I read an article once encouraging mothers “…to get in the picture…” with their kids throughout the years. It was written by a mother, who realized once she became a mother and went looking for her own mother in pictures that there were not very many pictures from her childhood with her mother in the photo. Her memories were full of her mother. Yet, as she went to find tangible evidence of how her mother showed up as a woman during her childhood, and not just the person she remembered in her mind from her child-centric perspective, she couldn’t find any. She was feeling like she was floating and losing touch with who she knew herself to be before she became a new mother unsure of just about everything.
It was a touching piece, extremely encouraging, and helpful in the ways it affirmed all the reasons women might step out of the photo frame — body image issues, always being busy literally doing the background things, forgetting that your kids are a part of a whole family, and how you feel and look is as important for them to see you prioritizing as it is for you to prioritize them. She also did an amazing job at dismissing those reasons as not good enough without being condescending and dismissive of all the things we think and feel as mothering women.
I was pregnant when I read that piece. It’s shaped me deeply as a mother — for the better.
However, even the best advice can encounter a hitch.
When my son was 11 months old, my husband, his father, and I separated. More than a year later our divorce was finalized. It’s hard to get in the picture when you’re the one taking it.
I know in the age of selfies, this seems like a non-sequitur; and, with the number of photographers that I have in my life you’d think every damn second would be documented. In some ways, I’ve got more formal and professional photos of me and the kid than many families EVER take in a lifetime, and he’s not even four. Gratitude for this privilege hasn’t stopped a deep pang in my gut, and the slight onset of anxiety, every time I realize I’m in a moment that my former partner, or maybe any partner, might snap candidly with ease.
There are times, like when we break into dance or song; or, when he wants to help in the kitchen, and he takes off running then comes careening around the corner, wearing the proudest grin, having found his apron and a spatula I’d been trying to find for weeks somewhere in the house amongst his toys. Instead, I deepen my breath, roll my shoulders back to open my heart and intensify my gaze — hoping that I’ll remember.
Hoping that if my mind ever gets scattered by chance or age, that just like a physical photo that memory would remain.
Hoping that it will be one of the stories that I tell over and over, that begin with the phrase, “Did I ever tell you about the time…” and my loved ones, or the charge nurse, roll their eyes because they have heard it before, maybe even 45 minutes ago, but I’ve earned the right to tell it again, and they oblige, sometimes out of love, sometimes out of obligation.
I have few confidence issues; thanks to the combination of stubbornness and an adventurous spirit my doubts are primarily situational issues that a Beyoncé sing along in my shower or car can cure. I’m a pretty audacious person. In most instances when folks ask me, “how did you have the courage to do that,” or “how did you know you could do it,” my thoughtful response is almost always, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t.
Even if I have a skill gap a mile wide, or can see where my capacity might fall short, my thought process almost immediately begins to strategically analyze or query how to get there – and there is wherever I’ve decided is necessary. And, there my friend is the hitch.
The idea of being invisible isn’t at its root about being insecure — though if unexamined can lead to insecurities. Every time I think to myself, I wish there was someone here to capture this moment– and there isn’t- a deep pang of grief hits me. A moment of grief so deep and intense that gratitude isn’t the answer.
So I deepen my breath, open my heart, intensify my gaze and HOPE that I, or he, will remember.
I don’t typically cry in these moments, but the times that the tears have come, are actually the times when we are in public and some might think it’d be easy to “…just ask someone to take a picture of you guys for you…”
As much as that thought might seem an ingenious solution it actually brings shame and anxiety, grief’s twin cousins. I’m an intensely private person and an introvert. First of all, the idea of talking to a stranger is nuts! Even more so, the idea that I would ask them to take a picture of something that in my heart feels exciting and intimate between a mother and her child…just kill me with shame and embarrassment why don’t you?
Maybe with enough yoga, prayer, and therapy, I’ll get past that. I don’t have a desire to learn how to let strangers into intimate moments. That just doesn’t seem like it could be the best answer. So, I risk losing amazing memories, just hoping that I don’t. Even as I type that it seems ridiculous.
Writing this piece to share with the world came to me as I was in the pool this past Memorial Day weekend.
About 6 months ago, just weeks after turning 39 years old, I got a roommate. Only the second roommate I’ve ever had in my life (well not counting the two husbands I’ve had). Over the years as new mothers with partners, then as new mothers without partners, then as entrepreneurs with toddlers, we’ve developed a bond and trust. It seems kismet. Two solopreneurs, two crazy amazing toddlers, along with a cat and a dog, all together.
This weekend, as we all enjoyed the weather and the pool and the promise of summer, I yelled for her to snap a few pictures of us. I thought twice before I did so. She was sitting next to the pool with her phone and her little one. In my hesitation I wondered if I was being intrusive; then wondered if I was being vain. Then I finally asked – for better or worse this is the picture. I don’t want to forget it. Motherhood is raw, and there is no sane way to do it without vulnerability. As much as there are moments we are so thankful will never be documented, I’ve realized that to be remembered, we’ve got to be fully seen, so somethings absolutely have to be documented.
Baranda is an accomplished higher education professional and nonprofit leader with experience in program design operations, training, community development, and research. She has a gift for seeing long-range patterns and developing visions, yet her first love is writing. She has numerous published articles including those in Social Forces, College & University, Better Homes & Gardens, and her book of prayers and prose published in 2017, For Our Boys: A Mother's Prayers. She makes life beautiful by using words to share the stories in our lives, as a writer and preacher. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Michigan State University; a master’s in Human Development from Teachers College, Columbia University; and a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from The University of Oklahoma. Her favorite things on earth are yoga, tacos and her son, Montgomery James.