My mom had a birthday recently, and seeing how it landed on a Thursday, I figured it would be fitting to go ahead and share a great Throwback Thursday picture of her on my personal Facebook. A real retro snapshot of how I remember her from my perspective as a child in the ’70s. I knew just what picture I would use, as I had seen it what felt like a million times. I have a few of our family’s childhood photo albums under my bed, in all of their dusty avocado green and orange acid-tinted glory. In the first album I opened, right there on the first page, I found it.
There were several more like it — her lazily enjoying the beach sprawled out on a woven aluminum chair; her lounging on a brown tweed couch in front of a brown wood paneled wall, feet up near the macrame plant holder. Her and my dad in front of his Harley, or at a dinner table, or handing me a can of Schlitz to sneak a sip out of (I was probably 3 — hurry and call child protective services ASAP). Suffice it to say there were many photos to choose from. And in every single one, she looked beautiful. Relaxed. Un-anxious. Carefree. Where were all us kids? Well if I had to guess, we were playing somewhere down the street unsupervised. Did you hear that? UNSUPERVISED. I mean really, how dare we? Oh wait a sec, helicopter parenting had yet to reach us, or guilt. Her generation was not into structuring every second of her kid’s days. No wonder there is an unhurried temperament in her expression.
I wondered, as I looked again at the picture, if my sons would be able to find a picture of me like that someday. These thoughts and more rushed through my head as I shared the image in a Facebook post, typing,”Happy birthday, Mom! I love you!” and joked at how “smokin’ hot” she was.
I then looked over at no less than 12 scrapbooks piled high on a bookshelf in our living room, knowing perfectly well they were brimming with years and years of memories and milestones. They were filled with first steps, first birthdays, first haircuts, first dances and t-ball games. Pictures of Christmas mornings and Halloween evenings; of car trips, boat trips and airplane trips. Page after page of little boys doing little boy things — playing with their dad, shoving cupcakes in their mouths, even being stitched up in the ER. And they all had one thing in common. I wasn’t in any of them. I calculated it would take perusing through at least seven albums before coming across a picture of me. And what exactly was that a picture of me? It was of me in a hospital bed holding a newborn baby.
What happened to the years following the hospital bed picture? The baby for sure grew, as we have hundreds of pieces of photographic evidence of it, but the woman? Did she not evolve as well? What happened to her?
Motherhood happened to her, to ME, and it forced me to forever be standing behind the camera, not in front of it. As the mom, I suddenly became the family archivist, snapping photographs of our lives here and there, day after day, year after year. And never for one second did I realize that as I snapped years of my family’s life, I failed to snap any of mine.
Sure, I have taken my share of selfies, but honestly, most of them are of me sweating after a run, in the hopes of inspiring others to get out there and exercise. There are a sprinkling of selfies of me so excited to have taken a shower and washed and dried my hair that I had to actually snap a picture of myself clean. If you peeked into my Instagram, you would see pictures of food, food and more food (five males to feed here), of all of nature, of big and small events I know I was at but have no picture of me actually AT. There are sunrises and sunsets, storm clouds and wildlife. You would find plenty of goofy pictures of my boys, of them at sporting events and parties, of father and sons doing father and son things. And even strangers doing strange things in public that I felt compelled to document.
But what you won’t find, or couldn’t find in all the albums, photo boxes and on all of the memory cards tossed into kitchen junk drawers, are pictures of the woman that is also the mom.
The last picture of me I could find of myself lying alone in the sun, appearing carefree, with a face not scrunched up and impatiently thinking, <em>Oh, honestly ,just hurry up and take it!</em> is a picture of me on a beach on my honeymoon. There was no offspring to capture making cute sandcastles, or running away from crashing waves. There was just the woman before the mom.
That was almost 18 year ago.
And that speaks volumes.
I have spent my boy’s childhood behind the scenes. I have spent it in kitchens and laundry rooms, in bleachers and ballparks, classrooms and carpool lines, grocery stores and waiting rooms. I have spent it like all moms — parenting, planning, cooking, washing, stressing, driving, organizing, shaping and attempting to construct a childhood for my kids that is worthy of fabulous pictures of THEM.
And none of ME.
None of the woman who has dedicated herself to making all of that happen. Not the plain mom with the swinging ponytail in yoga pants or sweaty running shorts, but the WOMAN that did all of this.
When my sons are grown, and there comes a day where reminiscing about their youth may find them searching for a picture of their mom, of the woman that was their mom, where will they find it?
As my own mom, a true baby boomer, celebrates her birthday, and has been mothering me for 42 years, I am amazed at the lessons I can still learn from her. As I scanned that picture of her as a young mom, of her just relaxing in a chair on a spring day, of her not behind the scenes of my childhood but in front of it, I realize she has left me a precious gift. The gift is not only this amazing picture, it is a lesson in picturing ME in my life. Of making a point to actually picture myself in my life.
And I will start now. And you should too.
I asked my 11-year-old son to take a picture of me today.
“Of just you?” he asked.
“Yes. Of just me. Sitting right here on my little front porch where you will remember where I liked to sit a lot.” I replied.
“Why?” He questioned me again.
“Because in 30 years, you are going to be looking for this picture, and I want you to be able to find it.” I answered.
Now it’s your turn. Go get in the picture of your life. Front and center.
Melissa Fenton writes at 4boysmother.com.