Up Close With Dr. E

Building memories: How summer activities bring families together


When we were raising our children, June always found my wife and I making lists of summer possibilities so our family could have fun during the summer. We learned that if plans were not made early -— POOF — time runs out and, OH NO! Here comes fall with the crush of school.

Our list was broken down into two categories: big and little. Big includes longer trips to cities such as Chicago, Indianapolis or St. Louis. Little is day trips or activities such as fishing, camping and hiking. As we made plans, my mind returned to powerful memories of my own childhood summers. My mother always repeated the same phrase, whenever we took a summer trip or did a summer activity: “we are building memories.” What piece of wisdom did she know about life that every family could learn from? She knew this ... The brain of a child does not treat all memories equally. Only those memories which are welded to powerful emotions are forever stored. Like iridescent mental tattoos illuminated by black light, the emotional colors of early childhood, green, gold, violet, luminous yellow, paint the walls of the house where child development resides.

Our memories are the foundation of our lives — for good or bad. If a child experiences an early family life of safety and kindness, then the other feelings — excitement, joy, awe, and love, can grow. As adults when life knocks us down, as it inevitably does, we lose hope. When that happens, we can toss down a bucket into our well of childhood memories and draw out pure, clean, cool water to end our drought and restore us to a place of peace. My mother knew all this without a degree in neuroscience, she knew what children needed.

And so, my mind drifts further back, to age 12. I spent my first 12 summers outside. We lived next to a creek, and I loved to explore, run through the trails, and build forts, and my passion, fishing. In the morning after breakfast, I’d grab my fishing pole and worms, and run down to the creek to catch bluegill, sunfish, and catfish. At noon, my mother would signal us (her whistle would travel half a mile) that lunch was ready. Food! No other cook could compete with my mother’s food (my wife agrees to this day) — pork chops with brown sugar, meat loaf, homemade cakes and cookies. Our house always smelled like a bakery. Neighborhood children would show up at lunch and dinnertime to enjoy her homemade treats. Sunset signaled the end of my childhood day — if I had caught enough blue gill, she would fry them up. If I had gathered enough mulberries, she would make a mulberry pie. We always ate dinner together, and we talked and listened to each other. Never once was there a television on during dinner.

Yes, we did take family trips over the summer, but truthfully, the best of my memories did not involve big travel trips. They involve being with my family, and my parents spending lots of time with us over the summer. I can now see how my mother connected us, each summer, and how, just like her baking, she would knead the dough of our family into a harmonious circle.

So, my wife and I discussed our big and little plans for the summer, with our kids. Guess what? The big list was empty, and the little list was full of things to do — canoe trips or hiking trails at Turkey Run, pitching a tent in our back yard, bike riding, and of course, fishing. Our daughter caught her first 2-pound bass when she was 10. Will she remember this forever? Yes. What exactly has her mind stored? She has built a memory of fishing with her dad, the excitement of the bass strike, her dad yelling “keep your pole up,” and her mom saying “wow, that’s bigger than any fish your dad has ever caught!” And I remember as I growled at my wife’s comment, I thought, where is our son? Two explosions ripped the air above my head, and I heard his laughter as two bottle rockets soared overhead. This is what summer is all about. Time to be with your family at a more relaxed pace, so you can build memories of having fun, loving each other, and being connected.

The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional.


Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week to the Journal Review.


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