I have a favorite picture of my mother. We all do, don’t we? You know that one you go back to looking at again and again, and it makes you just feel all warm and fuzzy inside? It’s that picture of your mom that is just so…HER. It’s probably faded by now, with a greenish-gray tint to it, and has been looked at so many times the corners are folding in. Still, it embodies the woman who is your mom, and you cherish it.
My favorite photo of my mom? Well, it’s her in a black bikini, lazily sunbathing on an old teak patio chair, circa 1977. She is all woman and all beautiful. There isn’t a kid or toy in sight.
Now answer this question for me: Do you have a picture of yourself like that? No, not that one of you post-delivery in a hospital bed, smiling wide and holding a newborn. No, not that one of you in your wedding dress or at your own baby shower. And no, not that goofy selfie you took with your kids while eating ice cream last Friday night.
I’m talking about just a beautiful photograph of you. Just you being YOU. Not wife, mom, or friend. Just YOU.
I recently went to look for that kind of photograph of myself. Surely I had one, right?
I looked at no less than 12 scrapbooks piled high on a bookshelf in our living room, knowing perfectly well they were brimming with years and years of memories and milestones. First steps, first birthdays, first haircuts, preschool graduations, and tee-ball games. Pictures of Christmas mornings and Halloween evenings, of car trips, boat trips, and airplane trips. Page after page of little kids doing kid things, playing with their dad, shoving cupcakes in their mouths, even being stitched up in the ER. And they all had one thing in common: I wasn’t in any of them.
I calculated it would take perusing through at least seven albums before coming across a picture of me. And what exactly was that picture of me? It was of me in a hospital bed holding a newborn baby.
What happened to the years following the hospital bed picture? The baby grew — we have hundreds of pieces of evidence of it, but the woman? Did she not evolve as well? What happened to her?
Motherhood happened, and it happened to her — to ME — forcing me to forever be standing behind the camera, not in front of it. As the mom, I suddenly became the family archivist, snapping photographs of our lives here and there, day after day, year after year. And never for one second did I realize that as I snapped years of my family’s life, I failed to snap any of mine.
Sure, I have taken my share of selfies and still do with annoying frequency. And when my kids will agree to it, I take selfies with them as well. It’s all about capturing the memories, no matter how we do it, right? But still. What you won’t find, or couldn’t find in albums, photo boxes, and on all of the memory cards tossed into kitchen junk drawers, or amongst my Instagram selfie collection, are pictures of the woman who is also the mom.
The last picture of me I could find of myself lying alone in the sun, appearing carefree, with a face not scrunched up, impatiently thinking “Oh, honestly just hurry up and take it!” is a picture of me on a beach on my honeymoon. There were no offspring to capture making cute sandcastles or running away from crashing waves. There was just the woman before the mom.
That was 20 years ago. And that speaks volumes.
I have spent my boys’ childhood behind the scenes. I have spent it in kitchens and laundry rooms, in bleachers and ballparks, classrooms and carpool lines, grocery stores and waiting rooms. I have spent it like all moms: parenting, planning, cooking, washing, stressing, driving, organizing, shaping, and attempting to construct a childhood for my kids that is worthy of fabulous pictures of them. And none of me.
None of the woman who has dedicated herself to making all of that happen. Not the mom with the swinging ponytail in yoga pants or sweaty running shorts, but the woman who did all of this.
When my sons are grown and there comes a day when reminiscing about their youth may find them searching for a picture of their mom, of the woman who was their mom, where will they find it?
Well, they won’t.
And that’s why this very moment, before I waste another day not having done it, I will ask someone, anyone, to take a beautiful portrait of just me. Me. It will be ME posing somewhere without the craziness of life around me. It will be me, relaxed, content, smiling, and showing my children there was a woman before there was a mom, and she is still there. It will be ME in the picture, in whatever shape and size I am in, without ridiculous self-image anxieties and worries about how old, fat, wrinkled, or frumpy I feel like I am.
Because to my kids, I am none of those things.
I am the woman in the picture they will be searching for one day. As a matter of fact, I am the woman in their very favorite picture of their mom. But the only way they will get to have a favorite picture of me is if I actually get in one.
Moms, stop putting it off and have your kids take your beautiful photograph. Do it today, so 30 years from now when someone asks for a picture of their mother, they won’t have any problem finding one.