As we enter the building, paparazzi are everywhere. Inside, flashes illuminate the room as little Johnny hangs his backpack on a hook. “Say cheese!” they call to Jessica as she unpacks her school supplies. All around us, dads with video cams and moms with digital photo cell phones chronicle the first day of school with cinematic artistry.
As usual, I forgot the camera. It doesn't matter because the battery in the digital is dead and the “regular” camera is out of film. There's a disposable upstairs somewhere, but I think it's used up.
When it comes to photos, there are two kinds of parents: those who take pictures and those of us who ask other parents to snap pictures of our kids and send them to us if they get the chance.
From the beginning, my husband and I were overwhelmed by the prospect of parent photography. This might have to do with the packet of new-parent information from the hospital where our first child was born. In it, they offered a “newborn budget” to estimate the cost of things like diapers, baby toys, insurance and first-year photos. The budget for pictures? $1200.00. They 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 clear we were going to fail this aspect of parenting. For one thing, we'd have to choose between photographing our baby and feeding her. Plus, we'd never be able to afford to give her siblings. We took the obligatory snapshots as we left the hospital, and then about 36 pictures of her as she slept. After that, it was spotty.
But neglecting to take early childhood photos can remain a dirty little secret. Once your kid goes to school, everyone discovers you never take her picture. What's worse, there are so many opportunities to not take her picture. “Picture parents” record every Halloween parade, Christmas program, Valentine party, and band concert their kid 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 D.A.R.E. graduation, “If I take pictures right now, would I even know what event this was when I look at them later?” I'm sure I'll have to ask my daughter someday in the future, “Why are 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.
So I don't take pictures at events. 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 role of 36 pictures on the first day of school and vowed to capture the highlights of every season. I snapped pictures trick-or-treating. I got shots of us gathered around the Thanksgiving turkey. Captured Christmas morning. And then spring came and the camera malfunctioned, rewinding the film to the beginning. Since it looked like I had a new roli in the camera, I took pictures of First Communion, May Crowning and field day.
And then I got the film developed. There, in double exposed efficiency, were two images on every frame. All 72 photos for the academic year, neatly packaged on 36 prints. Happy faces meshed on top of cheesy grins. Good hair transposed over bad hair. Are we smiling in this picture or is that a turkey leg?
I'm thinking about my photographically-challenged parenting style as I enjoy the package of pictures I just picked up at the one-hour photo. They're great shots of the first day of school. Last year.
This year on the first day, I decided to be on time rather than take pictures. I postponed photos until “the first day for school uniforms.” That was Monday, but we had a lunch box crisis and didn't have time. Now I'm planning to take “end-of-the-first-week” photos.
If I remember to buy film.
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore 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 also has worked in marketing and public relations positions in corporate and agency settings. Mostly, she spends a lot of time in her mini-van, where the real work of parenting actually happens. Learn more about Marybeth and her column at www.marybethhicks.com.)