As soon as I got out of my car and headed into the school, I realized I was the only parent without a camera. Once again, the spring music program would commence, and while my children would be among the 450 in their school to take the stage, they would, as usual, be the only children whose mother would not photograph them doing it.
It's always the same. From the first day of the new school year right through the farewell picnic and Field Day, I never have a camera on hand. Or if I do remember to bring one, it's out of film, or its batteries are dead, or I leave it locked in the car.
When it comes to photos, I've concluded there are two kinds of parents: Those who take pictures and those of us who ask other parents to snap pictures of our children and send the images to us if they get the chance.
Moreover, you're either a natural-born “picture parent” or you're not.
From the beginning, my husband and I were overwhelmed by the prospect of photographing our first child. This might have had to do with the packet of new-parent information from the hospital where Katie was born. It offered a “newborn budget” to estimate the first-year expenses associated with our new bundle of joy. The list of items included diapers, baby toys, insurance and first-year photos. The estimated cost for pictures? $1,200.
Let me restate this in case you're not clear. The packet said we should plan to spend one-thousand-two-hundred dollars taking pictures of our daughter in her first year of life.
Right away, it was obvious we were going to fail this aspect of parenting. For one thing, we would have to choose between photographing our baby and feeding her, not to mention that that kind of financial burden would preclude any future siblings.
We took the obligatory snapshots as we left the hospital and then about 36 pictures of Katie as she slept. After that, it was spotty.
Neglecting to take early childhood photos can remain a dirty little secret. Once your child goes to school, however, everyone discovers you never take her picture. What's worse, there are many opportunities to not take her picture. “Picture parents” record every Halloween parade, Christmas program, birthday party and band concert their child attends. I wouldn't be able to find the camera that many times in a year.
I suppose I might take pictures at these events, if I took pictures, but I asked myself at a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) graduation, “If I take pictures right now, would I even know what event this was when I looked at the photos later?” I'd have to ask my son someday in the future, “Why were you sitting in the gym with all your friends listening to a police officer? What kind of trouble were you in?”
Some things are better lived than relived.
Instead, I take rolls and rolls of the same pose, in case the last shot didn't come out. Rather than a chronological account of our family's growth through the years, we have the pose at the river, the pose on the front porch and the pose in front of the Christmas tree. This is how we mark time.
One year, in an effort to redeem myself, I started a new roll of 36 pictures on the first day of school and vowed to capture the highlights of every season. I caught the field trip to the apple orchard in September. I snapped pictures of my children trick-or-treating in October. I got shots of us gathered around the Thanksgiving turkey. I captured Christmas morning.
Then spring came, and the camera malfunctioned, rewinding the film to the beginning. Because it looked as if I had a new role in the camera, I took pictures of the Valentine's party, St. Patrick's Day, First Communion and May crowning.
When I got the film developed, there were two images on every print all 72 pictures for the academic year, neatly packaged on 36 blurry photos.
There were happy faces meshed on top of cheesy grins, good hair transposed over bad hair. Were we smiling in this picture, or is that a turkey leg?
That was back when Katie was in the second grade. This week, she went to the junior prom, proving that time marches on even if you don't capture it on film.
Before the dance, Katie and her prom-going pals gathered with their parents for pictures at the home of one of the girls. Flashes popped while nervous teens held toothsome grins. My daughter and her friends looked picture-perfect, but did I have a camera?
No. I had a dead camera battery at the bottom of my purse to remind me what size battery to buy. Some things never change.
I thought about my photographically challenged parenting style as I enjoyed the spring concert at the elementary school. The third grade sang a charming piece “The Pasta Song” and my son's class sang “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
I don't have any pictures of them, but that's OK. I know I won't forget the concert anytime soon.
I can't get the Edmund Fitzgerald song out of my head.
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 18 years and mother of four children from third grade to junior year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at www.marybethhicks.com. This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)