My first memory is of my sister’s birth

With my sister’s recent hospitalizations, both of our birthdays, and normal dreams of family and children, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m pretty sure is my first conscious memory: when my sister was born.

It’s possible that my earliest memory is not of my sister, but of simply standing up in my crib, arms stretched up, calling for my mom, who walked into the room to pick me up. That’s so vague, though, that I’m not certain when it happened. Not so with my sister’s birth, of course, as that has an associated date – a couple of weeks before my third birthday.

The first thing I remember is the way the overhead lights reflected on the waxed hallway floors. I was holding my father’s hand, and I was sort of chasing the reflections of those lightbulbs as I walked along.

I’m not actually sure whether my father’s mom was there, but I have this little bit of memory that she was, and one of my dad’s sisters. There’s about that much memory of my mom’s parents being present, too. But mostly it was me and my dad, and that shiny hallway.

My mom was sitting in a hospital bed, and I have zero memory of being invested in why she was there, but I remember being pleased to be with everyone. I was allowed to sit on the foot of the bed and to share some of the food tray that had been brought in for my mom…and I fixated on the tiny box of Cheerios. (It amuses me to no end that I apparently have had a lifelong fascination with miniatures, microscopic organisms, and assorted other small things – this is the first example of my thinking that I liked something because it was small!)

I wasn’t quite three years old at the time, so I imagine that I had learned how to pour liquids but wasn’t particularly good at it. The next thing I remember, I was trying to pour milk into the cereal, and my dad was telling me that I shouldn’t take it all – that Mom needed some, too. In retrospect, he probably was just making a comment (and, of course, having just given birth, my mother probably did need some nourishment!), but my young self heard it as chastisement.

It’s a bit sad that the most crisp moments of that memory involve shame, of feeling like I let my mom down, because my mom really is the best and I would have been aware of that even at my very young age. It’s curious to me that my first memory of my sister’s entrance into my life doesn’t directly involve her. It’s more than a bit amazing that this happened to be a day I remembered, given how important I would understand it to be so many years later – the birth of a sibling is no small event, and my sibling…was going to mean changes even greater than most. By that point in time, my parents would have realized that the doctors were either wrong or had not been entirely honest about the extent of my sister’s disabilities; her cleft lip and cleft palate would have been obvious, and I’m guessing the uneven bone growth of her skull would have been clear, as well as the hydrocephaly and possibly her lack of right eye.

My sister means more to me than I like to admit, even now, as I write this, enjoying my freedom from responsibility for her and my freedom from her irritating personality traits and our sibling rivalry. She’s my sister, and we have an unusual but fairly close relationship, and it seems really fitting to me that my conscious, remembered life began on the day that she was born.

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