Everyday is Forever

Smoke had filled the kitchen before I figured out where it was coming from. I had thrown the oven mitt on top of the stove, and then accidentally turned on the burner underneath it instead of the burner under the pot on the back of the stove. The hot electric rings had burned themselves into the non-flammable mitt, and the blackened edges of the material glowed.

I turned on the fan over the stove and tossed the smouldering mitt out the back door and went on with the day. About half an hour later I peeked at the mitt and found that it had continued to burn, right down through the non-flammable layers and into our wooden deck. I filled an old ice cream bucket with water and doused the whole thing, but it was a little late. The deck now has a burnt area the size of my fist. I thought that was the end of it, we hadn’t made a big deal of the incident, I explained the danger of fire to the kids who were asking about the smoke, and we put the fire out. No screaming, jumping up and down or telling tales of doom.

But my 4 year old wouldn’t stop talking about it.

At first Ms Action just re-told the story of the kitchen fire again and again. “That glove was burning mom? Your glove was burning? And then there was a fire on the porch! But you could put it out, so it was OK. But if the fire was too big for you to put out we have to call the fire truck! And we go out of the house and wait until the fire gets put out.” I let her tell the story, acknowledged her points and chatting about it. I thought after the excitement died down she would move on to something else, but several hours later she was still talking about the fire. The repetitive process of her talking about fire and me affirming her feelings was starting to be somewhat irritating and I was starting to wonder why this had been so upsetting for her, when suddenly her story changed.

“Mom.” She stopped and thought for a minute.
“One time, when I was little, my baby sister fell into a fire and she got really really hurt.”

I was puzzled at first, what was she talking about? None of our kids have ever fallen into a fire, or got any kind of substantial burn. I reassured her that no one had gotten burned, and that mom and dad were always there to watch out for all of our children to make sure that they didn’t get hurt by a fire. She shook her head and repeated intensely, “No, when I was little, my little sister fell into a fire and burned her hands! Memory flooded my brain and I wondered if I knew what she was talking about, my own little brother was the same age as Ms Action, and one time on a family camping trip he had fallen into the fire pit and badly burned his hands. But that had happened over 3 years ago, Ms Action would have been about 18 months old. She had been standing right next to my brother when it happened, but how could she remember that?

I asked her if she remembered when her little uncle got burned, and she started to cry. She told me that it was scary that he had gotten so hurt, and something about how his hands had to be bandaged and he couldn’t play. I could still hardly believe she was talking about something that had happened when she was so young, but relieved that we were finally putting our finger on what was bothering her about the fire incident that afternoon. We snuggled on the couch and talked about how scary it is when someone gets hurt, and how there are Drs to help people who get burned. I reassured her again that her mom and dad are here to help her stay safe, and that we would take care of her if she ever did get hurt.

She told me that she was afraid that when she went to bed she was going to have a bad dream about fire, so we talked about dreams, and how even though they are scary they are not real. I reassured her that if she did have a scary dream and woke up I would be right there to hug her. Eventually she hit on the idea that if she was having a scary dream, she could change the dream into a nice dream or a silly dream instead, and she felt better. She went to bed easily that night and never woke up from bad dreams.

The conversation that had started with the small kitchen fire early that afternoon, had ended shortly before bedtime. For most of the afternoon I was doubting myself, did she really need these feelings recognized? I stopped myself again and again as I instinctively wanted to tell her that a big fire will never happen to us, and that she needed to forget about the fire and do something else. I worried that I was making it worse by letting the conversation continue for so long. But in the end, validating her emotions paid off when we got to the root of the fear, and then resolved the nightmare issue.

It still shocks me that she remembers something from such an early point in her life, it just goes to show how much early childhood matters. And it makes me wonder. Does she remember having her hand smacked again and again and again when she was 10 months old and kept going back to empty the garbage can. Does she remember when she was 14 months old and I hit her legs every time she stood up in her crib to “train” her to go down for her nap? Like this moment from almost two years ago, when she remembered what the spanking spoon had been used for, these thoughts bring tears to my eyes. How could I have treated my own babies this way?

But this also gives me hope. How many things happening today will she carry with her for the rest of her life? Her life, her memories, are being shaped right now. The hugs and snuggles, making messy treats together in the kitchen, all of us waiting breathlessly to start our Advent calendar and then for St Nicholas Day, these are the moments that make her memories. Every time I stop myself from yelling, is a moment that shapes my children. Every time I manage to keep my frustration at bay in the middle of the night and gently tuck that restless baby back into bed, that is a moment that shapes my children. Each moment is an opportunity to shape their knowledge that they are worthy of love, worthy of respect, worthy of my time. And that in turn, shapes their understanding that others are worthy of their love and respect.

My efforts are worth it! Your efforts are worth it!

I love this post from Emerging Mummy where she talks about how we are always all of our ages, because I know this is true of myself. Inside, I am still the trusting toddler, the excited preschooler, the explorative creative grade-schooler, and the depressed wistful teen.

Every day is the rest of my life, every day is the rest of theirs.
I have the chance today, to love them forever.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    This is beautiful. You're so right. Every day we get the chance to love and be loved forever.

    It reminds me of my oldest daughter's description of Heaven earlier this year. It still brings tears to my eyes that she sees the addition of a sibling as heaven-like and she equates a new brother or sister with being loved forever.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15824217102632813598 Tanit-Isis

    I remember sitting on a carpet (dark, black and orange 70s pattern) playing with (something big and flat and flexible) with another person about my same size, while gigantic shapes (adults) moved around us. I had no words for the thing we played with, the other who was like me, the big shapes that were like but more different (one of which was mine particularly)

    I have a photograph of myself and my cousin sitting on the floor at my aunt's house, playing with a sheet of cardboard. We are six or seven months old. While I can't be sure that I didn't construct the memory based on looking at the photograph, I don't think so. The lack of words, lack of understanding of what things were (baby, adults, cardboard, mother) and how they were related doesn't feel like something I would have invented later.

    Good for you for working through that with your daughter, and getting it to a healing place.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04738076740941616678 Rebecca

    I feel like I always leave the same comments…and yet I mean them every time I write them…your reflections and awareness of your vocation as a mother are amazing!!!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10329947206142706470 Peter and Nancy

    It's true that kids sometimes remember things very early, especially traumatic events like her uncle being burned. Our daughter came home with us from an orphanage at 12 months old. When she was 3, we were watching the video of the day she met us, and she said, "That was upstairs, Mama." We got goosebumps — the orphanage was on the second floor of the building, but we had no photos or videos of the steps, and I don't remember ever talking to her about that. Somewhere in her brain is stored the information of the (probably) traumatic trip with strangers downstairs from the one room she'd lived in her whole life. (We have a one-story ranch house, so we knew she wasn't talking about our home.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07339800133876611955 Debbie’s L’Bri

    Kid remember things and we need to acknowledge them. My husbands family "pushes many things under the carpet" so to speak… And many of his family have so many problems and know one to talk to. You did a wonderful thing talking to your daughter all day about the fire.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15377583333000789903 Mrs. Anna T

    I got goosebumps from reading this post. Nothing on this earth matters more than boundlessly loving our children, walking alongside them, learning, crying, laughing with them. Nothing.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Your kids are so lucky. I think very few people, even in mainstream, non-fundamentalist society, put as much thought as you do into trying to understand how children see and understand things, how they are affected by different experiences and interactions, how the world of adults appears to them. The level of respect you show for your children as fully realized, complex persons is really quite rare and I think many people, parents, teachers, anyone who interacts with little kids could learn a lot from you. You are right–you are shaping them and you're doing a great job.

    And yeah, I find it fascinating how far back many people can remember. I also have memories from toddler days, often memories of frustration over being able to understand adults but not being able to communicate back to them very well because I hadn't yet acquired enough language. I've often thought of these memories when I have cared for a fussy, cranky toddler–I wonder if that child is feeling the same frustration I felt.

  • Caravelle

    That post made me choke up, it's so beautiful. You are such a wonderful example as a mother, and I hope you hold on to the patience, curiosity and empathy you display in this post.

    Children are so often dismissed and dehumanized by the most well-meaning people. It is so encouraging to see everyone isn't like that.

  • http://articles.earthlingshandbook.org ‘Becca

    Beautiful! You handled this so well. It may have been a memory your daughter couldn't access until the fire triggered it. I have a few memories from about that age, but they are just like brief film clips with no sound. My "real" memories begin at age 3.

    As a developmental psychologist, I find it very interesting to ask people (it's a great conversation topic with anyone!)
    1. What is your earliest memory?
    2. What is the first "news" event you remember?
    3. What is the first popular song you remember from the time when it was new?
    The last two are especially fun with people much older or younger. The first one is the most poignant, though, and the one most likely to tell you a lot about a person. Many people's earliest memory is a vivid sensory experience, a sense of their own small place in the world, and sometimes I can see how that person seeks that type of place when seeking comfort–because it feels right. But other people remember trauma or other sudden happenings, particularly those associated (even tangentially) with important events. For example, my cousin became a big brother at 2 years 4 months; he has no memory of meeting the baby or adjusting to it, but he remembers running after Grandma up the sidewalk of the hospital to visit his mother and brother, and tripping on a sidewalk crack. The surprise and pain, and the change from Grandma hurrying ahead of him to hugging and carrying him, were more memorable than meeting his brother!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05598890631695015818 Pippi

    I doubt she remembers the repetitive things, because they are so much less traumatizing simply from being more routine and not changing her surroundings. It doesn't surprise me that she remembers the fire incident. Children remember trauma far younger than they remember happy things. Mark remembers things from very young, for that reason.

    Hunter was sure I was going to die when I had the baby. I assumed it was just because he was feeling the intense stress in the household and didn't know how to interpret it. But one day we were talking about something I would do "after the baby comes" and he said sadly, "But mommy, after the baby comes, you will be dead." I said, "No I won't, Hunter. You'll see." (Hoping with all my might that he wasn't speaking from some sort of clairvoyance.) His response? "But when fishies have their babies, and they lay their eggs, then they die!"

    I never saw that one coming. He watches nature DVDs a lot and I guess he thought that everything dies after giving birth. Poor little guy. I explained that I wasn't a fish or a bug, that he and Andy were both born the same way and I was still here, my parents' dog and cat both have living offspring on the property, and they aren't dead. I had to reassure him thoroughly, but that was the end of the nightmares.

    Who'd have thought?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11024302177261713681 SusanJ

    That is a lovely way to treat your children !! Caring about their feelings – when so many don't even have two thoughts about what is REALLY going on in their children's minds.

    I thought when folk around me said things like 'I can remember my first day at school' or .. "When I was … three years old … ' … etc … they were being sort of 'sweet' and not totally truthful. It wasn't until after I was married a good time – that I came to realise that most people can't remember back much further. I think it is called 'childhood amnesia' and that SOME people don't have it – usually due to some form of early abuse etc and they they CAN remember. I know I can – and have proved my memories to my mum – I can remember being around 10 months old according to my mum. [I described a scened that had never been talked about] … I can vividly remember my first birthday – as I walked that day for the first time ! I remember wearing nappies, wetting them [ugh!] and being changed etc. I also remember being slapped when I was about 3 or so …

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15039712389445193435 Kate

    I think some memories stick in amazing ways. But, it shocked me when my big girl turned 5, she lost many of her earlier memories, things that she had kept in her mind for years. I was told that this happened around that age, but thought surely that must be false.
    Then again, I remember a few stark, strong moments from my early childhood to this day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08973606092527060970 Sharon

    I have one memory from six months old. It wasn't until my teens that I was able to describe it to my parents well enough for them to place it for me. It wasn't traumatic, just a different location than usual. I have a lot of early memories. And yes, the very early memories are in picture form – usually snapshots, whereas later memories (three and up?) are in word form.

    Fascinating stuff!

    I love how you handled that. I learn so much from moms like you telling stories of everyday life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00616238682696645579 Erin

    I just love the way you ended this! I have a chance today to love them forever. Yes!!