About five years ago, my husband gave me a swanky camera for Christmas.
Upon opening my gift, I was speechless.
My mind immediately jumped to worrying over the cost of such a gift – a gift with all of the bells and whistles. I knew that he had spent more on me than he would ever expect anyone to spend on him, or that he would spend on himself. I can’t even tell you the last time he bought a new pair of shoes.
This is his generous heart.
My new camera opened up the world of photography to me. And he, being the supportive and wonderful husband he is, made it a point to encourage my newfound pursuit. For him, it was as much an investment as it was a gift. He was investing in a happy wife who could pursue creative outlets and build her confidence, while hopefully helping to preserve my sanity in the meantime.
It was a pivotal moment for me.
(He gave me a way.)
This past Christmas, I gave him an album full of photos from the year gone by. It was wonderful to give him something tangible that was produced by my hobby five years after he gave me a leg up on a new journey in my life. He had encouraged an outlet that wasn’t directly related to chasing small children, even though it at times has been almost exclusively used to record those child-related happenings.
I can look back between when I unwrapped that wildly unexpected present and now, and see a pronounced change in my abilities from that first Christmas to this last one. I have much to learn, but I’m further than I would have been without his generosity.
(I found a will.)
Recently, our computer decided that its memory was too full. So lately, I have spent time tediously deleting unnecessary photos and files from it in order to create more available storage. Try not to be jealous of my totally fast paced life.
Just this morning, I found dozens of videos, and hundreds of photos from a seemingly bygone era in our home.
A time when we just had one child. When the kitchen was still painted yellow, and we didn’t have the white shoe cabinet in the corner of the dining room that smells like cedar. Our son was a chubby-cheeked, floppy-haired chipmunk who kept two fledgling parents on their toes.
As I thumbed through these photos and videos, some slightly blurry and a bit fuzzy, I realized that I had no immediate recollection of having even taken them.
The video of my son and me in the cozy green chair in the living room, nestled up with a pile of books stacked high. Him sitting on the back steps in the kitchen, covered head to toe in Crayola markers – I’m still to this day praising Jesus that they were washable markers.
Videos of my son, turning on the shower head, and drenching himself while naked in the tub, and the look of amused shock on his face.
Then there were the photos. Pictures upon pictures of yellow haired and tiny. Ice cream mouthed children asleep in their car seats after a day at the beach. Afternoons spent at the park or out in the backyard. Afternoons that now seem like a short lifetime ago.
I looked at that tired mother in some of the photos. I studied a version of myself with less gray in my hair, and a lot more brightness to her face. It’s a face I don’t see anymore. I was transported back to feeling every ounce of anxiety I felt in those moments. That gnawing fear and wondering if I was doing a good enough job. I still don’t know the answer to that, quite honestly.
Those days at home with two small children that seemed endless and tedious are now just one small footnote in the pages of our family’s story.
The mother in those photos was so tired, so unsure of herself. Today, I wish I could have given her a hug to say thank you.
Thank you for taking those photos.
Thank you for not giving up and putting the camera down even when the kids weren’t being cooperative.
Thank you for not closing the camera on your phone just because someone at the park might have been giving you side-eye.
Thank you for not worrying over whether or not your house looked clean enough, if your kids looked like they fell off the pages of a Baby Gap magazine or if your hair was even brushed that day, because you knew an Instagram filter really can help mask those piles of laundry on the dining room table, and the deepest of dark circles under someone’s eyes.
Thank you for ignoring the thousand and one articles on the internet say that you can’t ever fully experience a moment if you have a lens out.
Thank you for having enough presence of mind, even though your eyes were so heavy with exhaustion that you thought they might fall out, to think to snap a photo of the things I truly want to remember.
Thank you for clicking away even when everyone in the photo had a bad attitude, because you knew you’d get at least one shot where everyone was looking at the camera.
Photos tell our stories. Photos let us relive our story. Again and again.
No, not every photo is of a pivotal, life changing moment.
But a photo in the hands of the heart that’s looking to remember is like eyes that set themselves on a hidden jewel.
The things we take photos of are assuredly the things we love. The things we seek. The things we want to think about one day, when we’re old and we have forgotten. When we are gray, and crows feet branch out around our eyes, and time creeps in through every crevice like a thief in the night.
Our photos will only ever be precious to us, like some distinct, bespoke treasure.
This is why I click.
So listen, all of you non-photography inclined people, I get it.
It’s the holiday season.
And if she hasn’t already, your mom or wife or grandmother or girlfriend will soon want you to put on an odd sweater that you realize at the Thanksgiving table matches everyone else’s odd sweater. She might make you stand in front of a wooden barn or out in some Christmas tree field or in front of some odd background that looks like it came from a school yearbook. You might feel like a JC Penny catalog model.
It’s going to be uncomfortable.
She’s going to want you to shave, and wear that tie you never wear. She’ll want you to dress like you just emerged off the pages of an L.L. Bean catalog. She’ll insist you all wear matching denim tops and Santa hats.
She’s going to want you to help her dress the kids in stockings and button down shirts that will get messy if the kids even breathe. She is going to want you to load the kids into the car, and drive to the park or to some photographer’s studio.
Or maybe she’ll just drag you out to the backyard where she has a tripod set up, and she’ll be hurrying everyone up and yelling something about the lighting being perfect right.now.
She’s going to want you to spend half an hour smiling so hard that your cheeks hurt, while you have to pretend like you’re having the greatest time of your life. She might cry. She might even threaten you a tiny bit. She will turn into Gestapo, and you’ll see a side of her that you have never seen before. At least one of the kids might cry. She might tell you where she’ll hide someone’s body if you all don’t smile, and you’ll wonder how long she’s been planning for this day.
She’ll tell you that she spent nineteen hours in labor with you, and then six months after that dealing with your crying because you had colic. She’ll remind you of the time you let her leave the house with spinach stuck between her teeth as she was heading to the PTA meeting.
She will call in every favor you could ever possibly owe her (even though you’d never be able to repay her for, like that time that your threw up in her hair while she was laying down or when you taped the superbowl over your wedding video.)
She will turn into some unrecognizable, scary Kanye-West type person in the pursuit of one Christmas card worthy shot.
You must actively fight off the instinct to resist her every step of the way. In fact, you should cooperate so willfully that it will encourage others to do the same.
I say this, with an urgency and sincerity: the memories of you, on this day, mean more to your mom/wife/grandmother/girlfriend than literally almost anything.
These photos will warm the nooks and crevices of their coffee stained hearts for years and years to come.
Whether they end up in an album or stuck to the fridge with a magnet, on someone’s desk at work or on the side of a mug. Or maybe, they will end up in a pair of hands weathered by time belonging to someone who loves seeing the people the love. These photos now are the stored treasures for when these moments are long gone. For people who will one day be long gone. And for those of us who are left.
These photos show that we were here, even if we might have been pissed off at the time because we didn’t want to wear a bow tie.
And one day, when times have changed, and you’ve gone the way that we all eventually do, when you’re old and gray, and you’re holding in your hands the faces that smiled long ago, no matter what’s happened in between now and that day to come – you’ll remember that you were there. They were there.
And that you all lived.
And it will be your hidden treasure.