What made your happy childhood memories happy?
August 12, 2008 12:07 PM   Subscribe

What happy memories do you have of being a young child that make you think either "those were good times" or "that was good parenting"?

The younger you were at the time, the better. I can not remember too much from my young childhood, besides the warm feeling from sitting in a basket of laundry just come from the dryer, my dad teaching me how to ride a bike, and the days my mom would pick me up from grade school and we would eat and talk at Arthur Treacher's while we were waiting for my brothers to finish school. And I can remember one vacation with my family by the seashore when I was very young, when my grandmother showed me how to dig for clams, as well as a trip to Disneyland where we stayed in a loft with a circular staircase surrounded by orange trees. All of these memories leave me with happy, warm feelings about my childhood. I also remember playing with my brothers and reading in my room alot and other minor incidents, but these more mundane memories don't really carry the same emotional weight.

I would like to know if other people have more happy memories from their childhoods and, if so, what are they like? If your parents created loving memories for you, what sorts of things were you doing together? I guess I'm partly trying to understand why some things stick in our minds, to become happy memories, and others don't. As well as how to help create positive memories for a child. (Obviously, "be a good parent/aunt/sitter/friend" is the default answer, but beyond that, what makes the memory?)
posted by onlyconnect to Grab Bag (63 answers total) 116 users marked this as a favorite
My parents used to take us out for dinner every Sunday night for dinner (and ice cream, sometimes, if it was summer). Both parents worked, so we didn't often do family meals during the week. We would talk, play games (mostly educational trivia), and enjoy each other's company.

Also, my dad would take us to the diner every Saturday morning to give my mom some "alone" time, and give us one-on-one (or two-on-one, or three-on-one, depending on my siblings schedules) time with him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:13 PM on August 12, 2008

Watching Commando on HBO with my dad when visiting his place in California for the summer.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:17 PM on August 12, 2008

One of my favorite memories is of fall in Tennessee when I was in early elementary school. My mother would go through "fall cleaning" in mid-October and have every window open removing screens and replacing them with storm windows. Of course I was too young to help, so she would have a UT football game on the radio to keep me entertained. I didn't understand the game, but I knew who John Ward was.

It was a warm/chilly feeling, sitting on the couch all warm and cozy, but being interrupted by the cool breezes wafting in from every corner of the living room. These breezes would invariably bring in the smell of burning leaves from our yard or the neighbors.

posted by bach at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

My mom used to leave work to come meet me for lunch at school, bringing fast food, and eat there in the cafeteria with me. It was especially nice for me as a 6 year old, because I was pretty advanced and had a hard time relating to my peers. It was also a really clear demonstration of how much she went out of her way to be with me and make me feel special.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:25 PM on August 12, 2008

When I was around 6 or 7 I played little league hockey. The first year was fun. The coach was a good guy, had a down-to-earth perspective on the whole thing and wanted us to do our best. The second year, with a new coach, the whole experience shifted. This coach was aggressively competitive and kind of a prick. One game, about halfway through the season, I was sitting on the bench after a particularly uninspired round of play and my dad tapped my shoulder and said, "are you having any fun?" I said, "not really". And then he said, "Well then, let's go." So he walked over to the coach, told him to shove it and we left in the middle of the game. I think that qualifies as great parenting right there.
posted by wabbittwax at 12:27 PM on August 12, 2008 [21 favorites]

Alone time with my dad. My parents divorced when I was three. My dad remarried shortly thereafter and I got 4 instant stepsiblings. To say that I felt overwhelmed (and neglected) when I visited his new house and his new family would be an understatement. But whenever he needed to run an errand or stop by his workplace, I was the one who got to go with him, alone. That meant a lot to me.

One of my warmest, fuzziest memories of being alone with him happened when I was about 12 or so. We were on a roadtrip vacation, dad, me, stepmom and youngest stepsister. My dad was one of those "drive all night and get there quicker" guys, and we found ourselves on a lonely stretch of road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. My stepsister had fallen asleep beside me, my stepmom was nodding off in the front seat, but I was wide awake, so my stepmom decided to switch places with me. I got to sit upfront with my dad and refill his coffee cup periodically from a thermos while we listened to Roger Whitaker cassettes (dad's favorite travelling music). It may seem simplistic, but at the time I felt very happy and fulfilled to have him all to myself, cocooned in the car, listening to music and visiting quietly, with the empty road sprawling out in front of us.
posted by amyms at 12:30 PM on August 12, 2008 [7 favorites]

Growing up I was lucky enough to live in a house with a swimming pool, and a lot of my best childhood memories have to do with the pool.

My favorite memories are of night swims, though. The pool had a light in it, so every once in a while we'd have night swims and invite all the neighbors over. If we were super-lucky, Mom would go get McDonald's or snowcones and we could eat them in the pool if we kept our upper bodies on the sidewalk.

It was an incredible feeling of badassery for me as a six-year-old: I was eating CHEESEBURGERS in the POOL. Holy crap.

Then I'd run around with my hair wet, chasing fireflies. Those were great times.
posted by harperpitt at 12:33 PM on August 12, 2008 [6 favorites]

It had to be before I was 8 but after I was 4. One cay I came home from school and my mom was super super super excited about these new mugs - they were plastic and when you poured your juice into it, it froze the juice along the sides and you could scrape it down and you'd have this slushy mix to eat. Perfect for summer in Baton Rouge!

Only, she wasn't really thinking and didn't realise that they had to go in the freezer prior to adding the juice (so that you froze the liquid that was in the walls of the mug) and she got really sad and apologetic about it. Into the freezer they went and we chatted - just hung out in the kitchen waiting for these plastic mugs to get cold enough to make slushy juice. It was sunny and warm and I stopped thinking about piano lessons and violin lessons and swim practice and school...

It's a golden moment.
posted by oreonax at 12:36 PM on August 12, 2008

Weird, silly inside jokes with my parents form a lot of my early childhood memories. For example, when I was very very young, perhaps three or four, my dad and I had an inside joke that took the form of an argument.

I'd say, "Plastic pipe!"
And he'd say, "Corrugated tubing!"
But I'd insist: "Plastic pipe!"
And he'd rebut: "Corrugated tubing!"

And so on. When we got tired of the "argument," we'd reach a compromise by saying, "Salsa mona tanka."

I'd forgotten about this until I read your post. I used to love doing this. It was just a me-and-Dad thing, my brothers and mother didn't get it as far as I know. I'm not sure how this came about, except I think it was cobbled together from my early attempts to read hardware-store circulars and condiment labels.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:44 PM on August 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

I share your happy memory of being taught by Dad to ride a bike.

I remember my mother making 'peep peep' sounds and motions in the direction of her cardigan pocket while walking me home from nursery school, and finding out she had a little toy chick for me. I have a number of happy memories involving fairly small gifts like that; another that comes to mind is a tote my grandmother sent with a lot of pockets and a five-dollar bill in one of the pockets.

Being taught basic math via homemade cards with the numbers and pennies to illustrate it; get it right, keep the pennies.

My mother occasionally took night classes and I was thrilled to have my father take me out on those nights for (1) Archie comics, (2) junk food or candy.

My father and I rode our bikes to my school together on the first day of school every year, stopping for breakfast.

Pre-school-age, I liked going around downtown relatively aimlessly with my mother, stopping at the usual places (a play structure that was inexplicably in downtown Ottawa at the time, a lemonade stand shaped like a giant lemon).

Jumping in leaf piles at picnics in the park in autumn. Falling asleep in the back of the car with no worries about where I'd wake up or what would go on while I was asleep.
posted by kmennie at 12:44 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are a few things that stand out.

I came home from school one day, went to my bedroom and there was an entire airforce squadron of tiny aircraft on my bed. My dad must have bought them and 'deployed' them on his lunch hour.

I was never very good at going to church. The imagery such as the stations of the cross scared me. I was always fidgety. My dad used to take me out of church and to the corner store for candy. My mom didn't approve of this fond example of bad parenting so eventually she took me out, swatted my bottom and gave me 5 minutes to finish crying. I actually remember both episodes fondly, maybe partly because one was "So mom" and the other was "So dad"

I remember sitting on my mom's lap when she read to me. I started reading really early so I must have been pretty young.

My dad would sometimes come and take me out of school at lunch time and we'd go to lunch together. When I was young it was always an awesome donut shop and lunch would be donuts and chocolate milk. When I was in high school the location changed to the sportsman's club where my dad would have a beer with his under-aged son.

My mom used to come home from school and spontaneously bake once in a while. Cookies, cake or whatever, but my sister and I would get to lick the beaters and bowl.

My favourite uncle would always sit down and talk with me for an hour when he visited but he never talked down to me. He treated me as a little adult.
posted by substrate at 12:44 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Piggle. I remember my parents reading me this book (among others... many others). The best part is they both went to great efforts to do voices and really get into the stories and change their rhythms, etc. I was the youngest of four, so all they'd had time to get used to all our books by the time I remember them. Years later, when I was home from college I found this book on a hidden shelf. I showed it to my dad and he immediately recited the funniest line. I chuckle now to think about how hard he, my mom and I laughed about it.
Anyway, no one else I know has ever read this book, but really... it's so awesome.
posted by purpletangerine at 12:46 PM on August 12, 2008

One of my earlier, very fond memory is with my grandfather. I grew up in Georgia, and my grandparents live in Florida. I used to go down and stay with them for a month or 6 weeks in the summer. Some of my favorite times were on Sunday mornings when my grandfather would pick me up after Sunday school in his old Dodge truck and we would drive down to the river, stopping at a convenience store along the way to pick up some little snack or toy (I especially remember Silly Putty, for some reason). Eventually we'd end up at a park right on the Halifax River with a path over and around this little pond with waterlilies.

I remember being in my Sunday dress, little dress shoes and all, and my tall, handsome grandfather was often in his light blue suit and tie. I loved to run around on that little path, or out on the stone wall right at the river's edge, safe in the knowledge that my granddad was with me. It was usually mid morning, so it wasn't too hot, and sometimes it was misty or foggy. The whole place had this feel of magic to it for me. These were the only times that I really had my grandfather to myself, which made them even more special.

I guess the happiness came from knowing that this was my special time with someone that I adored and who adored me. Plus, y'know, running around outside in your pretty little dress is always fun.
posted by ashirys at 12:47 PM on August 12, 2008

My father was (and still is) a trickster. You could always count on him, but you couldn't ever really trust was he was doing.

One day my sister and I had been especially wild, and so at dinner time my father announced that we had clearly had too much sugar, so we would have to eat double servings of our vegetables, and we weren't going to get any dessert. We protested loudly, as kids are prone to do, but we didn't really see ourselves as having a choice in the matter. Our plates were (seemingly) filled with peas and carrots, but it wasn't until after we'd had our first bite that we realized that my father had given us plates full of joke candy that only looked like vegetables.

There was also a day when my father explained to us that my friend Josh's parents couldn't drive him to school that day, so we would be picking him up on our way to class. Once we had Josh in the car, my father pretended to get lost. The kids all became more and more worried, convinced that we were going to get in trouble for being late to class. My father, playing the role to the hilt, acted confused and frustrated by his apparent inability to find his way to our school. It wasn't until we pulled into the Disneyland parking lot that it dawned on us that my father had no intention of taking us to school that day.

Well played, old man.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2008 [29 favorites]

When we visited my grandmother in TN my dad and I would take walks to the corner store. I'm sure it was just an excuse for him to buy cigarettes, but I always got to go with him, and he bought me candy. It was a nice break with just me and my dad away from the rest of the kids and noisy family gathering. I remember distinctly that the road was large and busy, and he always made me walk on the wall side, so he was between me and all the scary cars and loud trucks. My tall protector daddy.
posted by purpletangerine at 12:51 PM on August 12, 2008

Some of mine are a lot like those of amyns: going on a road trip with my dad, getting out of the truck to fill up, and feeling the early morning chill against my face on the way inside to pay.

Also, my dad and I going to my elementary school field on the weekends and lying on our backs, watching clouds. This is such a cliched nostalgia image that I'm hesitant to put it down, but as far as I can tell, the memory's happiness derives from its intrinsic qualities--the coolness of the grass, the quickness of the clouds--and not retroactive cultural expectations.

Pessimistically, a reason why my happiest childhood memories involve my dad may be that we entered an undeclared estrangement in my teens and nothing has been the same since.

So my tongue-in-cheek advice about how to create happy childhood memories is to remember to create some negatives ones down the road for contrast. But really, that will happen with or without a parent's help.

I hope this doesn't get deleted as Chatfilter...I'd have foregrounded the "how can I give a child happy memories" angle to give it a better chance.
posted by Beardman at 12:53 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

My grandmother parented me. She had an old record player and she would play these old polka songs, put my feet on her feet, and polka me around her apartment. I would laugh so hard I couldn't breathe. I wish she were here to meet my children.
posted by mistsandrain at 12:53 PM on August 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

There was a creek that still ran relatively wild through our rural/suburban subdivision of tract homes. My father would take me creek walking (muddy wet shoes and all) and point out all the different plants, bugs, newts, polliwogs, etc. by name, and cupped daddy long legs spiders in his hands so I could get a better look, and learn to not be afraid. (I am a girl, and this was something very special in that time and place, when I was supposed to be home playing with Barbies.)
posted by availablelight at 12:55 PM on August 12, 2008

One common thread I see in a lot of these answers is the good feeling created when a parent disrupts a normal routine for a special treat--going out of his or her way to have or make a special experience for the child.

My moment is one I've always thought of as both representative of my father's parenting and of good parenting in general: when I was in first grade, there was to be a total solar eclipse one day. The upper grades were learning about it and getting out of class to see it, but someone decided that the young students would stay in class--either that we wouldn't care about a solar eclipse or that it was too much hassle to keep us from blinding ourselves, I don't know.

My dad came and took me out of class and spent a long time explaining to me what we would see, and then showing me the eclipse through a little mylar card. Then I went back to class. That was all.

But all my life I've felt that my dad sees me as an interesting and valuable person--someone he really wanted to know and spend time with. And that day is the earliest example of that feeling that I remember.
posted by Beckminster at 12:55 PM on August 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

If your parents created loving memories for you, what sorts of things were you doing together?

Anything, really. It may be over-simplistic for your question, but my fond memories are of the times my parents would involve me in their lives. Helping my dad build a tree fort or handing him tools while he fixed some household appliance, they're about the same in my memory.
posted by lekvar at 12:57 PM on August 12, 2008

Thinking about this post it dawned on me that many of my best memories (and many of those related here) revolve around traditions, whether they are weekly meals at a restaurant or yearly trips to visit grandparents. I never realized how much I valued having those repetitive, reliable experiences when I was younger.

Some of my best memories are from our yearly trips to Ocracoke Island, on the outer banks of North Carolina. My mother, sister and I would to drive out a long sand road to the beach in whatever old beater of a car we had - a rollicking, tire-spinning roller coaster ride. Often we would get the car stuck in deep sand, and have to rely on friendly passers-by to help us dig out. These experiences always made me feel like our whole family, and especially my mom, were a bunch of crazy adventurers.
posted by itstheclamsname at 1:01 PM on August 12, 2008

-My mom used to turn cartwheels with us kids on our front lawn.

-Our family would have contests to see who could get the crunchiest fried potato at dinner.

-I also remember a vacation my family took, and we had to go through a boarder checkpoint in Texas - My dad thought it would be a great idea to sing Born in the USA, my mom not so much. We didn't actually sing it, but I remember how hard we laughed and how much my mom threatened us if we actually sang it.

-Dancing on the fire place in front of a fire after getting out of the bath in the winter.

-This probably isn't exactly what you're looking for, as it's not really a memory, but growing up, my family didn't have a lot of money, but us kids never knew it, and we never went without anything we really needed.
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 1:03 PM on August 12, 2008

A few things come to mind. I remember having a set of built-in shelves in my bedroom, circa 5 years old, that went to the ceiling. My brother and I would climb to the top spot, and then jump onto the bed. Over and over. What fun! Another thing was that my dad always let me help him when he worked on our car(s). He'd let me get under the car to see what he was doing, let me help gap spark plugs or change the oil or change a belt, and over time I learned the names of the tools so I could hand them to him. Oh, and my parents instituted a requirement when we were about 7yo that we kids each had to cook dinner one night a week. I'm sure they did it out of exhaustion and not any sort of self-reliance skills, and I'm sure they lived to regret it at least a little since it meant that for about a year we had spaghettios and hot dogs & beans once a week.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:03 PM on August 12, 2008

When I was 6 years old, my Dad studied part-time to get his masters degree. In the evenings, he would write some simple arithmetic problems onto a sheet of paper and we would then do our respective "homework" together at the kitchen table.
posted by DB Cooper at 1:04 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

One more thing - My dad cut down some trees in our yard and there was a nest with a baby bird in it. I was nearly hysterical with worry about the baby bird, so my dad called around until he found someone who took birds in. He didn't have to do that, could have just tossed it all, but because I was so worried, he took the time away from doing what he needed to do just to settle my mind.
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 1:05 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: First, thank you. It is so fascinating to see what details other people remember, and many of these are so fun or just really lovely.

From these examples I'm starting to see a few common themes (though this doesn't cover everything):
-- times when mom/dad broke the rules or "the norm" in a way that showed they care about you and/or in a way that was really cool or fun;
-- occasions where you got alone time with a parent(s)/grandparent(s);
-- regular, cyclical events with the whole family or part of it;
-- times when they let you into the secret world of adults in a way that made it fun and educational (but not scary);
-- memories involving the senses, may be associated with a feeling of being nurtured.

I think some of these might be hard to try to orchestrate on purpose -- like the ones involving specific senses. But the first several seem quite possible to aim for, especially if one really made an effort at it.
posted by onlyconnect at 1:10 PM on August 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

Good parenting: I was putting on a hyperbolic "woe is me" act (I don't remember what my complaint was). It must have been pretty ridiculous, because my very patient, kind mom just laughed at me - I remember being confused, and then thinking "oh, okay, this is over the top" and started laughing too. Then she helped me figure out how to resolve the problem without all the drama.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:13 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Cooking with parents, singing (to piano or records) with parents, watching tv with them and making fun of stupid things, playing cards, playing frisbee, taking care of animals...

There's no way to tell what will stick, so there's no way to orchestrate one thing to stick. Just enjoying each other's company doing the normal business of life is enough.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:19 PM on August 12, 2008

When my mom would pick me up from preschool, I always got a Lifesaver for me, and one for a friend. She would gently nudge me toward choosing friends I hadn't chosen yet, but it was always my decision who got the extra lifesaver. I was the most popular kid in preschool.

My mom made a bazillion Christmas cookies every year, and she let my sister and me choose which types she was going to make (and of course, she let us help her make them). My favorites were these tri-color chocolate covered italian things, and I know (now) that they were very time-consuming to make. Didn't matter, she made them every year. My mom doesn't really have time to bake anymore, but every Christmas, I get a batch of those tri-color cookies.

Speaking of Christmas, when I was at the age where I was questioning the existence of Santa Claus (but my sister was still to young to have any doubts), my mom made it clear that anyone who believed that Santa doesn't exist doesn't get any presents from him. And since Santa brought toys and mom gave us clothes, I have never questioned Santa Claus. He exists and that's all there is to that. I'm 37 years old and I still get toys from Santa.

There's also a million other warm but fuzzy memories- my mom rubbing my back until I fell asleep... my mom singing "Teddy Bears Picnic" at the top of her lungs when she should have been really sick of that song... going to drive-in movies...

Ok, I need to go call my mom now.
posted by dogmom at 1:19 PM on August 12, 2008

On the good parenting side, my dad did several things that were, in retrospect, neat tricks that I'll use on my son someday.

- When we'd go somewhere on a long car ride and get antsy on the way home, he'd look at the clock and say, "Okay, we're about twenty minutes from home and it's 6:34 now. Let's see who can guess the exact minute we'll be home." So we'd all put in our guesses and watch the clock until he pulled into the garage.

- On long car trips he'd have us look at license plates and spell things with the letters (at the time in Wisconsin all license plates began with three letters). So the license plate LPR-598 could turn into "leper" or "leaper."

- When we'd have a problem in school he would sit down and, instead of yelling at us he'd make us identify the root of the problem, the steps we'd take to solve it, and how to check in with him to make sure the problem was being solved. It was a lot more work than sitting through fifteen minutes of yelling.

- He would occasionally do a simple scientific experiment in front of us and let us guess about why it worked.

My mom made us feel special by drawing pictures on our open-faced peanut-butter sandwiches or making small cakes with our initials on them for Valentine's Day. That was good parenting, too.
posted by christinetheslp at 1:21 PM on August 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

The long walk to the shore (didn't call it the beach), about 3 miles, Tomato sandwiches and a bottle of pop for dinner (lunch), play on the beach all day and make that long trek home, dirty, half starved, cuts and bruises to explain away. A quick "tea" (dinner) and back out on the street to play tag, hop sotch until it got too dark to see.....
posted by plainjs at 1:22 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was putting on a hyperbolic "woe is me" act (I don't remember what my complaint was). It must have been pretty ridiculous, because my very patient, kind mom just laughed at me - I remember being confused, and then thinking "oh, okay, this is over the top" and started laughing too.

Lobstermitten: my dad used to sing the corny old "HOLL-ywood" song whenever my brother and I pitched this kind of fit. I still hear it in my head when I realize I'm being histrionic.
posted by Beardman at 1:29 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

When I was five, sitting on my dad's lap in his favorite chair as the opening scene of Star Wars came on the TV.

And that's where my fanboyism began.
posted by InsanePenguin at 1:35 PM on August 12, 2008

The fact that my parents were always very involved in my school and education. It really drove home the fact that education is important, and that they valued what I did in school. My mom would always come in to observe the classroom for a day in the early years of elementary school.
posted by Ostara at 1:40 PM on August 12, 2008

I was driving home with mom from somewhere when I was about 4. There was a bag there in the front seat and I asked what it was. She said it was for me. It was a Playmobil set of a construction site with scaffolding and a megaphone for the foreman. I asked why she got it for me and she said it was for being good. We played with it together when we got home.

To this day I can barely keep it together when I'm reminded of that day.
posted by jon_kill at 1:53 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I got my first Little League baseball uniform, and I wanted to know what I looked like in it. Putting it on wasn't enough. Looking in a mirror wasn't enough. Taking a Polaroid picture wasn't enough.

Grandma's response? Build a mannequin out of crumpled newspaper. There, she said. That's what you look like when you wear your uniform.

what makes the memory?

It's when your dreams, however small, become real.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:57 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was five we went to visit my grandfather, who lived in pre-casino Atlantic City, NJ. Circa 1966. My parents didn't have a car, so we rode the bus there. This was a huge adventure.

He lived on the bay side of the island, near Bader Field. We spent some time watching small banner-towing planes take off and land from the end of his street. Then we walked from his house to the boardwalk, at least eight blocks or so. When you are a kid, it seems like miles. We spent some time on the boardwalk, in the arcades. Then we walked to Captain Starn's Restaurant, in the Inlet. It was probably three miles or so, but again, when you are a kid it seemed like a cross-country trek.

We bought some chopped-up mackerel and fed it to the sea lions. Then we went inside, where we sat at a table with an ocean view. I was allowed to order whatever I wanted. I got a half-dozen clams on the half shell, much to the amusement of the waitress. Then I had fried flounder and proceeded to tell the waitress all about our epic trek to dinner.

I still like seafood and long walks.
posted by fixedgear at 1:59 PM on August 12, 2008

When my mom pulled the towels out of the drier near bed time she would pile them on top of me. It was warm. Second, falling asleep in front of the fireplace when my brothers were out of town. Also warm.
posted by kristymcj at 1:59 PM on August 12, 2008

Oh, and she always let me stop and read the historical markers and, as long as I was reading, I was allowed to stay up as late as I wanted. Huge motivator to read and to enjoy it.
posted by kristymcj at 2:00 PM on August 12, 2008

I happen to be unfortunate enough to have a relatively non-happy childhood regarding parents; what happiness I had were derived from friends, my brother, and myself, and I don't remember being truly happy until recently (and it's not from my parents).

That said though, somehow my first use of a squat toilet in Taiwan became a happy memory, even though it was embarrassing. I had no idea what it was, thinking I should stand while doing my business, and moments later my mother had to calm me down while I cried in my pee-soaked shorts. Good ol' Ma. Count on someone to tell you how things in her home country work - after the fact >.<
posted by curagea at 2:16 PM on August 12, 2008

We were moving to our (then) new house in Fontana, and for one of the trips in the U-Haul I got to ride alone with my dad. The truck wasn't all that stable and it was quite shaky, but he made it look like that was one of the perks about it-- we'd randomly just say "Aaaaaaa" and laugh at how funny it sounded because the shakiness of the truck made it sound distorted.

He was a pretty big guy (and my mother was one of those freak paranoid shut-ins etc. etc.), so it's not like we could just go randomly play outside... but I didn't really consider that a negative. I thought of him as being a big plush lion/teddybear. For the first half of elementary school, I had lots of alone time with him during summer vacation since my siblings slept in a lot (and my mother worked days) and he would make pbj crackers and we would watch Nick Jr. and such.

He would intentionally say words wrong because it sounded funny, or made up words (such as "blurpo," the color of belching). I think at one point he even started using Star Trek races as swear words.

Sadly that all kinda fell apart as soon as middle school started-- divorce proceedings started up and I started having depression episodes. Truth be told, my dad really was awkward with kids, but I never really faulted him for that... I'd just wish he'd have come to bat for me or at least backed me a little more when my grades would crash (from my depression episodes) and my mother would shred me apart. When, at 21, I told him I needed counseling but that mother could never EVER know about it, he understood entirely and apologized so much for not standing up to my mother when she went too far in punishing me over grades, and told me that soooo many times the school would call home telling my parents to PLEEEEEASE send me to therapy but he couldn't do it as my mother would throw a shitfit over "strangers meddling." The fact that unlike my mother, my dad really was remorseful for not being able to do anything to help me... how could I possibly resent him?

He died earlier this year, but at least I can still hold onto those trivial childhood details.
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 2:25 PM on August 12, 2008

There was a mobile/windchime kind of thing in the shape of an owl that hung in my childhood bedroom; I remember the head was one piece, and different-lengthed sticks hanging paralell to each other made up the body.

On the nights when my father tucked me into bed, before he turned out the light, he would always, on his way to the door, stop by the mobile, bonk his face directly into the sticks, and make a goofy face at me through them. And only when he'd gotten me to giggle would he turn out the light and say good night.

Dad would also tell us silly stories about an imaginary friend of his he called "Sam Yakaboochie." The only one of them I remember made it sound like Sam was a daredevil driver by profession: "You know how Evil Kenivel jumped over eight schoolbuses driving a motorcycle? That's nothing -- my friend Sam Yakaboochie jumped over eight motorcycles driving a schoolbus!"

Sam has actually stayed a family tradition, as Dad was kind of unwilling to let go the notion of someone leaving mysterious Christmas gifts when my brother and I stopped believing in Santa -- when we were in our teens, my brother and I started getting surprise Christmas presents from Sam. The first year we found them we both gave Dad a look, but he just grinned and shook his head, saying, "hey, don't look at me, those are from Sam, just like it says!" To this day, we all still get a Christmas gift from Sam Yakaboochie every year. (It made for some real hilarity the year my brother was dating a girl whose last name was actually "Iacabucci" - and guess how you pronounce that.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:39 PM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Back in the late 60's and early 70's my parents would pile all 6 of us kids into Mom's Pontiac Catalina station wagon, flatten the back 3 rows of seats (the thing was a boat) and head off in the middle of the night from the northern suburbs of Chicago, around the bottom of the lake, and up to Beaver Island, Michigan for our annual vacation. There being no seatbelts, we did a lot of sliding around, and that was fun. On arrival at St. James, Beaver Island, there was a wonderful beach which had a huge slide (OK, I was 7 or 8) and a great thing called a maypole, where each kid had a handle that was attached to a disc at the top of the pole. You ran around in circles and let centrifugal force takes its wonderful toll - the bigger kids kept running and got us little ones dangerously high up in the air. We fished. We saw Goodbye Mr Chips on some crappy film projector in the old school house.

Fast forward 5 or so years, and we'd moved to Ireland. The small coastal island my father came from was twinned with Beaver Island - and it wasn't an artificial twinning - there were/are many historical links between the people of the two islands, with many Beaver Islanders claiming ancestry from Arranmore in County Donegal. My brothers and I volunteered on the little 24 foot half-decker boats that served as mini ferries between Arranmore and the mainland for many summers. Now I have a boat on the Hudson River, and wouldn't dream of letting Nicky Junior do the things I did at that age, and I'm resolved to change that.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 3:00 PM on August 12, 2008

My dad asked me three questions before I went to bed each night:

1) What was your favorite part of the day?
2) What did you learn today?
3) What did you do for someone else today?

I think that made a big difference.
posted by phrontist at 3:04 PM on August 12, 2008 [18 favorites]

My father wouldn't get any "best parent" prizes, but one of my sweetest childhood memories is of him standing between my and my brother's bedrooms and singing "A foggy day in Londontown" and "Around the world in 80 days" at bedtime.

Plus, when I was a kid, I hated chocolate bars with nuts, and everyone else loved them, so that's what they bought. My mother would chip away parts with no nuts and save those for me (In those days an almond hershey bar was as much almond as chocolate, so this took some doing).

I think the theme I see above is that good parents made children feel special and unique, and made it clear that, at least for that moment, the child was the most important thing in the world.

Great question, fun thread.
posted by nax at 3:13 PM on August 12, 2008

I remember my mom dressing me very early in the morning while I was still half-asleep in my bed, so she could take me to nursery school before she had to go to work.

And all my life, how she caressed my face with her fingers to smooth my hair back away from my eyes.
posted by maloon at 3:59 PM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

When I was five, traveling with my mom through the Southwest. Got a cool silk scarf at some nowhere gas station. It was in a $1 'mystery' gift box, and it was soo soft and pretty.

Said 'bye' to the little town, by waving the scarf outside window as we drove away. Bye bye scarf.

There was no way to recover it and I burst out in sobs. My mom immediately began telling me what great luck it would be to some little desert animal. Why, they can build a nest with it or a little den and make a soft place for their babies! I got all excited, and we spent the next hour inventing all kinds of ways the desert critters might use their lucky find. It's one of my favorite things my mom ever gave me.
posted by for_serious at 4:05 PM on August 12, 2008 [6 favorites]

Alone time with one of my parents or grandparents are a large part of my happy childhood memories as well, particularly when you got to do an "adult" or secret thing with them.

- Getting up really early with my dad and going to check on the fishing nets before school, and my dad allowing me to pilot the boat while he hauled the nets out. Or going sailing with my dad and brother, and my dad letting me handle the ropes to the spinnaker (something even my brother wasn't allowed to do).
- Cooking or baking with my mom, and her allowing me to make decisions on what to make for dinner, or decide if it will be a gingerbread house or a gingerbread train, or what type of birthday cake to make. Reading books with my mom and talking about them.
- My grandfather taking me to his secret raspberry-picking place deep in the woods, teaching me to find the way that not even my grandmother knew.

A lot of other good memories are of special traditions during holidays, generally involving a large part of my extended family. That would be things like going sledding with all my aunts/uncles/cousins every New Years Day, whatever the weather. Or walking through the woods to the old shooting range and searching for spent bullets on Midsummer's Eve - everyone racing up the hill to get there first and competing for most/largest bullets found.

The final type of happy memories involve getting to spend time with my older brother, going on adventures with him and his friends. His allowing me to come to see their secret hideout behind the hay in the barn, helping me climb there since I couldn't get there by myself. Bike races and soccer games with him and his friends, him teaching me to ride a snow mobile and to drive a moped, and teaching me ski jumping (laughing when I fell all the time). Good times! I remember these especially strongly 'cause I just finished a book for his birthday, recounting stories about him when we were kids.
posted by gemmy at 4:20 PM on August 12, 2008

A lot of other good memories are of special traditions during holidays, generally involving a large part of my extended family.

Oh yeah, that reminds me. I was about six or seven walked into the kitchen and saw my mother and grandmother working on something. t was kind of hard to see what they were doing, but when I got closer could see that they had a bag of flour out and that they had made a sort of volcano right on the orange boomerang Formica countertop! This was wild, and as I leaned in to watch I saw that they also had a dozen eggs. They began to break the eggs into the center of the volcano.

Me: "What are you doing!?"

Mom: "We're making macaroni."

Me: "What? You don't make macaroni, it comes in a box!"

I watched them make pasta from scratch.
posted by fixedgear at 4:39 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some of my favorite memories were playing kick-the-can with all the neighborhood kids and sometimes my dad would play with us. He was really REALLY good at it, and wouldn't lower down to our skill levels of hiding and seeking. He made us rise to his, and we would play in the summers until 11:00pm, which is pretty late for 8 year olds.

I loved hunting for hermit crabs and other neat creepy crawlies at the beach and then showing them to my mom who would always ooh and aah.

We would always go canoing as a family, and we got to take turns paddling and my parents would always point out neat wildlife like owls and turtles and hawks and minks. Then we would pitch tents and make popcorn over the campfire.

Speaking of camping, we would often camp out in the backyard with our dad, and as a special treat, he would even bring out this tiny 5in TV to watch a silly program on before we hit the sack. And then mom would bring us French toast in the morning to the tent.

I picked out a necklace in the Black Hills with my allowance money when I was seven. I still have that necklace (I'm almost 30) and wear it regularly. It was my first "pretty thing" purchase with my own money.

Friday nights we went to the video rental store, rented one of the Fairie Tale Theatre movies, ordered pizza, and got to drink soda. Mom, Dad, and my little brother. Only on Friday nights.
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:57 PM on August 12, 2008

We had dinner together every night, and on Friday nights my sister and I would climb into my parents' bed with my dad and just talk for hours in the dark. (We kept the Jewish sabbath and couldn't turn lights on on Friday night-Saturday.)

Once, on a vacation, my dad took me out to breakfast at like 5 in the morning and I got to eat Honey Smacks. It was so exciting.
posted by callmejay at 6:43 PM on August 12, 2008

We had special nicknames for everyone in the family, with a shared stem but different endings (something like Pinky, Pinks, Little Pink, Big Pink). (I think a lot of special childhood memories involve parents or other adults making you feel special in some way, no matter how small.)

I was always most of the time a straight-A student. At one point, I had a problem with a nincompoop of a teacher, and I had an F. My Mum asked me how it happened, I explained it was because of the teacher, not because I didn't study hard enough. While I was studying for the make-up test, she asked me if I wanted her to ask the school principal to organize a committee where I would be questioned on the problematic subject matter, to prove my knowledge of it and get a good grade in spite of the problems with my teacher.
The good parenting here is: a) she trusted me enough to believe my version of the story, b) she trusted my abilities and was sure I'd get a good grade; c) she offered me a way to solve a problematic situation, but d) she let me choose for myself what to do about that situation.

In general, whenever I came to my parents with some mess I'd made or fell into, there'd be a 5-minute frustrated yelling first (mostly due to my Mum's temper, which we all learned to ignore most of the time), but then they'd sit down with me and say "ok, let's think about how to solve this". They didn't make me feel like a failure or said "it's all your fault" or "told you so" or kept reminding me of my mistakes.

And whenever I wanted to do something (from a simple thing like making cookies, to learning how to play the guitar to going to college in another country), they said "You want to do this? Ok. How can we help?" and supported me 100%.
posted by gakiko at 11:19 PM on August 12, 2008

- If my Dad and I had an argument or I got in trouble or he got upset with me, once the situation had been resolved we would 'rewind' the tape. This involved pressing each other's noses as if they were a VCR button. It seems silly written out, but it was a way that we avoided holding grudges.
- I had piano lessons every week. Although I hated practicing, I loved lesson day. Me and my Dad would "bum around town". Bumming around town usually involved going to the Big library in the Big town where my piano lessons were, or a bookstore, and going out to lunch. Like many other posts here, it was so special to have an afternoon that was just me and my Dad.
- Crawling into my parents' bed on birthdays or Christmas. So many of our family photos are of all of us in our PJs, hair mussed up, cards and wrapping paper all over the big bed.
- Getting sung to sleep. My Dad would sing me songs like Brother, Can You Spare a Dime; Seven Beers With the Wrong Woman; Paper Doll; lots of depression-era stuff. I loved them all and had no idea how OLD they were (this was the mid-80's).
posted by pants at 4:45 AM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nearly all of my best kid with parents memories seem to involve being outside. We spent a lot of time just left alone to run around. And food. My dad would take preschool me on walks and teach me big words like "oscillating sprinkler" that I used to impress carpool moms. He also would play catch with my brother and me in the driveway and take us hiking. When my brother and I were in the small-n-fidgety years and the family went out to dinner my dad would take us for a stroll to kill time until the food arrived. (He didn't like the waiting either!)

My grandparents lived a couple hundred miles from us and so on the long car trips my mom would have a special stash of goodies like comic books and usually forbidden junk food that she would hand out at certain stops along the way. Helping her with baking at Christmastime was awesome, and occasionally during the winter we would have indoor cookouts in front of the fireplace and roast hot dogs and make smores.

My parents also read aloud to us and helped make us love reading and that bugs and snails are not gross but interesting and worthy of study. Thanks, 'Rents!
posted by Salthound at 10:15 AM on August 13, 2008

Every year during the holidays, my dad would take my sister and I on individual "Christmas Dates". Local theaters always had productions of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker Ballet, as well as other holiday-themed productions, and we each got to choose which one we wanted to see. My mom would take us each shopping for a special dress, and Dad would wear a suit and let his "date" (me or my sister) pick out his tie. On the big night there'd be lots of pictures and a corsage, and we'd go out for dinner somewhere fun. It was great to feel like a big girl, and to get to spend a night out on the town with my dad. When I was really little he would let me stand on his lap so I could see better.

My mom would wake me up on cold winter mornings with a mug of hot cocoa and a straw, so I could drink it without even sitting up. She understood all my random grunts in my half-asleep stupor, where "I don't wanna get up" sounded more like "mm mwaa-aa gnup" - it felt like we had a secret language.

Before bed each night, after our parents had read to us, my mom would usually sing us Brahm's lullaby. Every once in a while my dad would sing the song instead, and he'd do funny voices. Our favorites were the underwater version (bubble sounds by running his finger across his lips) and the over-the-top Bob Dylan version. My mom would crack up, and we all loved it.
posted by vytae at 11:57 AM on August 13, 2008

Singing while doing dishes or in the car. Wrestling after dinner. Taking turns telling stories. Special solo excursions with one parent/relative/grownup friend. Going for a "pickle ride", which is when you head out in the car in an unfamiliar direction and more or less deliberately get lost. (Now that I think of it, these are all things I still like doing.)

Also, my aunt used to let my brother and me each paint up one half of her face with makeup. At the same time! Once I put green and yellow stripes on her cheekbones!
posted by tangerine at 12:41 PM on August 13, 2008

When we were younger my brothers and I would turn a bedroom into "cushion world". We'd take all the sleeping bags, a light mattress, excercise mats... anything cusion-like and make sure every inch of the floor (and some wall) was covered with something soft. And then we'd proceed to bounce around the room all night and sleep wherever we wanted.

After church every Sunday my mom would make us drink water with honey. We all hated it then, but it's still a very fond memory. My dad also took us to Dairy Queen to share chocolate dipped ice cream cones every Sunday.

When I was in grade 2, I qualified for the spelling bee at school. To help me practise whenever we were in the car, my mom told me close my eyes, and she would call out signs she saw on the street for me to spell. (I won with the word "communication")
posted by cheemee at 2:32 PM on August 13, 2008

Our family was sorta asian. And I have absolutely no real connection to my asian ancestry other than the Sunday dim sum my dad would take us to after church. The crotchety, aging store fronts of Portland's chinatown, the very odd smells of the nearby grocery, and my dad (for some inexplicable reason) trying to pass off the three or four words he knew in Cantonese into full blown fluency.

My mother making really poor empanadas. She is not a cook by any stretch of the imagination, but you know, she was trying to install some culture in us; however haphazardly.

On long drives to wherever we went on vacations, my dad would let us, one by one, drive the damn car. I kid you not. He'd set us on his lap, and we'd get to steer. Grant you, it was on a straight highway, and his hands were always on the wheel too, but still, BADASS.
posted by eurasian at 3:52 PM on August 13, 2008

Right after my parents' divorce, I had a day visit with my mom. I was either four or five. She met me at my grandmother's house, and we did normal things all day long. We played puzzle games, tried to see who could blow the biggest bubble with super bubble gum and walked around the neighborhood. We skipped, jumped rope and sang together. She listened to everything I said with no interruptions, and I know I talked about the most mundane shit, but she smiled the whole time. That was absolutely, without a doubt, one of the happiest times of my life. It's the first happy memory I have, and I'm really trying to make this happen for my kiddos.

Also, I would spend some weekends and some of summer vacation at my grandparents (really) small farm. My grandpa would 'put me on the payroll' (a quarter an hour! I thought I was rich.) My work consisted of helping him out with various chores, although my part usually consisted of running to get him something to drink or handing him a wrench, or hammer, or whatever. He let me paint the tractor, and he taught me to drive a golf cart and an atv. He also let me help with picking bunches of roses for my grandmother, and then I would get the honor of presenting them. I looked forward to that part of summer vacation more than anything.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 10:57 AM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite childhood memories probably wouldn't be put into the "good parenting" column. We had a hole in the back yard filled with wasps, and my father filled it with kerosene, threw a bunch of fireworks in there, and tossed a lit cigarette. It was pretty spectacular.
posted by splatta at 7:47 PM on August 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

My dad said we were going to get shoes. I was impressed that the shoe store had an ornate lobby, and looked very different than other shoe stores I had been in. It was only when we went into the actual theater that I realized were seeing a movie instead--which turned out to be Star Wars. Mind: blown.
posted by everichon at 9:56 AM on August 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

i was around 6 or 7 at the time and it was one of those days where i felt like everyone was against me; my sisters were bossing me around, my mom getting on my case about every little thing i was doing, my brother was causing mischief and blaming on me. i felt really isolated, angry and fed up so i did what any 6 year old would do: pack some peanut butter and saltine crackers and run away. well i made it as far as the back yard, behind a bush and after about a half an hour of sitting out there feeling sorry for myself my dad comes running outside calling out my name like a lunatic; i had never seen him that worried before. after about a minute of yelling i came out from the bushes expecting my dad to be really mad at me, but he wasn't, he was on the verge of tears. he picked me up, took me inside the house and told me that he loved me and that i should never feel like i had to run away, ever. i'm now 23 and to this day that is the closest i've ever seen my dad to crying and now i can't think of this moment without getting a little choked up myself.
posted by bettershredder at 11:12 AM on September 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

In elementary school I remember mom making my favorite bologna sandwiches for lunch. I'd open the sandwich to reveal the mustard smiley face before eating it.
posted by asianvikinggirl at 11:29 AM on October 2, 2008

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