559. Remembering Childhood

I don’t know how much of my childhood I remember through having lived it, how much I remember remembering it, how much I remember it through photographs, nor what other kinds of memories I have. All this writing I’m doing certainly brings back memories, and so does my work with children. I think a lot of my success at remembering my childhood has to do with not being busy, or at least being busy with work that inspires lots of memories, here in Amherst, where I lived for two summers about a quarter of a century ago.
But one way or another, I do remember a lot (“…but most of all, I remember Mama,” was a line introducing “I Remember Mama,” a television show I used to watch when I was quite young. How do I remember that?).
Some people are surprised by my ability to remember details of my life, but I’m more surprised by the fact that people seem to have forgotten so much. Childhood is a pretty significant part of life; a lot of what happens then leaves such deep impressions on us. It’s really a shame that so many people have so much trouble remembering it.
I think that for the most part, it’s useful to remember how our lives started out. It can help us figure out some of what’s going on now, and it can help us understand what’s going on for children – people who are dealing with the first steps now. Remembering having been there ourselves, we can think more clearly about those who are there now, and help them more when they need help.
I think there’s a tendency not to remember being thirty as well as we remember being ten. When we’re thirty, there are too many things to think about, and too much is happening that requires our undivided attention. Maybe we still know how to live fully the way children do, but we can’t, because if we did, we might forget to do some of our grown-up stuff, much of which we’d better make sure we do, or else!
I know some people have times in their lives they think they’d rather forget – times when they’ve been
embarrassed and/or traumatized. But I don’t think forgetting is the solution; I think the trick is to learn not to let those times be in control. And not being aware of them doesn’t diminish their power. True, we need to learn not to obsess on the past, but that doesn’t mean pretending we don’t have one.
Nostalgia can be fun once in a while. It can be fun to take out your elementary school report cards, or your high school yearbook, and think back, perhaps thinking about the relationship between who you were then and who you are now. I enjoy occasionally writing about times I remember from my childhood, and I sometimes surprise myself with a new memory. I believe that everything that happened to me and everything I did is still inside me somewhere. And probably, a lot of it will turn out to be useful when I find it.

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