Wednesday, August 01, 2007


The only thing I remember about being four is that my cousin Evelyn
was five, so I wanted to be five too. But that doesn't mean important
memories aren't being formed before the age of four - far from it. If
anything, these are the years that leave the deepest imprint on a
person's overall psyche and emotional well-being.

To use a negative example, I'll never forget the friendship I formed
with a guy who lived down the hall from me during my senior year in
college. Somehow, when it came to him, I suspended my usual
unapproachability and insensitivity such that he felt he could confide
things in me. And confide he did, about bad things he was doing to
himself but that he couldn't seem to stop himself from doing.

And about past abuse that had happened to him at the hands of his
father, when he was but a toddler. With a deep, old perspective that
belied his relatively young age, my dormmate would tell me that the
hardest thing about getting over the trauma was the fact that these
things happened at an age when he didn't have the words to articulate
to himself or others what was taking place and how it made him feel.
These were known in the field as "pre-verbal memories."

When you or I go through trauma, we talk it out. Our memory of the
event or events is contained by our ability to explain it, to describe
it, to vent it. When trauma happens before the age of four, it gets
seared into your body. You feel it, react to it, can't explain it.
But it haunts you for a long, long time. I am lucky my dormmate
trusted me enough to let me in to his haunting, and I think of him
every once in a while and pray he's OK.

Of course, a childhood doesn't have to be that way. Amy and I have
two little ones in our household, with the prospect that a third will
arrive before Jada turns four. It's a handful, and not a little
stressful at times.

But while we worry about a lot of things - are we saving enough for
college, are the kids healthy, are they making social and cognitive
progress - our chief goal as parents is for our kids to have happy,
healthy, safe childhoods. That their pre-verbal memories are, as much
as we can help it, trauma-free, filled instead with things like
piggyback rides and Cat in the Hat and walks on the beach, and most of
all with lots of hugs and kisses from Mommy and Daddy.

And so while we're both pretty Type A, and I am particularly
susceptible to wanting to make sure our kids are hitting or exceeding
the usual developmental milestones, I'm reminded by my dormmate that
sometimes the most successful childhood is the one in which the child
can just be a child.

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