My 15-year-old son and I were planning to attend his high school’s Mother-Son Brunch. We were asked to send in two pictures of ourselves with our son for a then and now slide show presentation. Finding a current picture of the two of us was easy. I had some on my phone that we had taken at Christmas.
I dug out the photo albums to find an older picture of the two of us, because let’s face it, my electronic filing system of pictures is a hot mess. As I flipped through photo albums, I found tons of pictures of my son – at birth, in preschool, playing soccer, at school events and holidays. But I struggled to find one of just him and me.
My son is the youngest of three, so most of the pictures I took of him in the early days include his sisters or all five of us. There are even several of him and his dad doing “boy things.” After an hour of searching, I had come up with three pictures of just the two of us. Three! For each picture, I remember another mom asking me if I would like her to take a picture of us (probably hoping I would, in exchange, take a picture of her and her son).
Frustrated that I only had a few pictures of my son and me alone, I searched for some of me and my daughters. Sadly, I ran into the same problem. Why weren’t there any pictures of me and my kids alone? And then it hit me. I was never in the pictures because it was my job to take the pictures.
When I look back at the photographs of my son smiling ear to ear, I have to assume that I was smiling, too. Those were happy times in his life and important enough to want to save and remember again another day. I only felt it was important to catch his reaction of the event. My reaction, from the other side of the camera, was simply pride.
I guess that is how life is supposed to be. We are meant to stand across from our children and watch their lives happen. It gives us a better perspective to help guide them through their lives, warning them of upcoming turns or bumps in the road. When you are standing next to your child, you have a tendency to want to take the lead, the credit and the blame.
While I regret not being able to look back on my younger self in my son’s pictures, I have to remember that those moments were not about me. I already had my first trip to Disney, special Halloween costumes and school awards ceremonies. Those were my moments. The funny thing is, when I look back at the pictures of my moments, my parents must have stood somewhere outside the frame, too.
If I would have captured myself at my son’s moments, I would have pictures of a younger me sitting in chairs on the sideline, holding everyone’s things, cheering, yawning, crying, checking my watch, talking to the people around me and clapping at all the right times. There might even be pictures of me on my phone, catching up on social media while waiting for my son to do his thing.
One day my son might look back at the pictures and notice that I am not in very many of them. I will tell him I was there, just on the other side of the camera, smiling as I watched him grow into the person he is today.
By Pam Molnar, a mother of three and a founding member of Unorganized Photos Anonymous. Despite lack of a filing system, she has captured some of the best moments in her kids’ lives.