“Because of my condition I can remember, vividly, what it was like to be a toddler.”

Video via 60 Minutes

Rebecca lives with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, where she can remember every day of her life since 12 days old.

On the day I turned two years old I still had no idea what a birthday was. I only recognised (in some sense) that it was my special day because I was sat in front of a cake and asked to blow out the two candles (with assistance, of course). It was the plastic toy trains on my cake that definitely caught my attention the most. Once I’d blown out the candles and given out all slices of the cake, I spent most of my afternoon playing with those simple trains.

Two weeks later it was Christmas Day, and, just like my birthday, I had no idea what the day was about. All I knew was that I entered the living room to find a sack of new toys. Interestingly, I didn’t head straight towards them, because I wasn’t completely sure they were mine (as I didn’t recognise any of them as the toys I already owned). However, I became more excited when my parents took me over to them, helped me unwrap them, and said that they were indeed new toys for me.

A fortnight later, I was taken to the hospital to meet my new sister, Jessica. Back then I had no understanding what a sister was, didn’t know that mum was pregnant and I hadn’t even noticed her stomach growing bigger for nine months. At that age I purely and simply didn’t take any notice of those things, in any way shape or form. When I was shown my new sister I was very interested, yet still spent much time playing with my toy trains from my birthday cake the previous month.

Over the next few months, however, it dawned on me that Jessica was a new member of the family. One of the advantages of being a firstborn is that you’re the only child in the house and are given heaps of doting and attention during that time. All that changed when Jessica arrived. I’d see her with all of my old toys, and despite not playing with them anymore I still felt they were mine. I remember seeing her with my old rattle and I tried taking it off her. But Mum said, “No, it’s Jessica’s now.” This was a phrase I heard constantly. So, it didn’t take me that long to learn Jessica’s name.

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Becky Sharrock has as a toddler.

Something else I had to get used to was that there was always another child watching television with me. Once, when Jessica and I were in the living room, Jessica was propped up in a stroller. When mum wasn't looking I got up and wheeled her into her room. When mum got back and asked where Jessica went, I said, “Baby wanted to look at bedroom.” It's amazing what I thought I could get away with at that age. In absolute honesty I had never believed that Mum would have known that I could have been the only person who had wheeled Jessica out of the room (considering it was only me, Mum and Jessica at home).

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Something I did enjoy doing that Jessica couldn't do was helping mum around the house. At that age household chores were a novelty, so I found them fun to do. I enjoyed organising the cutlery drawer (while mum handled the sharp knives). There was also a time when I insisted that it would be fun to put my head in a bowl of raw onions. I didn't like it afterward when I had to wash out my streaming eyes, however.

Back then, I would enjoy getting up early when the rest of the house was still asleep. To keep me entertained mum would usually give me an alphabet chart so that I could learn my ABCs during that time. For most of the letters, I would say out loud what the basic picture representations were. Yet I recognised the letter P from visiting carparks of shopping centres, so I’d say out loud “parking spot” whenever I saw that letter.

Holly Wainwright and Christie Hayes traverse the trend that is the over-the-top first birthday party. (Post continues after audio.)

Mum divorced my biological father just before I turned three, and I spent Christmas of that year at my grandparents’ house. Mum woke me and Jessica up saying that Santa Claus had been. I had no idea who "Santa" was, but when I saw heaps of new presents in the living room I then associated him to be a magical being that gave me new toys. For about an hour I played with my BabyAlive doll. Afterward, Mum took us outside to see our new swing set, and I spent the rest of the day playing on that pretending that we were at a carnival.

As a three-year-old, I still didn't understand what dreams were (which I had been having since I was one-and-a-half years old). I still thought that I really was being taken away from home. So once I had the required speaking ability, I asked my mum why she took us to all of those strange places each night. When I insisted that she took us to our local theme park, Dreamworld, and we were magically transformed into gum-nut fairies she said that it must have been a dream. After mum had explained what a dream was, I said, “Oh, that's what they're called.”

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Becky Sharrock, today.

Mum had told me that it was my mind that took me to all of those places, and that only my mind could wake me up. At that time I believed that “mind” was a person. So I would try to find that character in my dreams to ask them whether or not I could wake up. All of my dreams are also lucid, meaning that I always know when I am asleep, dreaming. A few months after, I found out what dreams really were (I wasn't aware of calendar dates but felt the change of season); I was having a dream where I was asking someone for chocolate cookies. The woman kept saying “we don't have any,” yet I could see a table stacked with them behind her, though I couldn't walk myself over to the table. So, I was saying “chocolate cookies” constantly with the exact same response. Finally, I screamed out of frustration, “CHOCOLATE COOKIES” and woke myself up. Then Mum said, “For the last time, Becky, we haven't got any!”

What set my toddler years apart from all else was that it was a transitional stage from being a baby to being a young child. Unlike my years as a baby, I was moving around much more and communicating my needs more clearly. Yet, unlike my time as a child, I was still intensely curious about mundane things like speaking, walking around, exploring my environment, and doing housework. By the time I got to around pre-school age, the novelty of things like cleaning my room had worn off.

This post was originally published by Families and has been republished here with permission. 

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