My dad shoved a sandwich bag in my direction. I opened my hand unimpressed. What is this? I peered through plastic to find treasures from the past—photographs bearing the unmistakable filter of the 1980s. The pictures unlocked traces of the everyday. It was all there (joyful, silly, happy, moody moments and forgettable frowns).
Dates written in my mother’s flowery cursive adorned the backs. I marveled at my many expressions, the clothing, and the ridiculously dangerous-looking car seat. How did any of us survive? I watched my childhood play out in prints with my adulthood already in full swing. My dad had flown to San Antonio to meet my newborn daughter.
The pictures revealed the power of genetics. My daughter and son look so much like me. Through the lens of motherhood, I also understand the full range of emotions I expressed as a child. (My 2-year-old experiences the whole spectrum of feelings.) I appreciated this opportunity to see myself as a little girl. I can find something new each time I flip through the stack. I cherish these pictures for the memories revealed and the clarity unleashed.
Now that I’ve joined the ranks of the mamarazzi, I obsessively take pictures of my kids. The big difference today: I try to snap share-worthy pics for social media so every aunt in Tulsa or cousin in Peru can see. This is truly embarrassing to own up to, but I’ve taken thousands of pictures of my children. I can sugarcoat it and tell you I love my family. I really do. My virtual cloud is full and I’ve been living on cloud nine watching them grow. Yet, too often I stifle joyful moments by pulling out my smartphone. I’ve watched smiles shrivel up the instant I start snapping pictures. Sometimes it’s better to live in the moment than to try to capture it and lock it away.
A few weeks ago, I didn’t bother downplaying my disappointment when my son pouted on Santa’s lap. This was our first Christmas as a family of four. I wanted a picture to frame and share. I made it known—I didn’t want to buy the picture. My husband paid for it anyway. Parenthood pulled another one of my shortcomings into plain sight.
After witnessing the magical and truly authentic catalog my mother created, how can I go on this way? She didn’t snap five pictures trying to get the perfect shot—she couldn’t spare the film. She captured real moments and in so doing gave me permission to be myself. She didn’t force me to smile. She let me be. She valued me beyond my cute little appearance.
I’m worried about the next generation. How many times have I conveyed disappointment when my son didn’t smile on cue? Did he wonder if I only love him because of how he looks? Do other children feel this way? I don’t want him to learn to fake a smile. I don’t want him to feel hollow on the inside. That’s not what I want him to remember from his childhood. I need my kids to know they’re loved in all their unfiltered moments. I must give them permission to be themselves. I must not force smiles. I must let them be. Moody or smiling, our children are amazingly wonderful and fully enough. I’m taking a cue from my momma and plan to stop editing, filtering and expecting flawless photos. Real smiles, real frowns, real everyday life, in all of its expressions.