I’m taking the wrong pictures.
My daughter is a 16-year old sophomore. She’s almost to the halfway point of her high school existence, and I’ve secretly started to compile years of photos to show at the graduation party we have yet to plan.
So far, these are the photos I’ve put aside (or they might be one of the 4,000 images languishing inside my phone). There’s the first-day-off-the-bus-from-kindergarten picture. First smile-after-the-tooth- fairy-came photo. Hundreds and hundreds of photos of the backs of other parents’ heads holding a phone or camera also taking photos of the volleyball game win, the choir concert, the piano recital, and the 3rd Grade Thanksgiving Pilgrim Festival. I think you get the point.
Then yesterday, I came across this photo of my grandmother and me, circa 1973 in Miami, Florida. I know this because my grandmother wrote the date and place on the back of every photo ever taken. I love the candidness of this photo; I love how it captured an ordinary moment on an ordinary day. And the more I stared at the faded, curled paper, the more I wondered what happened before the snapshot? Wouldn’t it have been grand to have a small index card attached, giving me more of the story? I imagined it would go like this.
This was taken on a muggy May morning, and you had just eaten your first pieces of mango picked off one of our trees. It was only 10 am, but Grandpa thought it was best to try it over vanilla ice cream. I felt guilty serving you something that decadent so early in the day, but your grandpa convinced me, and the three of us sat inside the screened-in porch and ate our bowls with quiet contentment. You told us over and over in your sweet little voice how yummy the mango was.
Then you got cold and wanted to move in the sun. You insisted we drag these two chairs out to the middle of the yard and read. You always loved to look at books, even though you didn’t understand the words yet. So, Grandpa and I carried the chairs to a random spot, and you made me bring my book to sit with you. We thought you would get bored, but you stayed there for over an hour. So I read. And your grandpa took this photo, and now I treasure it. It was a beautiful morning.
My grandparents passed away many years ago, and I can’t ask for the real story. And yet when I study every detail, my heart is full of love and longing. It’s one of my favorite pictures I have of the two of us. And it got me thinking: maybe I’m taking the wrong pictures.
What if I need to start a collection of images of the “unimportant moments”, and include brief backstories to accompany them? I can imagine presenting a fancy box to my daughter as she heads away to college, saying to her, “Here, this is for you. This is who you are. This is what you did. These are the moments I treasure with you.” I only have a couple of years to play catch up, but I’m going to try.
When we play cards this summer, I’ll secretly capture her sun-kissed skin at the lake, laughing with her eyes shut and beautiful smile as wide as the joy in her heart. I’ll write down that she beat me, her grandmother, and her dad in a vicious game of Rummy. And that while we were playing, she made us listen to a new favorite song, and that her dad now has it on his playlist. And every time he hears the song, he thinks about that Sunday afternoon on the lake, boats zipping by, the sunshine warm on our faces—and he thinks of her.
I’ll take a photo of her studying for the chemistry test she’s so worried about failing. I’ll make sure to capture the worry lines that form in-between her eyes, and the mountains of papers surrounding her on the bed where she studies. I’ll write down that she never did fail that test, she got a 98—the highest score in the class. I’ll tell her how proud we were that she studied diligently every day for three days, and went to the teacher for extra help. I’ll tell her hard work pays off. I’ll show her this picture as proof.
Life is made up of thousands of ordinary moments we string together to form the ultimate picture of who we are. And after ten, twenty, thirty years, everything we ever thought of as unremarkable– becomes the most remarkable.
We only need to write it down.