I take a seat at the kitchen counter after putting my sixteen month old down for a nap. The big kids are at school and I breathe in my first moment of silence of the day. I take a sip of my now watered-down iced coffee and grab my phone for a mindless scroll. As soon as I unlock the screen my stomach drops. There she is, middle of the screen yellow logo, cursive font: Timehop, you suck.
I don’t know what kind of sadist created this tortuous app. And it’s not the only one — social media platforms promote “memories” and my iPhone pings constantly with prompts, asking if I want to see photos from this day three years ago. No, Steve Jobs! I don’t! I don’t want unsolicited pain and sadness thrust upon me in the form of adorable memories of my children that I will never get back. Because it’s too sad, and I actually can’t handle it.
It’s something new with our generation, this constant accessibility to the past. With one swipe of a finger we are able to tap into years’ worth of photo albums — ones that, for our parents, were buried deep in their attics. For them, these trips down memory lane took thoughtful effort and planning. But we’re thrust into them with little-to-no warning. We are often unable to emotionally gear up for the experience, and I, for one, get wrecked.
Sometimes it is self-inflicted, I will admit. I’ll pull up my photos to look at a picture taken earlier that day, and before I know it, I am scrolling through the years. I see my now nine year old frolicking on the beach in a diaper and my now seven year old on his first day of preschool. I see my now four year old covered in pureed sweet potato and my sixteen month old wrapped in a hospital blanket.
With each photo, I experience a physical reaction. My stomach twists and I feel a jolt of sadness zip from my heart to my fingertips and then up to my throat. Even before I am able to construct a logical thought, my body is telling me that it can not handle this activity. In theory, it seems harmless, even enjoyable maybe, to look back and revel in wonderful moments from the past. But for some reason, for me, it is so incredibly painful.
Maybe it’s because the changes that happen to kids when they are young are so fast, and so big. Photos from only a year ago can show completely different people — a different body type, different voice, and different demeanor. Especially the first six or so years, the changes are just extraordinary. It is as if I am looking at photos of someone I once knew, but no longer do. All these little versions of these impossibly important people that I want to go back and visit with, but can’t. And although I adore them as they are now, the fact that I can’t have them all is devastating.
I think the photos are also a reminder of how quickly time moves. They are evidence that before I know it, my kids will all be grown. And that realization is something I am not yet equipped to handle. It breaks me from the inside out, in a physical, immediate way. It requires me to divert my attention to something else — to distract myself, in order to survive. And it seems dramatic that an old cute photo elicits so much emotion, especially when it is not of someone who was lost — except for me it is a loss. A loss of time with these precious little people of mine.
So how can I celebrate that past in a way that doesn’t feel so traumatic? I think I can be more thoughtful and intentional with my photo-scrolling sessions. At least if I plan ahead, and give myself the emotional preparation I might stand a chance. But I think the real answer is that my time and focus should be spent in the here and now. I think I will always feel intensely sad when I see photos of my tiny kids, because I just love this phase of life so much. Because despite the mayhem and frustration, it is everything. So I’m gonna delete these dumb apps, put down my phone, and enjoy this present moment. One that will be a Timehop before I know it.
Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.