When I think about what I want my son to remember when he’s older from being a baby, I have high hopes that he’ll remember how much we loved him. But I’m not a delusional new parent…at least totally delusional. He clearly won’t be able to recall any of his experiences directly. I’m aware that he won’t remember me singing Randy Travis songs to him accompanied by my semi-hollow guitar; he won’t recall that I dressed him in a Patriots uniform before one of the big games; he won’t recall the first time we buckled him into his car seat, and he won’t know how many times we checked in the rearview mirror to ensure he was alive. In fact, Daniel Siegel, child psychologist and author of “The Whole Brain Child,” called the beginning of a child’s life infant amnesia, which is the phenomenon where adults can’t recall episodic memories from before they were two years old.
It’s sad to think that everything I do for my child won’t be directly remembered.
But, of course, I know experience forms a child’s future. That’s what I was thinking about the first time I brought my son to the ocean. I was lucky enough to bring him to Hawaii, specifically the north shore of Kauai, which is one of the wettest places on the planet. Kauai is a special place for my family, which I chronicled in a blog called, “10 Things to Do in Kauai with Your Wife Before You Die.” During our trip, it rained on and off. Waterfalls were springing up on the mountain sides. Clouds rolled in off the ocean, and for large chunks of the day, the island was swallowed by fog.
On the second day, when the sun broke through the rain clouds, Kauai rolled back its curtain and the beauty of the garden isle took center stage. So I brought my son to the edge of the beach, and we stared at Hanalei Bay for almost an hour.
I have traveled to Kauai, Hawaii, three times now, and it’s safe to say that Hanalei Bay on the North Shore is the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life. While I didn’t have my DSLR, I tried to capture the beauty of the place on my iPhone, but the images fall short of replicating the transcendental experience of looking at the bay and seeing the mountains, knowing that just beyond is the Na Pali Coast.
We sat in a tent underneath a koa tree, and it provided a canopy to shield my son from the sun. He is three months old. I held him so he could look at what I considered a natural masterpiece. I listened to the birds in the tree above us, the wind moving through the tent, and the ocean rocking the shore. Deeper in the bay, I could see the waves breaking, and the surfers were paddling into the break. In the foreground, there is a mountain that runs from the jungle to the ocean. It resembles a sleeping dragon, and the mouth of the dragon faces the ocean, as if ready to address any strangers. Legend has it, Peter, Paul, and Mary famously wrote their song, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” about this view.
If I could spend the rest of my life looking at one thing–whether that is a painting by Van Gogh or any wonder like Half Dome in Yosemite or the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon–then it would certainly be Hanalei Bay. The water is a metallic blue at sun set, the rain clouds hang on the mountains, waterfalls trickle down the hills, rainbows are all too common. The mountains are called Hihimanu, Namolokama, and Mamalahoa–names I’m not sure how to pronounce.
While my son might not remember directly the experience of sitting underneath that tree and staring at Hanalei Bay, I do believe he will one day recognize the feeling. He might not remember directly, but unconscious experience is something that families can pass down to each other even when we are unaware. We share experience through generations, passing it the same way we pass genetic material. One day, I know that my son will stop and sit underneath a tree and hear the wind blowing through the canopy and see mountains towering over the ocean, waterfalls cascading down the mountain, and he will hear my voice without me having to say a word.