My boys don’t have many memories of us together
I should make some self-portraits of us all. But ‘shoulds’ are infinite, and I’ve accepted that doing everything I should do is impossible.
I don’t want to take pictures when I’m with my kids. I don’t want to set up a tripod, or worry about focal planes while we tumble and play and spill flour on the counter. I don’t want to post clean, perfect family photos of us together on Facebook to prove I’m keeping it together.
I don’t do that because I can’t be a good photographer and a good mom at the same time. I can’t worry about angles and lighting and run through sprinklers unencumbered. I can’t prat-fall off a seesaw, make mud pies or climb monkey bars. I can’t photograph my favorite moments and be present for them them at the same time.
That’s why I booked my own family documentary session this year. It’s not something we will be able to afford every year, but I saved up for that album, and it has been worth it many times over in the few months we’ve had it. My boys now have those moments of us together, moments of with me just being the best damn mom I can be.
Every day, my boys look less and less like the babies in that album. Every passing day those memories grow more valuable.
That’s why I create family documentaries. So other moms can have those moments, too.
My boys don’t have many memories of us together. As a working parent, I spend most of our time together sorting laundry and wiping grime off the kitchen floor. We set aside time to just be as a family once a weekend. It’s difficult to keep that weekly date when party invitations, client bookings, and deadlines are constantly popping up. I say ‘no’ to so many things just so I can have a couple hours on Saturday morning to bake banana bread with my kids. I feel like a jerk when I RSVP ‘no’ and claim I have plans – because my plan is to eat cheerios on the lawn with a toddler.
I fight hard for time with my boys. I’m on constant defense, protecting these short years against social and work obligations. When family day comes, I just want to be with my boys, not distracted with grocery lists or texts or sewing projects. These days, I blame this on my work schedule, but even when I was a stay-at-home-mom, I still didn’t photograph us together. I was too exhausted and overwhelmed after chasing babies all day.
That’s why, when those moments of family time happen, I rarely pull out my camera.
Before I booked a session of my own, I worried all the time that I was missing our story.
These years are so short and the ‘shoulds’ are so infinite. It takes courage to make space for what matters.
Do-nothing & undivided attention time
I was grateful for the opportunity to capture this Newton family at home, with no obligations or errands for the day – just a couple hours to hang out and be together.
The toddler and preschooler relished the undivided attention. Mom, who stays at home with the girls full-time, finally has tangible proof of her hard work in the pages of her album. They validate the work she does each day to support her family and raise two boisterous young children. Dad, who works long hours, was able to relax and play with his girls without rushing to the grocery store and catching up with home life on his days off.
Everything changed when they all stopped looking at the camera, and started looking at each other.
After I caught some requested poses (not my specialty, but every grandma loves a framed group photo), they were able to relax into the session and let the girls and their whims guide the day. It was fun to catch the subtle in-between moments while mom and dad did the work of caring for these happy, healthy little girls. I love the way mom and dad looked at their daughters. I love the way the girls orbited around mom and giggled when dad threw them in the air.
Priceless, forgettable rituals
Those routines that have become habit, ordinary, almost boring tasks are the moments that make me long for the past.
For me, it was the way my toddler would arrange his baby brother’s mobile and name the members of his family in the illustrations. It was story time when we were just a family of three, when I would slooooooowly read a 5-page board book, complete with animal sounds, body-part labeling, and color words. From my own childhood, I miss summer days ‘stooping’ – sitting out on the front porch, listening to birds and watching cars go by with my mom or aunt. I miss Sunday mornings when the man who called me ‘daughter’ would dress us up in identical outfits and take me out for breakfast at McDonalds while mom slept in.
Those aren’t the moments we usually catch in photos, but those are the moments that define us and our relationships. These are the moments I treasure.
These are also the moments I happen to have pictures of. That’s not a coincidence.
I grieve for the moments I’ve lost – the ones long forgotten
There are so many memories of my childhood I wasn’t able to keep hold of. Memories of my parents, old pets, my firsts, my lasts. There are so many moments we lost with the film negatives, because we thought cheap prints would last forever. There are so many moments I’ve lost to a disk failure, because I thought digital files would last.
There are so many moments we never even got photos of in the first place.
Regretting lost history
I get a little word-y and rant-y about photographing your family on an ordinary day, with you in the pictures because I feel strongly about it. I know it’s expensive. I know it’s hard to set aside time. We think we’ll have time to book a session next month. That’s the slippery thing about time – unlike email, or shiny new things, or even money – it passes and then it’s gone forever.
We need to remember what we’ve been through – where we’ve come from – and how hard our parents worked to give us the opportunities and privilege that have made us who we are.
Knowing our history is what keeps us from turning evil. It’s what keeps us empathetic to those who have less. It’s what keeps us from repeating the same mistakes. It’s what makes us resilient when we fall. It’s what validates our hard work. Our history is what makes us.
We need to capture what we have right now and communicate it to those who come after us. We need to preserve this time for our future-empty-nest-selves, our children, and for the many generations after them. There are things we have to make known, moments that need to last. This is our duty if we are going to make the world a better place and light the path for those who follow.
But first, we need to remember the urgency and importance of today
Our lives are more than a network of social media feeds. We are not personal brands, we are not magazine ads, we are not perfect – and that’s wonderful.
- Our kids love us as we are right now. Not thinner, not on vacation, not in a bigger house. None of that will change the memories they will want of this moment.
- Real moments are beautiful and valuable. (Not all of them – like the moment you realize you have norovirus.) Hundreds of times a day, there are beautiful moments in life that we will miss if we’re too busy chasing those ‘shoulds.’
- Happiness comes from appreciating what we have, not trying to become what we’re not.
- It is our duty and our responsibility to hold on to joy before it leaves forever – and it will, eventually, leave. It is not the responsibility of anyone but us to keep ourselves healthy and happy.
- We deserve to know that the work we do matters.
We have the right to celebrate the good stuff
Most parents have a really long, strenuous day-to-day with no breaks, and we are constantly giving and caring for someone else. I’m using my super powers to create portraits of our children – real, as they are, wonderful and unique – to provide a reminder to breathe and remember why we slog through the every day hard stuff.
You are busy, but preserving your memories is of the utmost importance right now – before your favorite moments of today are forgotten in tomorrow’s shoulds.
I’m all booked up for sessions through 2016. There are less than thirty spots in 2017, so contact me to join the wait list for your 2017 family documentary session.
Joining the wait list costs nothing, and you can cancel at any time.
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Names and locations of minors may have been changed to protect privacy. This post may contain Amazon affiliate links (all my 2016 profits fund my do-goodery Invisible Obstacles and Somewhere Out There Series). If you’d like to support do-goodery projects, book your own documentary session or, contribute on Patreon.
Leave a comment below if you agree or disagree that photography has the power to change the world