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They’ll Never Remember

Those are the words I hear every time I share with people the latest cool thing I’ve done with my 17 month old. Be it hikes, zoo, museum trips, and most recently an almost two week trip to Disney World. “Why are you going to Disney World? She’ll never remember,” and the ever popular, “We’re waiting until our kid is 6 or 7, so they’ll remember.”

Poppycock I say. If YOU don’t want to take your kid on fun trips until they’re 6 or 7 because you can’t afford it, or because you yourself won’t enjoy it until they’re older, that’s valid. Completely valid. But what is accomplished by trying to convince parents like me that we’re wasting our time and money by trying to have a fun time? Children need varied and exciting experiences. Schedules are nice, but so is doing something new and fun without caring rather or not it’s forever etched in our child’s mind. Or we can just lock our kids in the basement until they’re five and can start remembering those fun times, either way.

Having fun not remembering feeding a giraffe (it's a good thing she won't remember, she screamed at the elephant and threw a carrot at him)
Having fun not remembering feeding a giraffe (it’s a good thing she won’t remember, she screamed at the elephant and threw a carrot at him)

I find this the weirdest juxtaposition. Read any parenting blog and you hear about how the conditions in the womb will affect the child’s entire life, how using CIO on a 4 month old will forever render them ruined (or not using it will forever render them needy, take your pick). So I can ruin my child by not doing the right thing before they’re even born, but when I try to do something that obviously makes her happy, it’s a futile and wasted endeavor? I can only make an effort to put a smile on her face once she’s old enough to remember that effort?

Having fun not remembering this picture. Wait, that's what cameras are for you say? Tell me more...
Having fun not remembering this picture. Wait, that’s what cameras are for you say? Tell me more…

Obviously the people who say these things can’t mean them right? Are there really people out there who don’t take their toddlers to the zoo, don’t go on vacation, go enjoy nature or have a toddler tea party? Are the “they’ll never remembers” just people justifying not liking one subset of those things? Then say that. Tell me, “I don’t like Disney,” or, “I think zoos are smelly.” I never thought my vacation and free time activities were an indictment against anyone. When I say, “Aria loved meeting Mickey!” I’m not judging you for not taking your kid, but I sure feel shitty when it’s implied that I’m wasting time and money that could have been saved for better things later.

And it’s also worth noting that after taking my daughter to Disney World and Disneyland 3 times since she was 8 months old (maybe that’s judge-worthy), that I can see such a difference in how she reacts. On her first trip she loved the sights and sounds, but was pretty overwhelmed, when she went at 14 months, she squealed at all the characters and was entranced by the staff with bubble machines. At 17 months she knew what was coming before we even got in the gate. She remembered the buses, she sensed the excitement, and started yelling for Mickey (Mouse, mouse!) before we ever saw him. Will she remember that when she’s my age? Of course not, but it’s building experiences that will stack upon one another. That’s kind of how the brain works. There’s not some magic age where a switch flips and all of a sudden little humans are real humans capable of having meaningful experiences.

Carousel final
Her favorite thing she learned on the trip was “Cheeeeessseeeee!”

I don’t want to wait until she’s old enough “to remember” to do anything, because then I’ll always have an excuse not to do something. As seems to always be the moral of my posts, think about what you’re saying when you tell a new parent they’re doing it wrong. It’s fine to share what you feel about a situation (this time vacations), and it’s even better to share why. Simple statements meant to make the speaker feel superior, never the right decision.

All images courtesy of Travis Holland. Aria was paid in bananas for her modeling services.


I'm a new (ish) mother to Aria, and wife to Travis. My background is in astrophysics, but I do STEM informal education now because research is soul sucking (true story). We like to run, hike, ski, go to Disney World and visit the zoos in museums in whatever town we find ourselves in. Our parenting style is "nut-free crunch" (stolen from some wonderful interwebs friends) and we hope we're the cool parents, but time will tell.

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  1. We’ve taken our kids on some big trips, even while they were small. We get this sort of comment, too, though less now that they’re 5 and 7.

    My response is that, even if they don’t remember the details of this trip, they are learning how to travel. By taking them on a big road trip or flight every year or so, it makes the next one easier. By the time they get to trips that they really will remember, they’ll be able to focus on the trip itself, and not be worried about how to handle being in a car or plane.

  2. I love this post. Are my kids having fun in the moment is my biggest concern. And because of the age spread with my 2, it’s inevetable that we sometimes do things that are fun for the 10 year old and less “impactful” for the 3 year old, because he deserves some targeted fun time as well. And Mo is already looking forward to meeting Minnie Mouse and swimming in the Mickey pool this summer.

  3. You know those developmental charts you get?
    At one stage the little one was supposed to know “50-60 words”. We did a quick count and notced that she could reliably identify between 80 and 100 different animals*. She did not learn that by NOT going to the zoo.
    Yes, we’re incredibly privileged in that sense. We can afford holidays, we’re also lucky in living almost next to the zoo (who of you can watch bald headed eagles from their balcony?) and we visit zoos at our holiday locations. In short, we’re trying to give their little brains lots of age appropriate input. And really, I don’t care if they remember that one time at the zoo. Their knowledge gets built up each time and by now my 6yo knows way more about animals than most grown ups.

    *This is not meant to oimply that people whose children are late talkers are doing anything wrong or that we did anything better. Both kids were early talkers.

    1. Exactly, Giliell. My son didn’t learn 50 species of dinosaurs and how to reliably classify them as carnivores or herbivores by era by not going to the natural history museum. Like you, we’re lucky in that we have a lot of local resources – the Smithsonian, including the National Zoo, is the absolute best thing about raising kids in the DC area as far as I’m concerned. We spent 3 years going to the zoo virtually every Sunday morning – used to joke that it was our church. Which, insofar as it goes, knowledge and active learning probably is.

  4. One of my earliest memories is seeing the polar bear at the Seattle zoo. I had to be younger than three, because that’s when we moved away from Seattle.

    So it’s not a forgone conclusion that they won’t remember.

    1. I think the point is more that it doesn’t even matter. Sure, most people don’t have many memories form before their third birthday and only few from before their sixth birthday, but that’s pretty irrelevant.
      The point of a fun activity is to have fun, not to create a memory.
      It’s also the fact that we actually DO have memories from that time, just not what I would call “time-event-memories”. I mean, we clearly remember walking and talking even though we might not remember a single conversation from that time period. Do those people never talk to their kids because the won’t remember what they said?

  5. They also don’t seem to consider whether these activities might be fun for you. As if once we are parents we no longer count. We travelled with our daughter from quite early. We went to zoos, museums, gardens. Some of them she remembers, some she doesn’t, and some she half remembers through shared stories. She had fun, and her father and I remember. How can happy times ever be a waste?

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