Select Page

Moments like water

“Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.” – Pierce Harris

Memories are such strange things. We scoop up little moments, big occasions, and tiny details and store them somewhere deep inside our brain, to be recalled at a later time.

But the truth is that we have very little control over which experiences join our long-term memory, and which moments fade away. The brain creates new synapses between neurons every time we make a memory, and the reason that some are more easily recalled than others remains a mystery.

What is your earliest memory?

Mine is being carried by my father into a small hospital room. My mum was sitting up in bed, wearing a blue dressing gown with spotted fabric on the shoulders (being the 80s and all), and holding my new baby sister. I was 2 years old.

Growing up, there are snippets of bedtime prayers, arguments with my sisters, and summer camping trips. I remember the day a boy walked around school all day with a huge spider under the brim of his cap, and I remember the Mickey Mouse watch I was given for Christmas in 1990.

These are just the moments that – for whatever synapse-related quirkery – I am able to recall without any prompting. There were countless other moments in between, however, that I simply don’t remember.


We have very little control over what is remembered. And while we keep things, videos and photographs to help jog our memory, we never really know what long-term memories are being forged.

Now, I’m not a horrible, anti-memory jerk. It’s wonderful and vital to commit some moments into a more permanent form, like a photo or a video. But I also think that the memories we’re most likely to recall without any prompting happen outside the camera.

So my advice?

Put the camera away after a few minutes and stow the smartphone in your handbag, because we create so many more memories by actually living.

Last week, the kids and my husband were dancing to the music at the end of “The Lorax”. My daughter is four, and she was singing, “Let it grow, let it grow,” so full-heartedly, while our little boy danced with my husband.

It was wonderful, and hopefully something I will remember forever. But inevitably the music ends, the kids resist bedtime, and we get tired and need to move on.

The truth is that trying to hold on to a moment that has passed is like holding on to water. The harder we try to grasp it in the palm of our hand, the faster the water trickles through our fingers.

We can’t hold on to time, no matter how much we’d like to. And trying to hold on means we’re not living in the now.

I’m prone to reminisce as much as anyone, but living in the past is robbing us of the present and quite possibly the future.

Trying to force ourselves or our kids into shoehorning a particular moment into their long-term memory won’t work. They will remember whatever their synapses inform. So this summer (or, rather bleakly, winter for me), do things for the experience, the joy, the fun of doing it. The memories get made regardless. So make them good!


Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Joe Romero

    Lovely Article! Loved Reading it!

  2. Kristal

    My earliest memory is sitting in the Christmas tree box while my mom put the tree together. I remember there was a black and white movie on TV about a giant spider attacking a town! I know I was younger than 4 because we moved from that house when I turned 4 years old, but I’d have to ask my mom about that day to know how old I was exactly.

  3. Jessica

    I’m all for making and recording memories but completely agree that the most special memories are likely not recorded, because these are the things that just happen when the camera isn’t poised at the ready. My first memory is from when we live in the north west of England and I was only just two years old. It was around Easter and I can remember one night, when it was turning dark my mother bundling me into the pushchair, wrapping me in a lilac and pink, checkered blanket and wheeling me out on to the street. I can vividly remember the cold air hitting my cheeks, the dim street lights and part of the route we took. We were walking to church to collect my 4 year old brother from an Easter party. Nothing particularly extraordinary about it, except a very lovely lady at the party handed me a cadburys cream egg all of my own to take home – I was delighted!

  4. Sam Sprott

    Good morning Brooke,
    Love your concept of slowing. Siestas are an important and most enjoyable part of my life, in fact they have been for years but now I enjoy the benefit of my age allowing them without criticism. Why oh why do we run through our allotted time. Eternity faces all, and this chunk of our eternity is deserving our attention.
    My first memory is either getting stung by a bee on my big toe in our front yard and the comfort of my mother through the travail, or watching my father in his uniform walking away from our home on his way to duties in WW-II. Which ever came first, they both implanted permanently.
    Thank you for your writings, Brooke, and I wish you great tomorrows filled with many fiestas.

    • Sam Sprott

      Hi Brooke,
      Maybe it wasn’t really a typo: I meant the last word to be ‘Siesta’ instead of ‘Fiesta’, but actually I hope for both in your life!

  5. Susan

    You remember getting a mickey mouse watch in 1990? How young are you? I remember sitting for the CPA exam in 1990.

  6. Helena Alkhas

    Beautiful article and it resonated so much with me as I remember my own – wonderful – childhood summer memories and now as a mom of 3 boys we create the ones they’ll keep forever as well.
    Thank you!

  7. Katelyn

    My youngest memory is of sitting at a green turtle table with my mother crouched beside me her long hair hanging past her shoulders. We have a “birthday cake” of stacked powdered donuts with a single candle at the top and my mother blows out the candle. I’m exactly 2 1/2 years old (I know this because my mother’s birthday is on my half birthday.) These images are very clear to me but I don’t remember the specific story behind them on my own. My mother (a single parent at the time) says that upon hearing that that day was her birthday, I insisted that she must have a cake. She got inventive on short notice with powdered donuts from the freezer.

    I agree that sometimes we need to put down the camera and just enjoy the moment. However, I have countless sweet and wonderful memories that aren’t recalled in the day to day of my life now but can easily be conjured with the helpful promptings of a photograph.

    I don’t live in the past but it’s comforting to me to look back (whether by photograph or by random memories triggered by my day to day) and remember beloved family members taken too soon. I’ve found that remembering memories out loud (often those prompted by photographs) of my father who passed when I was 19 and my siblings were 9, 12 and 14 helps us all feel closer to who he was as a person and keeps those sweet memories of him alive for all of us when they might otherwise fade.

  8. Katie B. of

    This is such a wonderful reminder of how much technology has taken over our sweeter, slower moments. Like many moms, I consider it my job to “make memories happen” for my kids, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that the experience is theirs, and if they know I’m taking photos of it they have no need to remember it themselves.

    As for my own earliest memory? I was standing up in my crib (I was about 3 but we had such a small house I still slept in the crib) and playing ‘Baskin Robbins’ with the spinning toys on the crib edge. We’d just visited B&R that day, and I was pretending each of the spinning rings on my crib was a different flavor that I was serving up to customers.

    It was about 2 am and my sister, who shared the room with me, made it very clear she was NOT amused by my game. That was the first night I got to sleep in a big girl bed!

  9. Christie

    So true!

    My earliest memory is sand beneath my feet, looking at the water, when a huge wave knocks me down and starts pulling me under. It was so strong. My Dad scooped me up and hugged me close. He was stronger.

  10. Faigie

    I actually remember a dream I had when I was in the crib. I must have been under 2 & a fox slid thru the crib bars into my crib. Quite frightening

  11. Meagan Church

    One of my earliest memories is of standing in my crib after naptime, waiting for someone to get me. I wasn’t upset. I was just taking in my surroundings. It’s really only a snapshot of a moment in time when I was probably two years old. I often wonder (and fear!) what my kids’ first memories will be. But I love how you make the point that we can’t force it. Sure there are things I would love for them to remember, but I can’t determine what is actually going to stick around. But I will definitely take your advice to stow the camera and make memories…even if they might not stick.

  12. Rachael

    My first memory, too, is of meeting my little sister for the first time. I had never seen an actual person that was so soft, so peaceful. I was two years old. Thank you for the lovely quotation and insight.

  13. Hannah

    I really enjoy reading what you write. You have some serious depth. Thanks a bunch!

  14. Linda Sand

    I was two because we only lived in that house 6 months. The kids next door had a sandbox with a canopy over it. I don’t remember the kids–only the sandbox. Neither of my brothers remember the sandbox but they remember a mouse invading our house and Christmas there–neither of which I remember. You’d think we didn’t all live there together. Apparently it is true that you and your siblings don’t grow up in the same family since we each have our own experiences of that family.

  15. Lisa Howeler

    I don’t know if I agree with all of this. I mean, recording that moment doesn’t make a person a bad person who didn’t live in the moment. It isn’t living in the past to recall the good times. I guess I don’t really understand the idea of not recording the good moments in some way. This post seems pretty depressing, actually. Like “that moment was good but it’s gone so who cares…” That moment matters because each moment of life matters. I guess I missed something here because everyone else thought this was so great.

  16. Jo Evans

    Great to hear from a fellow Aussie, Brooke! It’s winter for me too, and if I hear another U.S. ‘mom’ talk about the heat and the long days by the pool… I’m a Melbournian. Have pity on us. Thanks for sharing on the memories. Now my oldest is four I guess some of things will be sticking in his mind and becoming ‘forever shows’. That’s a good encouragement to find Lorax singing joy in each and every day, huh?

  17. HW

    Thanks for sharing this post. One of my earliest memories is meeting my little brother (who is two & a half years younger than I am). I remember drawing a picture to hang up in his little box… It’s certainly interesting to see what memories people hold on to… especially when I share with friends and we remember different aspects of the situation or different pieces of the same event. However, in a lot of situations I can’t resist putting down the camera. That’s part of the experience for me – capturing it. Sometimes it’s great to resist the urge to pull out my camera and just enjoy the moment, though.

Join thousands of readers
& get Tsh’s free weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where she shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

It's part of Tsh's popular newsletter called Books & Crannies, where she shares thoughts about the intersection of stories & travel, work & play, faith & questions, and more.