Why do the worst moments become the best memories?

February 21st, 2017 Posted by Misc No Comment yet


Maggie Downs

posted in Mom Stories

Last summer my family had an incident that could have ruined our brief vacation in Maui.

Since we only had a few days on the island, I had every minute planned, determined to suck every moment out of the experience.

On our first morning, I set the alarm for 3 a.m. My husband and I packed our son in the rental car, gave him a pouch of mango puree and a couple of snacks, and chugged some impotent hotel coffee as we hit the road. Our destination was the top of the volcano at Haleakala National Park, where the view of sunrise above the crater is supposed to be magnificent.

It was dark, obviously, as we made our way there, and the road climbs to 10,000 feet over 22 miles with dozens of switchbacks, drop-offs, and hairpin turns. About halfway up, my son made a strange gurgling noise in the back seat, and then BLORK! Sour, mango-scented vomit splashed everywhere.

He was so miserable, he didn’t even cry.

My husband pulled off to the side of the road, and we stripped the pukey, soggy clothes off our child and tried our best to make do. Of course the rental car wasn’t equipped with the essentials I keep in my own car — things like wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues. Of course we didn’t bring the diaper bag with supplies — we had only planned for a quick jaunt up the volcano and back down again. (Thankfully I knew it was going to be cold at the top, so I did have a couple extra layers of clothing for my son.)

Because we were sidetracked by vomit, we didn’t make it to the top of the crater in time for sunrise. We missed it by 20 minutes or so.

The view was still stunning.


We ended up having an extraordinary Maui vacation, full of sunshine, flowers, waterfalls, sea turtles, and long naps while ocean waves crashed nearby. But the thing I remember most is the puke.

I treasure that moment, actually. My son rallied so hard. He had a great time exploring the volcanic crater, even after his Exorcist-like scene in the rental car. And my husband displayed his calmness in the face of adversity, helping us get well and still get to the top of a massive volcano. And I showed off my best mom skills. I created something out of nothing, unearthing two fast food napkins that had been shoved into the glove compartment, and somehow made a clean baby out of those.

That was the moment that showed us who we are. It proved we could power through.


I’ve been thinking about that a lot — why our worst moments often transfigure into our most cherished memories.

It’s pretty common, I’d venture to guess. That’s what makes Thanksgiving dinners so interesting — rehashing the incidents that were ultimately transformative, motivating, or just plain funny. (During holidays at our house, my siblings rarely talk about all the times we played nicely. But the time my brother superglued my hands to the side of our house? That comes up a lot.)

I’m sure there’s been a study on this, and there’s probably a fancy name for the phenomenon, but I haven’t found it yet.

The closest I’ve come is this TED talk by writer Andrew Solomon: “How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are.” Solomon’s talk is pegged to the more traumatic incidents in a person’s life, not mere mishaps like motion sickness in a dark car while driving up the side of a volcano.

But he makes one overarching point that applies: “Ease makes less of an impression on us than struggle,” he says. “We could have been ourselves without our delights but not without our misfortunes.”

I’m keeping that quote in mind today, in particular, since our weekend excursion to LEGOLAND ended with X-rays in urgent care.


But that’s a story for another time.

Have any of your worst family moments become favorite memories?

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