Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why I Take Photos

I take a lot of photos. I can't help it. It's my desperate and pathetic attempt to make time stop. Photographs are my only weapon against a failing memory and the passing of time.

No one is more aware of the passage of time and the shortness of life than a mother.

Everyone tells you that your life changes when you have a baby. I expected the long nights, short tempers (for both me and the kids), and constant messes. But the real changes are invisible. The second you hold your child in your arms, a thousand pounds of reality drops on you. Before that moment, and in comparison to it, you had never really done anything amazing. Before your baby's first breath, you were hardly living yourself, unaware of the greatest gifts of life. Those things that had once been important and meaningful (your half-marathon goals, travel plans, and law school grades) shrink into trivial distractions when you are handed a small person who immediately latches onto your heart with the fiercest hooks.

It makes you queasy, to have your whole world shaken up like that.

Something about experiencing the birth of your baby also brings you face to face with death. As you welcome a new generation into the world, you realize, perhaps truly for the first time, that you are mortal. For the first time, you see your life, not as a continuing arrow, but as a line between two harsh, black points. There was a beginning (as you just witnessed) and there will be an end. And all we have on this earth is what's in the middle. Time, especially time with your child, transforms from an abstract into a precious, finite resource.

And, I've discovered, it only gets worse. As your kids gets older, you look in the mirror and suddenly recognize your parents in yourself. You can remember who your parents were at your age. And man, wasn't THAT old. At the same time, it was just yesterday. You can recall the color of your parents' matching t-shirts, acquired from a vacation long ago. You remember the meals your mom cooked. The smell of your dad's cigars. The feel of slipping your feet into your dad's oversized house slippers and stomping across the livingroom floor to conjure some laughs. Then you look at your own children and it hits you. They are gaining similar memories, memories of you, at this very moment.

And to think, I was once so eager to grow up.

In light of the limited number of baby kisses and toddler-isms, I grasp for my camera and snap away. I may not be able to freeze Ryan's smiles, preserve Jacob's enthusiasm, or bottle the sweetness of their childhood years, but at least I'll have some remnants of these things in the photos I take. Photos that will carry both the fondness and the sting of nostalgia.

I have the unfortunate enlightenment to know that I am living some of the best years of my life right now, while the kids are young. As I take in all the sights and marvel at the fact that it can't get any more amazing than this, it's hard to not be a little bit sad at the realization that it will end.

But for now:

I snap away.

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