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Making Memories? Forget It!

A Household Word
By Carol Band


We spent three days tracking Mickey through the Magic Kingdom and when the big photo moment finally arrived, Lewis burst into tears and clung to my leg. How could he not remember?


If you're thinking of taking a summer vacation with your young children, think again. You'll spend lots of time and money to create a week of magical moments in an exotic location. You'll provide them with educational experiences like whale watches and hands-on exhibits at children's museums. You'll arrange for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as swimming with dolphins or getting backstage passes to the Wiggles and guess what? They won't remember a thing.


I know, because just last night, I was watching television with my 12-year-old son Lewis when a commercial for Disney World came on. Starry-eyed cherubs raced through the streets of the Magic Kingdom. Fireworks exploded over the Cinderella Castle and Mickey gleefully applauded.


"Remember when we were there?" I asked Lewis.


"No," he said. "I don't remember."


Now, our family has journeyed to Disney World twice. Granted, the first time we went, Lewis was in utero, so maybe, in all fairness, I can't expect him to remember that trip. But the second time we went, he was at least 4 or 5. We spent three days tracking Mickey through the Magic Kingdom and when the big photo moment finally arrived, Lewis burst into tears and clung to my leg. How could he not remember?


I looked back at the commercial. The television tots embraced Mickey and the well-cast parents exchanged smug, self-congratulatory smiles that said, "We're making memories that our kids will treasure for the rest of their lives." Hah!


In fact, it's been scientifically proven that kids have no, what researchers call, episodic memory until after age 4. Four! That means everything that you do before then is essentially for nothing. You could stay home, drink beer and watch the roller derby or travel to the Galapagos to pet the giant tortoises and it wouldn't make a bit of difference. Your kids won't remember. That's because, according to scientists, the corpus callosum, the area of the brain critical in the formation of event memories, isn't fully developed until a child is 4 or maybe even 5 years old. My own personal research says it's not fully formed until they're 12, maybe even 18.




"Remember when you were 6 and we went to Niagara Falls and your brother threw up on the Maid of the Mist?" I asked.


"No," said Lew.


"How about when you were 7 and we went to Washington, D.C., and our car got towed?"


"Nope."


"Or when we were camping in the Grand Canyon and the park ranger had to pluck you from the edge of the North Rim? You were 8. You've got to remember that."


"Nope," he said. "Well, I don't remember the canyon, but I sort of remember Dad yelling at me."


"He yelled so you wouldn't fall into the canyon," I pointed out.


"Well, I just remember the yelling," Lewis said.


Now, I was curious. "So," I probed. "What is your earliest memory?"


I thought back on Lewis' 12 years and all the family vacations, the weekends at the lake, the August days at the shore, the Christmas mornings, the ice cream trucks and the birthday parties.


"I remember the time you forgot to pick up me from kindergarten and I had to wait for you in the principal's office for a really long time," Lewis said.


"C'mon, that's your earliest memory?" I prodded.


"I remember when it was my birthday at preschool and you didn't bring cupcakes."


Sheesh.


Maybe I can still book a Disney vacation for this summer.


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