My aunt just posted one of the only photos she has of just her and her mom, my grandma, to Facebook. The picture was from the summer of 1976. My aunt is 10, my grandma is 50. They are standing in front of a rocky shoreline at sunset, my grandma’s arm wrapped tightly around her shoulder, my aunt’s head snuggled into her embrace. It’s one of the only pictures of her and her mom because she was the eighth in a family of nine kids. The photo has the aged, yellow glow of an Instagram filter, warmly reminding my aunt of that hug from her mom forty-some years ago.
But it is not 1976. Kids like mine will have countless photos from their childhood. How will they curate their own photos when so much has been documented of their little lives? Especially with the first, so many of us schedule newborn photoshoots, six-month photoshoots, one-year photoshoots, interspersed with coordinated monthly photo ops with a sign telling our virtual communities how many months old they are.
In a few years, maybe we have another baby and our world explodes and our hearts expand, and we may even upgrade our phone solely for the extra storage. We love those little people so much and capture photo after photo of their new firsts together. We are voyeurs in their newfound sibling love and have, literally, thousands of photos to scroll through when we should be sleeping.
All too soon, that baby is walking and maybe we hang back to watch the silhouette of two tiny bodies strolling together down a sidewalk; one steady, one wobbling. We wait for that perfect refraction of sunlight to shine down to snap a picture and don’t think heaven itself could be more beautiful, until (gasp) now they’re holding hands.
What we often forget, as mothers, is that we are part of this captured story. Yes, our kids will treasure the photos with their siblings. They will laugh at their outfits and their awkward stages. I hope mine will smile at the memories.
But where will they see their mom in the visual storybook of their childhood?
I hope my two girls will be able to conjure up tangible memories, as I still do, of my own mother’s love. I can remember the prickle of her legs as I sat snuggled in her lap on a warm summer day. The soothing sound of her voice as she sang “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins to help me fall asleep (even though I now know she can’t carry a tune). My girls will most certainly have a memory of my prickly legs, but I hope they don’t have too many memories of my face obscured by a phone taking their picture, hanging back more than I was hanging with them.
Thinking about that photo of my aunt, the eighth of nine kids, she and my grandma are near a beach, which meant it was probably a vacation, which meant it was a really big deal for a family with a nine-kid budget. This was a moment. A special one with just her and her mom.
So whether I have two kids or nine (I won’t have nine), there are always going to be more of them than there are of me. This photo helped me realize that not only do I need to capture more of these one-on-one moments, but I need to create them too. My girls are a pair that I pray will never separate. But they are individuals too, and they each deserve their own chance to stand the sunlight with me. Just me.
(And maybe someone nearby who can take our picture.)