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Why Do Kids Remember All Our Worst Moments?

My mom recently asked me if my siblings and I believed we’d had a horrible childhood.  This made me laugh.  Of course I don’t think my childhood was horrible.  In fact, I often describe it as a charmed young life.  I had two parents who loved me, loved each other and always took care of us emotionally and physically.  I had four siblings who were my best friends, an active imagination, and no major tragedies to disturb the magic.

I asked my mom what made her think that I thought it was so awful.  She said that every time my siblings and I reminisce about growing up, we tell nothing but horror stories, the time my mom yelled at us or swore while sewing our Easter dresses or the time all the kids got into a huge fight or got in trouble for laughing at Grandma while she told us the history of the E-PIS-copalians. 

My mom is right.  We do tell these same stories over and over again.  We don’t sit around saying, “Do you remember the time that we all got along and played Scrabble for hours?” or “Wasn’t that awesome how Mom didn’t yell at us 99.9% of our lives?”  No.  We’re all about the exceptions, the drama, those weird moments where things went nuts.  We revel in the tales of terror.

This worries me just a little.  Now that I’m a mom I wonder what stories will become legendary in our family.  Will it be the time I got so sick of Laylee painting her room with the contents of her diaper that I duct-taped her into her Huggies or the hundreds of times I patiently read or sang to her and patted her back to get her to sleep?  Will they remember the rogue potty word that escaped my lips once or twice, or the many times I refrained from swearing?

I’d hope they’d sit around the campfire and say, “Do you remember how Mom didn’t swear all those days growing up?  She was such a good example.”  More likely they’ll say, “Do you remember the time we got Mom so mad that she said $&*# and stormed out of the room?”  Snicker.  Snicker.

Do we just love to wallow in the negative?  Are these stories more fun to tell because they’re more dramatic?  Do we just remember them more vividly because they’re so unusual? 

I’ve heard that memories created when we’re experiencing rushes of adrenaline are etched much more vividly on our minds.  This makes sense.  Times of anger, excitement or fear are easy for me to recall down to the last minute detail.  And perhaps that’s why I like to tell the story of the time my brother split his head open and needed stitches or the time I was surrounded by raging bullies as I waited for the school bus.

Maybe if I can find a way to scare my children half to death while doing something really nice for them, it will get their blood pumping enough to make the sweet moment memorable.  I don’t know.  But what goes around comes around. 

I’m fairly certain there will come a day when we’re all sitting around telling family stories and I lean over to Laylee and ask, “Isn’t there anything good you remember from your childhood?”

“Of course,” she’ll reply, “But those stories aren’t nearly as much fun to tell.”