Oh NO! Babies Remember Stuff!

Amy Keyishian

beach pennyRemember when I found out babies understand what we say way earlier than we thought, and had myself a bad mom freak-out moment? I’m having another one now. When I read The Scientist In the Crib, I was both reassured and devastated to learn that kids don’t organize memories into retrievable nuggets till they’re around 3 years old. Something to do with learning to process information in a particular way, yadda yadda.

But the Mother-Infant lab at New Mexico State University has been studying how infants learn for the past 10 years, and what I suspected seems to be true … they remember more than I thought they did.

Oh NOOOO! Does this mean my babies are going to remember ...

… When my husband and I thought Penny was safely asleep in the sidecar co-sleeper, so we could get busy, but then she woke up, and we weren’t sure exactly when?

… The time we all walked out the door, looked at each other, and realized the baby was still sitting in the highchair? (Will she see the apartment door close in her dreams? Even though she was grinning when we opened the door again?)

… The gossip about certain family members I’m not going to repeat here?

… The terrifying Nosefrida coming at their faces?

… Me crying?

… When I had to keep nursing even though I was having a bathroom emergency?

… The time I played “fetch the Cheerios” to keep Abby entertained while I finished working?

… The stuff I watched while nursing, under the assumption that the baby had no idea what a Tony Soprano was?

By the way, we actually don’t need to panic that much. Babies still won’t remember specific events like these. The lab studies stuff like how babies learn, like whether they make connections between stress and particular images or surroundings. Big surprise, babies make those connections, which involves memories – but not organized ones.

So it’s more like when I first began breastfeeding and found myself experiencing warm, non-specific sense memories of coziness, soft sheets, and intense sensuous pleasure. Babies will remember, but in a generalized, non-verbal way. Which is still good news: All the good stuff we do with them – the giggling, the tickling, the long afternoons spent gazing into each others’ eyes, the late-night reaching and cuddling and rocking – are like ground-floor infrastructure on which we’re building a lifetime of love. Still, I'd avoid the violent TV stuff just in case.

What are you relieved to know your baby won’t remember? 

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