I didn't take as many photos of my daughter while she attended high school as I should have, but as I fold the heaping baskets of laundry weighing down my kitchen table, I realize her entire secondary school experience is captured in T-shirts.
Some parents invest in high-end cameras that enable them to generate hours of video footage and countless digital images, memorializing all of the important events between the ages of 13 and 18.
Me? I appear to have invested in bolts of cotton and gallons of ink, with which were screen-printed all possible iterations of our high school's name and logo. We have black on blue shirts, blue on white shirts, white on black shirts, not to mention enough gray T-shirts to cover the county in a patchwork quilt of school spirit.
If T-shirts were photographs, we'd need a Creative Memories franchise to store them all.
I'm thinking the significance of the T-shirts may be lost on her children when, one day, instead of a scrapbook full of pictures and mementos, Katie pulls out a box of limp and faded cotton and describes the various track meets, school plays and homecoming weeks they represent. What feels like nostalgia to her may look like rags suitable for a car wash to her children.
Oh, well. Buying the shirts seemed important at the time.
I suppose I ought to have had the camera handy for an occasional track meet or one of her band concerts or perhaps the closing night of this year's spring musical. (More to the point, I might have remembered to take the camera from the car and actually remove it from its case.) Even if I had taken more pictures of her high school experience, however, I never could have captured the moments that mattered most.
At least not the moments that mattered most to me.
For example, I don't have a snapshot of the night she landed face down on the track at the regional meet after catching a hurdle with her back leg, crashing onto the asphalt in a heap of pain and disappointment — but I wish I had taken one when she got back up and finished the race and, later that night, cheered on her teammates with all the enthusiasm in the world.
I don't have any video of the argument we had on the day she got a speeding ticket and I wouldn't let her go out with her friends later that night. Thank goodness. Some things are better left unrecorded. Still, I wish I had a tape of her apology, delivered with such respect and humility that I knew for certain she felt sorry for her mistake and the behavior she had exhibited toward me.
I never took pictures on late nights when she stayed up writing essays, but the sound of the keys on my computer as her fingers flew through paragraph after paragraph conjures an image of determination and commitment I can't forget.
To be sure, we have lots of photos of Katie smiling along with her pals — hosting birthday parties in our basement or gathered with her teammates in uniform or dressed in costume for opening night — but even those don't capture the real events in my mind.
For me, the photos ought to be of her scheming with her friends about when to shout "surprise" or hauling herself out of bed at 5:30 every morning in the summer to go running with her teammates or rehearsing her songs for the play in the echo of the bathroom upstairs.
We're a culture hooked on taking pictures. We parents view our children's lives through a tiny lens through which we zoom in and out to record the magic and mystery of childhood. We don't want to miss a thing, so we record all of it, or so it seems.
However, in the four years that end today, I never could have recorded what really happened. There isn't a single picture of the moment Katie discovered how strong she is. There's no photo of her as she learned her capacity for compassion. There's not a shot of her strengthening her relationship with God.
I have photos of her as a freshman — gangly and thin and unsure of herself — and I have pictures of a senior on the brink of adulthood, lovely and confident and proud. In between are years of happiness and heartache that converged on her character to mold her into a young woman I'm amazed we can claim as our own.
Katie graduates today. I'm taking my camera, that's for sure, and when the day is done, I intend to have a whole bunch of images that I'll store in the computer in a folder with her name on it.
I may even join those parents who get out of their seats and scamper up the aisle to snap a photo at the very moment the principal hands Katie her diploma. I'll get pictures afterward, too, with her friends and teachers and her grandparents and godparents.
When I look at all my pictures, though, I won't just see a smiling girl in a cap and gown. I'll see four years of effort — hers and ours — and in the background of every photo, I'll see countless answered prayers for the grace of God to train up a child in the way she should go.