I noticed a disturbing trend in my family photos while I combed through them recently to make my annual scrapbook: I don’t exist!
There are photos of my daughters dancing in the rain, picking strawberries in green fields and hurtling down the soccer field. My husband pops up often with a beaming smile and a daughter on his shoulders. He’s in the pool, he’s reading on the bed with them, he’s walking hand-in-hand between them down the shoreline.
I was there for all these things — I swear! And yet, any study of the photographic evidence of my life would indicate otherwise.
So I recently began a concerted effort to get my smiling mug in the pictures. I told my husband about my fear that our children would not remember that I was fun, too. I want them to remember Mom was there, and not just behind the camera telling them to smile on the count of three.
But I also realized that I don’t just want to be in the pictures, I want to be in the memories, too.
Too often, I find myself in the role of event planner. I make the reservations. I coordinate the fun. I exhaust myself making sure everyone else has the time of their lives. And then, I stand back watching everyone else enjoy my labors. It’s a role most moms have to play at some point, but I don’t want my children to remember me as the snack provider or the sunscreen slatherer. I want my kids to associate me with the fun of their childhood, not because I planned it, but because I was part of it.
So this summer, I put down the camera — gasp! — and actually got in on the fun.
Instead of watching my kids splash in the pool, I jumped in with them. I battled them with pool noodles and put on goggles so we could send secret messages beneath the water.
At the park, I swung with them, my feet pointed at the clouds while my daughter laughed on my lap with her hands clasped tightly around me and her candy-sweet breath in my face. When we went fishing, I handed my husband the camera and helped my daughter reel in her line.
At the end of the summer, I looked at the photos. I am in a lot more of them than before thanks to my husband’s dutiful efforts to document the existence of a mother in our family. But more importantly, I reclaimed my spot in the memories. I took my rightful spot as mom. Not coordinator. Not photographer. Not lady in the background who pops up at weird intervals to reapply sunscreen and bug spray.
These are my kids. This is my life. These are my memories. I’m the only one who can claim them — and I can’t do it from the sidelines.
If you’re a mom like me who has disappeared from your family photos, step out from behind the lens and rejoin the moment. Jump in the leaf pile. Kick the soccer ball. Get on the ground with a stick of chalk.
Whatever you do, get off the sidelines and get back in the memories.