My daughter begged me to create a photo book documenting our family vacation to South Dakota. A year had passed since that trip, and we were approaching our next family vacation. I sat with her through the tedious process of downloading photos, drafting text, and selecting colors and graphics for our photo book. It took forever to make, and without her urging me to do it, I probably would have never finished it.
I had noticed something when I was putting the book together that became more apparent as it was finalized. I was only in pictures that were selfies or group shots that we had asked a stranger to take. There were beautiful photos of my husband interacting with our kids on vacation, both candid and posed. However, there weren’t any pictures like that of me. My husband says his phone isn’t great at taking pictures, but mainly, he just never thought about it. He never saw me missing from vacation, but I was missing from the photos.
Since our photo book project butted up against our next family vacation, it was fresh in my mind when we left for our next trip. Just hours into our trip, my phone was filling with car selfies and pictures of my kids and husband during the rest stops. We settled into our destination, and I mentioned to my husband that I felt like I was missing from our past family vacation photos.
I scheduled the trip.
I handled all the logistical details of reserving hotels, seeing if they had a swimming pool and free breakfast.
I meal planned and researched restaurants.
I scrolled discussion forums about kid-friendly activities.
I booked excursions and kept a running list of options for our days and nights.
I kept a spreadsheet of our packing list.
I packed the kids and made sure they had extra underwear, clothes in case it was cold, and an extra swimsuit for when their suit was wet.
I packed their favorite books, movies, games, and even bought new activities for the car.
I made sure we had car snacks and good music playlists.
And when we were there, I played with the kids in the hotel pool, made sure they understood the history of the areas we were visiting, encouraged them to do new activities, and took extra time to read to the kids, do one-on-one activities. And yet, as the person who made this vacation happen, I was missing from almost all of the vacation photos.
When I said something to my husband about how I was missing from the photos, he didn’t defend himself or make excuses for the past. Instead, he said he would make more of an effort to capture special moments with our family on vacation.
And on vacation this time around, my husband did pay attention to special moments. Sometimes I would hear him say, “This is a great mom moment,” and he’d run and grab his camera. One time, it was when I was in my swimsuit, standing in the kitchen giving a peanut-butter-and-jelly cooking lesson to our son. And I let him take the picture.
Other times, I would just see him out of the corner of my eye, snapping photos of us. Like when I was lying belly down on the beach with the kids digging in the sand. I didn’t realize the extent of his photography until we returned home. I was downloading photos, and he started sending them to my phone. He captured so many special moments, many of which are now some of my favorite photos with my kids.
I learned that I can’t just assume someone else will take those photos. I need to ask my husband to take the photo. I also need to be confident with who I am right now, and that means feeling comfortable in my own skin, shorts, and swimsuit to want to have my photo taken. It also means that when I look back at those photos I don’t think about the size of my arms in a sleeveless shirt, the flap of stomach that hangs over in my swimsuit, or how messy my hair looked. The only thing that matters is the person who I am in those photos and the mom I am to my kids, because some day, these photos will be the images that trigger their memories of this vacation and the mother I was to them.
I’m finally in our family vacation photos.
Being in the family vacation photos is proof that the woman who put blood, sweat, and tears into making this vacation happen was really there. And she wasn’t just there to make meals, wash dishes, pick up, or pack the suitcases. She was there living and loving her family, which is exactly what I want my kids to remember about our vacations.