Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Living Proof

Whenever I look back at the pictures taken immediately upon all of my childrens' birth, I am in disbelief that it actually happened.  Was that really me?  Was that baby really in my stomach, and I actually got it out?  And is that teeny little baby really my son - the one that talks and walks and climbs in my bed every morning?  For each of my three children, someone (my husband?  a nurse? who knows?) captured that initial meeting - the look on my face when I looked at them for the first time.  My expression is authentic and true - pure joy and amazement.  Each of those three moments are the most incredible of my life, and I'm so thankful to have the photos to look at.  Because in my memory, it's hard to believe that it was actually real.

Braden - 2008

Casey - 2010

Colin - 2013
In this day and age, people don't really print out pictures anymore, but I do.  I print out a hard copy of every single photo taken on my iPhone and camera, and then I put them in an old school photo album.  Our living room built-ins contain these albums, all arranged in date order.  I don't look at them very often, but I feel incredible peace at having them.  And I treasure them.  I always tell my husband that in case of a fire, that's what we have to go for, and I'm serious.  On the rare occasion that I have lost photos (usually on an I-phone or through some computer glitch), a depression hits. All those hard copy memories - gone, and lost.

But of course, photographs can't capture everything.  And I've learned that I shouldn't waste the moment taking photos.  There's a fine line between living in the now and restoring it for posterity. I've backed off a bit as the years have gone by, so of course, as expected, child number 3 has the fewest photos of anyone.  But I still am vigilant about picture taking (made all the easier with the advent of the I-phone), and picture printing.  To be sure, I'm no photographer, but it doesn't matter.  What matters is who is in the pictures - not the lighting or the positioning or the depth of field.  Me, my kids, my husband, my family.  Now.

I've wondered lately why I am so obsessed with taking and keeping photos, and who exactly I am keeping them for.  Are these my memories?  Or my children's?  Or both?

I've been a mother for nearly seven years, and it has been the best time of my life.  It has been filled with joy and excitement and heartache and roller coaster rides of emotion.  It has been real and it has been intense, and I have felt more alive than I have ever felt before.  I have shared these experiences with my children, and really, these past seven years are my children.  Those photo albums are all of them.  Of me.  Of us.

And yet, their childhood so far has really been mine and mine alone.  All these memories - all this life - will someday be forgotten to them.  The concept of childhood amnesia is both bizarre and curious.  If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  If my children have an early childhood that they don't remember, did it really happen?

The fact that my children will forget their early childhood is a relief at times.  It's like a get out of jail free card for me as a mother.  I have my moments - and my days - that I am ashamed of.  Times when I yelled too loud or lost my patience too quickly or lacked necessary empathy.  When I start to feel that mother guilt, I remind myself that I get a restart.  That my kids will not have memories of this incident, or this bad day.  Someday they will simply have flashes of scenes, without dialogue or emotion.

But yet I want them to know about this time - that it existed.  That at one time they were babies and I was young, too.  That we were new and they were new and our family was figuring it all out.  That once they were all mine.

These albums are meant to capture our happy memories, and yet, when I actually spend time going through them, I end up with big, heavy tears.  It isn't sadness per se, but it also isn't pure joy.  It's actually oddly reminiscent of the main takeaway from the recent Disney movie Inside Out (which I highly recommend to anyone, of any age).  While my kids were enjoying the animation and the jokes and the quirky characters, I was pondering one of the movie's lessons - that childhood memories, even happy ones, are always associated with sadness.  In the movie, we watch one of the main character's most joyous memories - ice skating with her mother and father - be overtaken by the blue veil of sadness.  Must sadness always accompany joy in one's memory?

I hadn't ever really analyzed this before, but as I sat there in the movie theater with my children and quickly rushed over the first childhood memories that came to mind, I realized that the movie was right.  Sadness tints everything from those early years - from my early years as a child, and now, from the early years of my children.   I'm not sure why.  I don't think it's all because of actual pain and hardship, though certainly some of that will factor in.  I think it's more because of nostalgia. Because of the loss of what once was - of what we can never get again. Because of what we know now - that it all goes by way too quickly, and it will all be over, far too soon.

But that sadness is okay.  It feels good, in fact.  It's illicits the perfect conflation of happy and sad tears.

Someday my children will look at these albums the way I look at my childhood albums.  With some solace, but also with a smirk.  They will laugh at the clothes they were wearing and my hairstyle and their pudgy little legs.  They will not be able to believe that their parents, or themselves, were ever so young.  They will laugh, and if they are sentimental enough, they may have a few tears.

I will look back at these pictures for reassurance that this existence I am in now actually did happen. So that someday, God willing, when I am looking at three grown men, I can go back to to my albums and remember that once they were babies, and once they were mine.  And feel sad.  And feel happy at the same time.

These albums are my childrens' living proof of a time that they will never remember.  And of a time that I can't believe has actually passed by.

So I will keep taking, and printing out pictures.  We may need to invest in some more book shelves.

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