When the picture doesn’t tell the story

I was all set to sit and write a post about storytelling.  I had been writing the words in my head all day and looked forward to a thought provoking post on paper.   But it will now wait for another day.  Because I just got an email from my mom.  One that made me “feel” so much that I need to push the original words out of my head and write about something else.

My mom does not read my blog very often.  It’s not that she’s not interested in my life or what goes on in it (much to the contrary) but she very rarely has the chance to sit at her computer to read it.  I know if I send her an email, it will be a week before she responds. If I want her attention on something, I call.  And I do call.  A Lot.  We talk frequently about little things and big things.  She’s a great sounding board for my thoughts, a fantastic audience for my stories that only a mom could love and an honest friend.  But she doesn’t read my blog.  Unless I call her when I know she’s home, remind her of my website and tell her to sit down and read it right then.

Friday I told her to read my Love Letter to Sleep.  I thought she’d think it was entertaining.  (She did). I didn’t realize she’d read other posts while she was on my site.  But I guess she had the time and decided to peruse around.  Turns out, she read my most recent post about memories.  And after she read it, she sent me this email:

“That blog was beautiful, honey.  I feel the same as you about the snow–get the same “feelings” you do looking at it–the memories are also the same-strangely not from my childhood, but from yours.  The other day (I was telling Dad) I passed a great snowman and it took my thoughts to building them with you and Lee.  We have a picture of us with our creation hanging in the laundry room.  I remember that day and the fun I had.  But the picture of us–neither you or Lee is smiling and I began thinking–was I the only one who had fun?  Did I force you to build the snowman?  Were you freezing?  Then I felt so sad–wanting to do it all again–and make sure you were happy. I love you honey–I hope you were happy.”

I choked back tears when I read this short note.  It struck me.  Hard.  I felt so SAD that my mom wondered about my happiness.  I felt so BAD that she didn’t have the memories from her childhood, but only from mine.  So many memories are only memories because of the pictures that we hold onto through the years.  Do we really REMEMBER or do we only think we remember because of these pictures?  And what if the picture doesn’t tell the whole story?  Expressionless faces.  The hugs given after the photo was shot.  A missing smile because we didn’t hear the photographer say cheese.  The fact that this was the 7th picture taken and our faces were frozen solid.  Missing pieces of the story.  How do we capture the full story so that 30 years from now, I’m not asking my kids, “were you happy?”

I don’t remember the time my mom cites in her email, although I know the picture well.  I’ve passed it thousands of times at my parent’s house.  I was three.  My brother 5.  We stood on either side of our huge snowman creation with my parents standing behind us. My brother and my faces are as serious as the snowman’s.  I don’t remember if I was freezing and begging to go inside for hot chocolate.  I don’t know if my brother had repeatedly thrown snowballs at my face.  I don’t know if I was tired of standing waiting for my dad to figure out the self timer on his camera.  But my mom is right.  I don’t look happy.

I will be devastated if I look back at these years with my kids with such wonder.  Wonder of whether the times that I cherish with my kids, were equally cherished by them.  I wish I could reassure my mom and tell her, “Of course I was happy in that picture!”  But I can’t.  But I can remind her of the times that I DO recall being so much more than just happy.  I can reassure her that I’m so thankful for the things she did with me and encouraged me to do.  I can let her know that I’m not just enjoying childhood with Hannah and Luke… I also truly LOVED the childhood she gave me.  I may not have proof in pictures, but I hope she’ll take my word for it.

This is one more reason I’m so thankful for this blog.  This place where I can add words and emotion to the photographs.  This place where I can memorialize so much more than was done when I was young.  This place where I can hope to capture it all, so that if we don’t look happy, at least we’ll know why.



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43 responses to “When the picture doesn’t tell the story

  1. Last night we got the news that a dear friend of ours had died at age 77. When I Google-d his name to find his obituary I found his Facebook page with a recent picture of his wife & he smiling into the camera through the glare of the snow on a Scottish winter day. The Add as a Friend button stared back at me in an accusatory way from the page. Had I know that he was on their, I would have done this. If I had done, no doubt today I would be looking at photographs and crying and smiling and remembering. For all those who “don’t get” Social Media, see it as a way of preserving memories and continuing the storytelling traditions in a (slightly) more permanent forum. A lovely, evocative post.

    • You are so right. I feel so fortunate to have the means to capture so much more of my and my family’s life than my parents ever had. Not only does my blog allow ME to recall all of the special moments, but it will be there for my kids to remember and relive the times as well. Thank you so much for this wonderful comment!

  2. Thank goodness for blogging!

    My oldest always makes the WORST faces when we take his pic. He tells us that he is in a “dirty look contest” every time we snap his pic. So, he might look back and think he had an awful childhood.

    • As long as you can look back and know he didn’t… he’ll be ok! You’ll just have to remind him that he found joy in ruining all of your pictures! 🙂

  3. I got teary reading that excerpt from your moms email. It’s something I fear, because you can’t remember it all, can’t feel it all for them either. Sometimes you don’t know.
    But you’re right, thankfully we have these things called blogs where we can write about our days and our lives and have a more clear vision of our past.

    • With your incredible pictures Corinne, I’m sure you’re capturing it ALL! Your children will be so fortunate to have such amazing documentation of the lives they led.

  4. Your post is so timely for me. I just spent two hours pouring through the almost 400 photos I took this weekend. Yours and your mother’s words reaffirmed what I had swirling through my head.

    This afternoon I forced the boys to stand together for a photo. They had such pained looks on their faces. I remember being frustrated as I took the photo because they wouldn’t “relax.” I was worried that they weren’t enjoying themselves on what I thought to be a fun outing.

    But it turns out that I’m the one that needs to relax. As I clicked through the rest of my photos, I noticed that the candids I took of the boys when they weren’t looking were the best shots of all. They really did have fun.

    • I feel like I’m ALWAYS forcing a smile from my kids. The smile is never big enough, natural enough, happy enough. I wish I could just relax and let their expression show how they feel. So wonderful that you captured the truth through the candids. I think I need to be better at taking the shots without them knowing.
      Thank you for this enlightening comment, I really appreciate it!

  5. I admonish myself often for not being *in* the photos with my children. They will remember their funny faces or favorite activities, but will they remember that I was there and that I was having fun, too. Will they remember me smiling or will they remember me busy taking a photograph.

    • Great point Kelly… I hope my kids remember that I was involved in the fun too. Not just recording it. I think I should pass camera duty on to my husband every once in a while!

  6. Yes, what Kelly said up there! I’m in about 5 pictures with my kids. Out of the 5,475,322 that we have! It’s depressing. And I should work on that!

    But more importantly, that letter from your mom. It’s just the best isn’t it? Sharing bits and pieces of ourselves, our emotions, our history with our moms? I love that my mother and me are also able to talk about the past with openness and honesty. Sweet Mama: you should write a post for the blog!!! We’d all be so happy for the perspective!

    • Yes, the letter was amazing. I never expected it honestly. My mom tells me how she feels, but rarely writes it. And for her to verbalize these thoughts for me, something that I had no idea she was feeling, was eye-opening to say the least.

      And it was hard enough for me to get her to read my blog, I doubt she’d ever write one! But we’ll see… maybe if I give her a prompt! I’d certainly love it!

  7. I’ll admit I had a tear or two when I read your mom’s message. I always try to view the world through the eyes of my children and focus much too often on worrying whether they are having fun rather than just enjoying the moment with them.

    The point is, I think, if we as mothers are able to live in the moment with our children than we should worry not at all about whether they cherish the moments with us. Perhaps they won’t remember the details, but they will always remember the feeling because each moment contributes to the bigger picture that is family, comfort, love and security. I don’t believe that every goes away.

    • Yes, it is so much about living in the moment. Enjoying their faces NOW and not worrying about how they’ll remember it. But I just can’t help but think of the future and hope that what I’m bringing to them today is worth wonderful memories.

      And at the same time, I hope that the screamy mommy days they DON’T remember!!

  8. Nicki

    This speaks so poignantly to me. I can’t even put words to it – which, as you know, is odd for me. Thank you for sharing this, Becca!

  9. My Mom and I recently had a conversation over my childhoods happiness brought on from her reading one of my blogs as well.

    It was a great conversation. Perhaps one of our best.

    I love my Mom. I’m glad I was finally able to answer her questions that she had wondered about for 20 years.

    I’m glad you got to answer your Moms question too.

    This post was wonderful!
    Stopping by from SITS. Have a great day!

    • I was so happy that my mom sent me this email because it allowed us to have an important conversation. I hope I was able to ease her mind in letting her know how fondly I look back on my childhood. I’m glad you experienced something similar as well.

      And thank you so much for coming by my blog… I’ll be by to visit yours soon!

  10. like4live

    Life never is how we picture it. Even the worst memories can be fun to talk about with those people who were there. It is not about whether it was fun or perfect but simply the fact that the time was spent in one anothers company and great emotions where shared. The highs and lows of life are what remind us our humanity and that we are fallible. I love not knowing what was going on in some of my childhood pics and just creating a moment with maybe my brother on what he remembers of the moment. It always amazed me how our stories are so different. I think we may try too hard to create what we remember but not what really happened. I am sure my girls will see the pictures of the farm and the beach and think it was all pretty but I will remember the tears, fights, falls, broken arms and getting lost finding places.

    • You’re right… it will be fun to look back on the pictures and recreate the stories that we have in our minds. Wrong or right, it will still be fun. It’s the overall feeling my kids are left with and I’m pretty certain, it will be a positive recollection.

      Thank you for stopping by!

  11. Like Corinne, I got a little weepy reading this. How MUCH we want for our kids and how hard we try to make it happen. And yes, how little we really do know if it sinks in how much we love them.

    And photos? Totally guilty of hardly appearing in any of them. I need photo rehab. This was a great reminder.

    • I guess we just have to feel confident that the love we’re showing them is enough. I have to stop worrying so much and just ENJOY the life we’re living.

  12. lz

    You are such an amazing writer – I hope you know that. You are so able to capture thoughts and moments in such a way that we can all relate, or at least, completely understand your point of view.
    I worry about the things my kids will remember. I have such fond memories or growing up, but also remember the few times I got yelled at or got hurt. I guess we can’t control what sticks…I agree with the previous posted that said as long as you are present and enjoying the time with them, you’re doing a great job of creating their future blog posts!!

    • Thanks LZ. I’m so glad you’re able to relate and understand where I’m coming from… it’s one reason I keep at this!
      I think I may be even more worried that my kids will remember the times I screamed at them on my impatient, bad mommy days, than that they’ll remember the happy times! Maybe if I outnumber the bad times with the good… I’ll be in better shape!

  13. Becca – I love this. The conversation, the longing, the memories laced with emotion. The dancing of questions, the hinting at answers. Blogging is the carving of memories – and the creating of them. You will remember this post. The feelings it stirred. There is something magical about this. Thank you for the reminder that blogging is not an empty endeavor, a simple catharsis. It is so much more. So much.

    • Why is it that you always understand my posts better than I even do Aidan? 🙂 There are so many reasons I have such passion for this blogging thing… thank you for listing them so eloquently! And you’re right, I will definitely remember this post for a long long time.

  14. Isn’t it amazing how we remember an event from our own perspective, and sometimes fail to think about how someone else recalls the same moment? It speaks volumes about your mother that so many years later she’s worried about the happiness you experienced as a three-year-old. And the fact that you share the same concerns about your own kids speaks equally about you.

    • Yes Gale, it definitely is amazing. It makes me want to go back and recount so many other memories with my mom. The vacations we took, the shows we saw, the bike rides we took. I wonder if she recalls them the same way I do. And I wonder the same about my kids… although I’m hopeful this blog will take away some of the wonder. I know I sometimes (often) overthink, but I do think in this case, it’s because I care so much… just like my mom.

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  16. What a beautiful post – full of so many important words and ideas: your mom’s and your own. I also think often about the validity and quality of memory. I think of it especially in the context of digital photography. I have to wonder whether, if your parents had had a digital camera, you and your brother would both have been beaming in that photo.

    • Kristen what a fantastic point! You’re right, the digital camera really does help us capture the moments we WANT so much better. Our parents didn’t have so many choices as to which pictures to “keep”… they just booked the ones they had. And in doing so, missed so much. Thank you so much for this perspective…

  17. I too felt moved to eye-moisture by your mom’s words, and the way in which you share, embrace and amplify them.

    I think it’s the love of a parent, validating the apparent feelings of the child, while expressing the depth of love that pulses in the parent’s heart years before the child can fully understand that love… understanding it only when that child joins the parent in the bittersweet situation of parenting.

    • You’re probably right. I’ll most likely have to wait until my kids are adults to really be able to appreciate the joys they had when they were little. And I’m ok with that. I just don’t want any of us to forget the joys if they weren’t correctly documented in pictures. Thanks for your comment!

  18. What a wonderful mother you have. Don’t you feel so blessed? Here is a question for you: Do you feel like you are a better mother because of the mother you had?

    I am blessed with a fantastic mom, too. She has advance Alzheimer’s so I haven’t been able to talk to her in over ten years. But I find myself parenting like she parented me. And I thank her everyday for being such a great role model.

    I loved you post. So heart felt!

    • Yes, I feel so lucky to have the mother that I have and she definitely shaped the mother that I am. Was she perfect? No, but she taught me more than I could have hoped for about being honest, sincere and true to myself. I plan on doing the same for my kids.

      I’m sorry that your mom has Alzheimer’s and isn’t there for you the way she once was but how fortunate for you that you have her in mind as you parent your kids. And you have to hope that a part of her hears and appreciates your gratitude.

  19. This is such an amazing post – and it addresses something we all struggle with. So beautifully written, it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Capturing my daughter’s smiles is like trying to capture air–it doesn’t happen. The millions of photos I have of her are generally sans smiles. Yet, I have used my family blog as a way to place those pictures with a caption of that moment. Even with her non smiles, I can look back and know she was happy.

    Beautiful, poignant post, Becca. I love reading your words. They are usually so in line with something that has been on my mind lately. Sometimes I forget that I really haven’t met you yet.

  21. I absolutely LOVED how you ended this post. This is why I also continue to blog – “this place where I can hope to capture it all, so that if we don’t look happy, at least we’ll know why.”

    Perfectly said!

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  23. Thank you so much for your beautiful words! This is a huge reminder to me of why I started my blog. This weekend while I was laying in bed sick, I was thinking about needing a better direction for it – this is it. This is why I started it and somehow I have gotten a little off course! This is a lovely blog and I can’t wait to read your archives…

  24. oh, the beauty in this brings tears to my eyes… just the other day, paul and i were getting jackson ready for bed, changing his diaper for the umpteenth time, and i said to paul “gosh, i wish i remembered when i was this young so that i could thank my parents for wiping my ass for all those years.”

    it’s interesting to me… memory and when it begins, where is ends… and perhaps there is a reason why we do not remember certain things or events, or have the capability of doing so until a certain age.

    maybe ignorance really is bliss.

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