say FIV
#5: Cat
#4: Elana from Elana’s Musings
#4: Mel, a.k.a. Lollipop Goldstein, from Stirrup Queens
#3: A from Are You Kidding Me?
#3: Lori, a.k.a. Lavender Luz, from Weebles Wobblog
#2: Ana

A special welcome to the newest Intelligentsia member, Coffeegrl from Okaasan mommy and more.

Thoughtful ThursdayLast week we talked about the mementos that people save. Presumably, the purpose of mementos is to provide a tangible reminder of the past. We use the objects to remind ourselves of what we’ve experienced, and we also offer proof and continuity to those who are not privy to or aware of the experience. Future generations will not have seen your grandmother wearing that ring; your someday-husband hadn’t entered your life when you wrote that diary entry about who you hoped he’d be; and, most relevant to the events that spurred last week’s Thoughtful Thursday, babies will not remember the clothes they wore.

If there will be no memory of an experience, is it still worth experiencing?

Recently when we introduced Burrito and Tamale to their great-grandmother, they also met her friend from the nursing home. Sarah is lively, sweet, and well into her 90s. She herself is a twin, though her twin brother died decades ago. When she saw Burrito and Tamale, she said, “Twins?!? Adorable! I was a twin.” I asked about her brother’s name and their relationship. “Arnold followed me everywhere.” Throughout the hours we spent with her, she’d say things like, “Burrito is so cute,” or, “Twins are really fun.” I was glad that we could brighten her day.

The next day, we came back to see DH’s grandmother again, and Sarah was there. “Twins?!? Adorable! I was a twin. Arnold followed me everywhere.” It turns out that Sarah’s memory is “not so good,” as DH’s grandmother put it. The experience of hearing her repeat the same things, verbatim, was surreal.

Was it worthwhile for her to have the experience of meeting the babies, even though she won’t remember it? For someone with dementia, I say that today is all they have, so it might as well be as enjoyable as possible.

At the other end of the memory spectrum: We’ve taken one trip with Burrito and Tamale via airplane, and one trip so far via car. Air travel with twin infants is quite a hassle, less because of the babies and more because of all the stuff they require. As they get older — less sleepy, more mobile, and more demanding — they themselves may become the more difficult aspect of travel.

Nonetheless, when the possibility of taking a European work trip later this year arose, I was eager to bring them along. DH disagrees. He says that they don’t care about being in an exotic city and won’t remember it, so why should we go through so much hassle. He prefers that he and I go ourselves, and leave Burrito and Tamale with his dad and stepmom. I would be fine with them taking care of the twins, but I am not fine with the basic idea of going off to Europe and leaving them out of the experience. Even though they won’t remember it, we will have photos, and I will have memories of bringing them to tell them later. It will also get us out of the rut that most parents (and non-parents!) experience of never going anywhere. DH maintains that we won’t be able to make many memories since the babies will cramp our sightseeing style throughout the day. Since neither of us can win the argument, we’re just not going to go at all.

Would it be worthwhile for Burrito and Tamale to have an experience that they won’t remember? They already have all sorts of experiences that they won’t remember. But, most of those are enjoyable for the rest of us. International travel has the potential for being enjoyable but also for being exhausting and less fun than I may be imagining. Plus, it’s a few thousand dollars that we don’t particularly have right now.

Even in a few years, when they’re capable of forming memories, there will still be all sorts of experiences they forget. It’s a conversation that DH and I will keep needing to have, but I still plan to raise little jetsetters. They won’t remember everything, but they will start to remember enough. Even when they don’t remember, over time the experience of being immersed in different cultures will give them a broad perspective on the world and its people. DH’s current stance is that before we can bring them abroad, they need to be able to carry luggage. I can live with that. In the meantime, we’ll do lots of domestic travel, which DH is willing to do, and we’ll show them worldly picture books.

Three or four years from now, if you’re in an airport in St. Petersburg or Dunedin or Naples (Russia, New Zealand, and Italy, respectively — not Florida), and you see little boy-girl twins carrying their own little suitcases alongside a tall man and a woman with long dark hair, come say hi. Even if they won’t remember it, I’d still be glad for them to meet you.

If there will be no memory of an experience, is it still worth experiencing?

20 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Memory”

  1. Elana Kahn Says:

    Absolutely it’s still worth experiencing! My mother used to visit my grandmother in the nursing home nearly every day even though my grandma wouldn’t remember 5 seconds after she left. And babies need the experiences of their infancy in order to grow into healthy children and adults. It’s INCREDIBLY important to experience things no matter what. I believe the subconscious may remember even if the conscious doesn’t.

  2. a Says:

    I think it’s worth experiencing. I doubt that we have any true idea of how memory works. Given that most people can remember things from about age 3 or 4, my supposition is that it has something to do with language. That’s about when the ability to identify and describe the world really explodes. So, experiences before the advent of language are probably there, but we don’t know how to access them because they’re not accompanied by a description in words.

    However, you can also impose memories on the kids. Our car dealership moved to a new location about a year and a half or two years ago. When we took the car in for an oil change recently, it somehow came up in conversation that my daughter had also been to the old location. She doesn’t have specific memories of it, but now when she talks about taking the car in, she mentions that she was at the other place. Minor incident, yes, but I also remind her of things she did with my family, who she doesn’t see often. If it’s accompanied by pictures, then she is even more receptive.

  3. BB Says:

    YES! I traveled a lot right since I was an infant… Thanks to my Dad, I have been to countries and places that even most well travelled adults have not been to. It’s an experience that keeps growing… I have tons of pictures of me as an infant (to an adult) at various places… the pictures eventually transition in to memories. My passion for travel, and learning and appreciating different places and culture is something that I have acquired through the exposure I obtained right from childhood!

    I would love to take the kids around right from the begining… it is never going to be easy until they get self reliant – and that is a long way to go. I have seen kids who are not taken out to places forever, and they do not adapt to traveling that well later on in life.

    Doing a super long trip (like EU) is a personal choice.

  4. Cat Says:

    My profound answer: it depends. Experiences pre-memory are worth having, but I think it has to be balanced with the time, expense, and effort required. Traveling to visit family? Sure. But I’d personally opt not to take such a big trip as Europe with babies that won’t even be interested. Now, with a couple 3-year-olds it would be a blast because that’s when they really start noticing the world around them and asking questions about everything they see (endless questions).

    We have not traveled as extensively as you, though I’d LOVE to, but I do look forward to taking the babies to the places I’ve loved. I want them to see everything and I want to be able to tell them stories about when their dad and I were there last and teach them about the places. I want them to be old enough to form their own memories so we can all tell stories later – the “remember when…” stories that annoy everyone who wasn’t there. 🙂 Plus, I’d like them to be old enough to do their own hiking, since most of our trips are to outdoorsy places. 🙂

  5. Lavender Luz Says:

    I have a nonsensical response.

    Yes for DH’s grandmother, no for the takeaways. The grandmother experienced happiness from the visit, more than once! B&T would most likely be as happy staying with grandparents as going with parents.

    I bet you would miss them terribly, though.

    Fascinating question!

  6. ^WiseGuy^ Says:

    First of all, I think your hubby has a super valid point.

    Secondly, I am going to say ‘Hi’ and also give a bear hug to the twins.

    And thirdly, your question…it has me stumped. When I was about 18 months old, my mother left me in the care of a family member to take my father to another city for some treatment (that saved his life). Whenever somebody talks of “And you know you used to do this, and hey, goob goob goob”, I have no recollection of those things.

    I have flashes…but what I remember is not what others recite to me. But the issue here is, I had not volunteered to be in that situation. My mother had not conceived the situation. It happened and well, left different impressions on different people.

    Any experience has many stakeholders…so I think in the memory that would get created, even if a joint uniformity does not exist in the ‘after’, there would be some who would have ‘tales’ to tell.

    When I was 16-17 years old, my paternal grandmother stayed with us….she had paralysis and was completely bed-ridden, and in her last days used to have hallucinations. She would often call me to her room to drive out the sparrows that were hovering in the room.

    Of course there were no sparrows, and I would just shake my hands in the air, and make-believe that I was shooing them. She would be happy, and quieten down a bit, and would let me go. Of course, sometimes, the sparrows would play naughty and come back and I would have to shoo them again.

    Just doing it for her made her very happy…and I actually was not very pleased to be doing it then. And yet I believe (today) that I had never thought it would get so etched in my psyche.

    Suppose I did it and did not have the power to recollect it now…it would have still made me a actor of that moment, and I am sure must have made her very happy.

    I am not sure if I can apply the same analogy to a negative experience though.

  7. strongblonde Says:

    they don’t remember a lot of the things that are happening right now, right? if you decide not to do things just b/c they won’t remember them you wouldn’t do a LOT of stuff! the thing is that the experiences that they have help to shape who they are. AND having the pics to look back on can provide a different type of memory for them. they’ll remember that their parents loved them, that they started traveling young, that they were exposed to different things early in life. i guess you can tell that i think it’s worth it? 😉

  8. Shinejil Says:

    I’d rephrase the question: Would you get a lot out of having them with you? If, say, a gondola ride with the twins cooing and looking and pointing and giggling would be heaven on earth, who really gives two shakes if they don’t remember it? If you burst with delight seeing two kids run around Petergof, then do it.

    Even if they don’t remember it, if you love it and will always savor those memories, it will be worth it.

  9. Yes, I think it’s still worth having the experience. Even if the children cannot remember it themselves, we as parents will, and that counts too. Plus, seeing the child’s instant reaction to a new environment, another person, etc. is important and gratifying too, for both children and parents (and that also counts in the example you give of someone with dementia). Having said that, I can understand your husband’s position on not going on overseas trips when they are so little. My husband is talking about going either to the US or Australia while our son can still travel for free – but I’m worrying about jetlag / long flights etc and feel that vacations within Europe will be much more relaxing for everyone.

  10. Michele Says:

    Even if we dont remember, I think that every experience leaves a mark on us… but not only us, also on everyone we encounter.

  11. Lynn Says:

    I think, whether you have a memory of the experience or not, it’s still worth having. The Hubs Grandmother (who recently passed away) also had dementia and struggled to remember who her daughter and grandchildren were from day to day, let alone any trips we took her own. However, when we went out on those trips, she was aware of being out and had a good time in the moment. I think it’s as much about enjoying each moment as it is about remembering it.

    I also think it’s important for those around the one who will have no memory of the experience/trip because they will have those memories and that builds a connection between the person who has no memory and the person who does remember. For instance, when you travel with the Burrito and the Tamale, they may not remember it, but you do. You know what their reaction was the first time they had to sit in a car for hours and the first time they flew on the plane. You’ll always remember those trips. And it is debatable when our memories first begin to develop. The earliest memory I have most people would say couldn’t possibly be a memory, but is instead based on something I’ve been told about (it is from about the age of 6 months). However, I can clearly see the happenings in my brain, so I know it is a memory.

    Whatever you decide to do about traveling and creating experiences with the twins, I know they’ll be greatful for having parents who want them to experience life. I know The Hubs and I will be joining you in raising little jetsetters should we ever be blessed!

  12. dragondreamermom Says:

    For older people who are losing their memory, I say absolutely because at least it makes the now they are living in enjoyable.

    As for little ones, I ABSOLUTELY think experiencing things they don’t remember is worth it. All these occurrences, all these activities are encoded in their little brains. They won’t be able to access them when they are older because, at that point, memories become so tied to our verbal abilities. All these activities create a basis for what they will do later and what they will remember later.

  13. Kristin Says:

    BTW, that is me right above here.

  14. staciet Says:

    Yes! I think it is worth it even if they won’t remember! Plus, these experiences bonds your family together even more. 🙂

  15. Photogrl Says:

    I think it is…

    Like many above me have said, even if they don’t have the memories, you’ll have the memories & pictures to tell them about the trip for years to come.

    I’ve never taken Miss O. overseas, but from the time she was 1 month old to now, we’ve traveled many places. She’s flown at least 8 times, and has taken many a multi-hour car ride. I believe she’s such a good traveler because we’ve never hesitated to take her anywhere!

  16. samcy Says:

    I was watching A Child of our Time last night and the experiment showed that young babies need all sorts of different stimulous in order for them to grow those brains – so I would say definitley the experience is worth it even if it’s not remembered… I also have to question how far back we can actually remember when we need too as one of the experiments they ran was related to womb music – it was amazing to see how at one year old the children still remembered their womb music!


  17. Ana Says:

    Just got the time to comment on this one, little guy was NOT cooperating!
    I feel differently than you on this, and tend to agree with your husband. I think it is great to give children different experiences & stimuli…but it is WAY too early for them to appreciate any of that now. At this age, looking at a new picture (or mobile!) is an exciting experience. Additionally, they do great with routine, so a long tiring journey & sightseeing that will put them off will only lead to frustration for all. I can imagine that its difficult enough taking care of your two at home—multiply that by long security lines, airline delays, unknown cities & hotel rooms without the amenities, stores with different brands of diapers/supplies—yikes! I think in a couple of years, when they can actually interact & enjoy some of the sights & sounds, it would be awesome to take the kids along. That’s the main thing for me—when it is clear that some joy & happiness is brought to the others (whether kids or demented elderly), it doesn’t matter if they actually remember it in the future–the experience of joy itself must positively affect the neurologic & psychologic development & overall well-being.

  18. jill Says:

    I think the answer to your question is yes. As long as there is someone who does have the memories to share with those that don’t (the children) it would still be worth it. Even if children don’t have vivid memories of things from so early in life, all experiences still affect and shape them. I totally understand your husband’s opinion though – if the joy of the experience wouldn’t outweigh the hassel then it might be something better left for the future. I totally admire you for wanting to bring them!

  19. Mel Says:

    My advice, for what it’s worth, is take the trip without them 🙂 We took a trip to Disney when the twins were a few months old without them. We really enjoyed ourselves and they wouldn’t have enjoyed the schedule disruption at all. Whereas now, I would take them in a heartbeat because they will have fun even if they don’t remember the whole trip.

    The same thing for the friend–she may not remember it, but she enjoys the conversation in the moment. And that is perhaps more important than the memory of it.

  20. I think in these first years, it’s not really about whether the experience is worth it for the baby, but whether the experience is worth it for you. If you think you’ll have more fun w/o Burrito and Tamale, then by all means, get a babysitter. But if you’ll have fun, even with a baby in tow, bring them along.

    So far, I’ve loved having Betty on vacation and business trips with me. And I’m a little sad that I might have to go on a business trip w/o her in late March. I’ll always treasure our Hawaii trip and the long conversations that I had with CH on the balcony after we had put Betty down early. But trust, when our ten-year anniversary rolls around, she will be left at home, while we go somewhere nice.

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