If you’re not on TikTok, let me fill you in: the youths are all about “core memories.” What does that mean, exactly? If you peruse the 661 million videos ascribed to #corememory you’ll find sentimental piano tracks playing over the moments people want to remember. There’s a toddler’s wobbly entrance into his first day of daycare; a dog with cheeks flapping out as he peeks out of the car’s sunroof; parents hovering over their teenager’s shoulder as she opens a college acceptance letter; newlyweds swaying on an empty beach. I sniffle as I watch the videos because I’m overly sentimental. Suddenly, they’re not strangers, I’m rooting for them! I hope they grasp onto these memories because I know they — or really we — can never get a grip on time. Somehow, storing these memories in the cobwebs of your brain — or the corner of your TikTok — feels like a soothing way to say, “I’ll carry this with me.”
The funny thing is, we can’t really control the memories we carry with us, can we? I’ve considered some of my most salient childhood memories, the ones that grab me by the feels and bring me right back. I’m in the backseat of my parents’ Toyota, listening to Madonna’s “Lucky Star” and smelling of sweat, grass, and halftime oranges; I’m splayed on my parents’ bathroom floor, feeling hairspray mist down from my mom, the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen; I’m up to bat, nauseous with nerves as my dad leans down to my height and talks me through batting tips that sound exactly like the Charlie Brown teacher; I’m eight years old, home “sick” from school, shoveling Kraft Macaroni & Cheese down the hatchet as I watch Ricki Lake interview goth teens on the verge of parent-prescribed makeovers; I’m in the Mervyn’s dressing room with my mom, pulling on the capri pants that will guarantee back-to-school, fifth-grade popularity; I’m curled up in my own little tent in the Sierra mountains, wondering if my parents will overhear when I’m inevitably eaten by a bear.
Did my parents know those would be my core memories? (I am going to guess no, at least in the case of second-grade Ricki Lake consumption). Are core memories something parents can orchestrate? I remember reading this post on family rituals when I was pregnant with my daughter in 2020. Like many Cup of Jo articles, the comments brought me laughter and goosebumps. I frantically annotated all the rituals I wanted to steal and institute with my new family: Sunday pasta night, Friday family movies, musical mornings. I suddenly had an answer to the question, “What are you most looking forward to about motherhood?” Lovingly enforced rituals, of course.
In my mind, carving out space for these habitual experiences would form core memories for my daughter, but looking back, my own most sentimental moments seemed generally mundane and unglamorous. I know my family had elaborate parties and heartfelt traditions, but do I remember them? Eh! Maybe, with prompting! What I really remember is New Year’s Eve, 1999. My parents went out to celebrate Y2K — maybe the world was ending, maybe it wasn’t — and left me behind with my grandparents already in their slippers. My mom declined to buy me confetti (a necessity when you’re 11 years old), so I spent hours snipping a ribbon into hundreds of confetti pieces before throwing them around the living room and immediately realizing I would be the one to pick them up.
I wonder, do we remember our frustrations, most of all? Or is it about engaging as many senses as possible? Is pure presence in the moment the secret? My suspicion is that memories become core memories when something makes us feel very deeply. Sometimes those soul-shaking feelings happen on milestones, sometimes on ordinary days. It’s life’s little joke that we don’t get to choose what sticks.
And so, with a hint of desperation and an undercurrent of nostalgia, I would love to ask you: What are your core childhood memories? Were they born out of traditions or experiences your parents created for you?
Jessica Lopez is a writer and new mother based in Southern California. She has written for BRIDES, Byrdie, THE/THIRTY, and more, and she currently enjoys (over)thinking and writing about parenthood. You can connect with her on Instagram, if you’d like.
(Photo by Jimena Roquero/Stocksy.)