I’m kind of addicted to family pictures. I’m approaching 20,000 pictures in my Flickr account. 7,000 of those feature Lexi and 2,000 feature Milo. Those ridiculous numbers are thanks to the digital photography era, but my addiction goes beyond merely snapping new digital pics.
In 2007 I brought my scanner to Thanksgiving with the intention of scanning some of my Grandma’s historic family photos. In addition I raided my parents’ collection of family photos and scanned more than 500 images. A couple weeks ago I finally finished cropping, sorting and uploading them (in order to speed up the scanning process I just slapped as many photos as would fit on the scanner and scanned them, opting to go back later to crop them and label them—who knew that process would take two and a half years?). I haven’t even started going through my Grandma’s family pictures.
Why do I like family photos so much? I don’t know. I do know that I love seeing the same picture with many years in between:
I think what I love is seeing the passage of time and seeing our story told in pictures. It’s a reminder of what we’ve been through, whether good or bad. Sometimes the story in those pictures isn’t a very good one. Like my wedding pictures where we have one shot with my Mom and a different shot with my Dad because they were separated (thankfully we still took the full family shot and that story has a happy ending). Or the significant other who has long since dropped out of your life but still shows up in old family pictures. A little awkward, yes, but that’s the story. You can’t rewrite your story.
Sadly though, sometimes the bad things we’ve been through equates to a lack of pictures. There might not have been a family picture that Christmas because nobody was up for taking one. No one felt like celebrating and remembering that moment. Maybe a picture was taken but someone is prominently absent. Or maybe it’s something more. Maybe pictures were never taken. Maybe the pictures are lost. Not every family is as into pictures as I am—I have at least 28 pictures of my entire immediate family and only one of Abby’s (though to be fair, I did ransack and scan 500 of my family’s pictures and only a handful of her family’s).
And that truth is plain in adoption. I have dozens of photos from the day Lexi was born, but none of Milo. We have a handful of Milo photos of him younger than 5 months, but that’s it. The same will likely be true of whatever other children we adopt and welcome into our family. They may not have any baby photos. Their stream of photos in my Flickr account (assuming they’re not mortified by my little hobby) may start the day they come home and we’ll never have the first day of school picture or the first dance or the favorite Christmas or whatever it is. There’s a great loss to be mourned there. I don’t have an answer to that dilemma, other than embracing it and struggling through. We’ll do our best to make up for the loss, to celebrate the moments we do have. We may not have the first steps on film, but we’ll create other firsts.
Despite my addiction, I try to remind myself that the first photograph of a person wasn’t taken until 1839. Countless generations of our ancestors never had baby pictures or family photos and they got along just fine. It’s a small comfort. But it’s a reminder how something we care about isn’t always that important, and in some cases clinging to it can be hard on others. It’s a reminder to be flexible, forgiving and gracious.