My children have indulged me by coming on an overseas holiday planned but not paid for by their parents. They hardly needed to come – they are from a generation where overseas holidays are normal. They've had more overseas holidays in two or three decades than I have had in nearly six.
So, for their parents, it's still a big deal. In my case, particularly big. I've been planning it for about 10 years – the holiday in the Tuscan countryside with friends and family, eating, drinking and talking, by fires. Cheese, more cheese, wine, more wine. Learning to make pasta from scratch. One has brought her partner. Even this shocks and pleases me. Am I really old enough to have children who have adult relationships? Could I improve enough on my parenting to make a decent grandmother, one who loves enough but understands the meaning of the word no?
And all through this, I take too many photos. Too many close ups where one or the other waves me away and complains that I am far too near. Complains that I will put these photos on Facebook. Complains that I will share them. And of course I will. I was a proud mother of small children but I am far more proud of these sentient adult beings. For quite some years after giving birth I would be amazed that sex produced babies. One happy carefree pleasure produced this bundle which sent me crazy with worry and bombed out by bliss.
I was never an assiduous photographer as the mother of small children. While my friends would take their kids to every school photographer session, or turn up to appointments at local shopping centres, I would rely on my old camera to take the important photos. Sometimes I'd have film and sometime not; and sometimes I would remember to take those rolls to the local chemist to get developed and sometimes not. This explains why I have 18 rolls of film which record January 26, 1988; but barely a handful of the baby who arrived six months later.
Then I was given one of those early digital cameras which needed so much battery power that it would run out after 12 photos and I'd hardly get to the main event before the battery had died.
So the photos I have in three drawers are not an accurate portrayal of the way in which my children grew. Some years there are more photos of complex birthday cakes (wow! I am so impressed I managed to make a tyrannosaurus rex standing on its hind legs and munching on a snake) than there are of my actual toothless children, haircuts with one side longer than the other; or with whale spouts and polka dot ribbons. There are the odd photos of them with their pre-teen pot bellies and then just a few of them turning into teenagers, somehow their bodies sorting themselves out.
There are, perhaps, a handful of photos of them all going to their first formals, much much more beautiful than I ever was at their age, not a pimple between the three of them, or not visible in these photos anyhow.
The three drawers are packed, some of the photos are still in their little paper envelopes, negatives in a little paper gusset. Some have come adrift, photos in piles 15 centimetres high and only my own kids are recognisable to me (thank god, I think, thank god I still remember what they looked like then). The photos have strange visitors in them, skinny toddlers with translucent white skin and blond bobs. I know they are not mine but I have no idea who they are and I wonder if their parents think the same of my darling little blobs who appear mysteriously in their photos.
Yet from all these images I will, I think, be able to provide their own children with some useful photos of their parents, enough for them to be able to say, I see how my parents looked at my age; but not enough to reproduce a continuous narrative. They will see the steady blue grey glare; the toothy gap which continued into adulthood despite what the dentist predicted; the smile which turns up on just one side of the mouth. They will also see a procession of bad fashion choices but none as bad as their parents' big glasses frames and even bigger shirt collars.
These photos I take now, they make up for all the ones I never took before. These too have their flaws. Where once my battery would run out after 12 photos, now I take 12 photos of the same expression on the face, 30 photos of the same moment where one says cheers, 1000 photos of the minute one reveals marriage is around the corner.
It's a good thing I can't stick them in the drawers. Instead, my urge to share makes me decide instantly what photos I will choose. I was always a proud mother. Sharing photos has also made me a much more decisive one.
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