I Almost Missed It: My Toddler’s First Memory

“I saw that dog yesterday!” my two-year-old exclaims.

He is standing in a sagging diaper and his brother’s old t-shirt in our backyard. His finger is aimed at a shaggy, green-collared mutt. His voice rises excitedly, emphasizing the last word. “YESterday.”

If he hadn’t, I might have missed it. As it was, it took a few minutes for it to sink in. His first time describing something happening in the past. 

I have three children, each born almost exactly two years apart. (March is “birthday month” in our house.) With my first, I did all the things. And I mean, All. The. Things. Wooden toys? Bought. Every baby book ever written? Absorbed. Baby food? Pureed. By me.

And most of all, every milestone was chronicled in a daily blog that I sent out to my relatives. Not just the big milestones, either – the ones you find in commercial baby books. Not just the rolling over, the sitting up, the solid foods. But every one.

“Today he said his first three-word sentence – ‘Whoa, big truck!’”

“Today he picked out the outfit he wanted to wear!”

“Today he sorted pompoms by color!” 

When my daughter was born, I tried to keep it up. The blog became more sporadic, every few weeks instead of every day. She was colicky. I was overwhelmed. But still, I noticed.

“This week she grabbed her brother’s fingers!”

“This week she picked up a Cheerio!”

“This week she scooted herself backwards under the couch!”

Then my third was born. And suddenly, there was no time. It was all diaper changes and nap time and eating and more diaper changes. I was content with the biggest milestone: “This month, everyone stayed alive.”

That’s not to say that his progression from infancy to toddlerhood went unnoticed. I hold firmly in my mind the image of him as he held onto a bag of popcorn and took his first steps, not realizing the bag wasn’t attached to firm ground. But that memory isn’t documented. It was noticed because it was overdue, and because it was big.

I look at my toddler now, in his swollen diaper, bouncing on his little heels with excitement. The woman walking her dog gives a cheery wave. I wave back, leaving my hand in the air as it sinks in. 

She missed it, of course. She doesn’t know that my son has never before shown his awareness of living in a moment beyond this one.

She doesn’t know that I have been treading water in these moments – all of them – the momentous and the undefined, just trying to make it through to bedtime, to summer, to Halloween, to Christmas.

But I didn’t. I heard it. I saw him.

“We did see him yesterday, you’re right!” I say. Savoring the moment, savoring the seconds-old memory that I vow to hold onto. I smile at him, my third child, memorizing his wide eyes, his impossibly chubby thighs.

“Now let’s go change that diaper.” 

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