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question about age and memories

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In my WIP, when the MC was very young, she moved from the place she'd lived all her life to a new place, which was extremely different (and far less pleasant). When the book starts, she is now 12. I want her to have some memories of the place she lived before - possibly some kind of specific ones - but still have her be young enough that her memory could easily be missing huge important parts of it. The memories she has aren't super-emotional moments, either, just a general memory of what the place was like.
She hasn't had anyone to remind her of her memories of the old place, as parents sometimes do, like, "remember when we used to go the beach?" If that makes a difference. Although she tries to call it up as much as she can.

How old should she have been when the move happened? I'm trying to push her age as high as I can.
#1 - May 29, 2013, 02:31 PM
« Last Edit: May 29, 2013, 02:40 PM by Lwrites »

I was three when I moved from California to Seattle. I have one vague memory of the move, but none of Cali. Just warm feelings. :) I moved at age six again, and remember much more about that place, but certainly have pieces missing...
#2 - May 29, 2013, 02:41 PM
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I remember being three, things that happened when my parents weren't around and so they couldn't remind me afterwards about it. I remember a few things from when I was two, as well (although mostly traumatic events, like climbing out of a crib when no other people were around and breaking my shoulder). So you can go pretty far back, I think. If you want older, I think one cutoff date is starting school (Before and After really are two different worlds). Or she could move sometime in elementary school--she would know her world pretty well, but a 12YO would understand some things that a younger kid just wouldn't. I saw some things happen on school buses when I was a kid that gave me unsettled feelings, but as an adult, I KNOW what was going on, and yikes, there definitely should have been some kids kicked off and/or referred to legal authorities. But they weren't scenes I was used to seeing at my house, so there were lots of aspects to what was going on that I just plain missed. That's not the same thing as not remembering things, but I think it's easy to be so involved in your own little world that you could possibly forget things because you didn't know they were important in the first place.
#3 - May 29, 2013, 02:44 PM

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I also have some memories from age 2 and 3, but they're very specific ones of incidents and specific places in the house we lived in till I was four. I think it would be perfectly possible and (perhaps more importantly) believable for your MC to have memories like that--fragmented ones that might possibly have strong emotional overtones.
#4 - May 29, 2013, 02:50 PM
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Ok, so I'm thinking five is about as far as I can push it. Does that sound right?
(I have a photographic memory and my character doesn't, so I am totally unfit to judge this based on my own memories, especially since the most important memories she has are of what things look like.)
#5 - May 29, 2013, 02:52 PM

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Ok, so I'm thinking five is about as far as I can push it. Does that sound right?

Yes. One of my grandmas died when I was five, and I remember her, but there are pieces missing. Much older than that, and she will remember a lot more.
#6 - May 29, 2013, 03:02 PM
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I moved to a new house when I was four. I remember pieces...my bedroom window, my mom in the backyard, a scary stuffed snake that was draped around my mirror!  The emotional stuff stays with you, I think.  I remember the window because I would hop out of bed and look outside when I was supposed to be napping.  My mom was always talking to the neighbor in the back yard.  That made me feel better, just seeing her there.  With the stuffed animal snake staring at me, I couldn't sleep. To this day, I still hate snakes, either real or stuffed!
#7 - May 29, 2013, 03:21 PM

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I have one very spotty memory fragment from age two, and a few more from age three; but by age four things got pretty clear.  We traveled to Niagara Falls when I was four - and I still remember that and Fort Niagara very clearly.  Trips to those places as an adult confirmed that those memories were accurate. From the time I started school at age five I think my memories are very solid.
#8 - May 29, 2013, 05:22 PM

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I have very clear memories from when I was 19 months and 22 months.  They are real memories, and one was proven by photographic evidence!!  (I remember staying with friends while my sister was born when I was 19 months old.  I remembered having our picture taken.  About 15 years later we were visiting those friends and I was looking through an album and found the picture.  I'd never seen it because it was their picture, not ours.  That was the 19 month one.)
#9 - May 29, 2013, 05:33 PM
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Five works for me, based on my experience. We moved when I was five (just before I started kindergarten) and my memories before that are pretty spotty and focused on specific emotional instances like my brother being mean to my doll or my being afraid of a big dog in the neighborhood.
#10 - May 29, 2013, 06:22 PM

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I think sometimes kids forget traumatic things, and remember the visual (like the snake around the mirror).

Our son essentially lived in a hospital when he was one and two, and he doesn't remember it. When I ask about specific things, he may remember them, but doesn't have the framework to realize it was a hospital memory. When prompted, he remembers the colors on the corridor carpet, but doesn't remember having a large-bore needle jammed into his chest once a week for over a year.
#11 - May 29, 2013, 07:28 PM
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I was two when I moved and the one disinct memory I have is being stung by a bee at my old house--your character might remember a
traumatic moment like that. I can also remember vaguely what the house looked like, but after that, I'm not sure how much is my memory
and how much I put together from pictures and other people's stories.
#12 - May 30, 2013, 08:12 AM
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This is so helpful! Thanks so much, everyone!! :)
#13 - May 30, 2013, 08:44 AM

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I believe childhood amnesia is most common between the ages of 2-4, but 5 is definitely within the established range as well. It's an established psychological effect, though, so searching "infantile amnesia" or "childhood amnesia" should lead you to all kinds of actual data and theories on the topic!
#14 - May 30, 2013, 09:17 AM

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I have a few vivid memories from when I was two, more from age three. These were mostly happy or innocuous events. From age four I remember one traumatic event and a few pleasant ones.

#15 - May 30, 2013, 02:49 PM
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We moved to New Jersey when I was three and I started Kindergarten there. (My Birthday is in October so I was 4).  I know we lived in an apartment building that was two stories (actually there was also a basement apartment, but that never sunk into my head).  It sat up on a high hill and was terraced, so some of the apartments sat higher than the others.  I think I remember this because I used to play with a boy named Brian who lived in one of these apartments.  I think my memory of the apartment complex is much bigger than it actually was.  There was a small wooded area below it and that was where the older 'boys' went to hunt for snakes.  My dad took me and my brother who was two at the time down there and we came back up the hill and dad put a snake in my brothers shirt and then had Mike show my mother what was in his shirt.  She hates snakes and came slightly unglued.  Kindergarten I have very few memories of- playing with blocks and I know I was to walk home with my older brother who was five years older, I had to walk behind him and his friends.  I remember jumping on his shadow head.  :lol4

My biggest fear during this time was that we went back to the town we were from and celebrated Christmas with my grandparents and I was positive that Santa would never find us.  He was going to leave everything in NJ while we were in IN. 

We moved back to IN before I went to first grade and I have some memories of that long trip.  I also have memories of trips we took to NYC and quite a lot of odd things about NJ.
#16 - May 31, 2013, 11:37 AM
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Dewsanddamps, I'm so glad your son doesn't remember his years in the hospital!  I bet you will never forget them, though!  I was 4 when I got out of bed and mixed up the cake mixes that came with my EasyBake oven and just ate them like fudge, but I can't remember much of anything from when I was younger than that.
#17 - May 31, 2013, 11:58 AM

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Awful Waffles, I'm so glad you have memories of eating something fudgey. Who needs to remember anything else?

(And you're right about our son. It's very odd when on occasion we make a reference to something from his cancer years, and he has no idea what we're talking about. But it's probably just as well.)
#18 - May 31, 2013, 12:08 PM
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