I literally have thousands of photos of my children, I make no apologies for it, and my camera is never far from my reach. I have hundreds of photos of my husband and the children, taken whilst blissfully unaware, caught in a moment that we will later look back on and treasure forever. I have photos of him sat, beaming at the camera, with a newborn in his arms, singing gently to them at bedtime, fast asleep with a little one on his chest. I have captured all of those special moments, the birthdays, Christmas’s, days out and summer holidays, pictures of the proudest Daddy surrounded by his children.
And yet should you scroll through our photographs, you would be forgiven for assuming that I was not present on those occasions, that I was absent from days out, that I was missing from family holidays. There is nothing at all to suggest that I was ever there, that I too was caught in the moment, other than perhaps a blurred corner of my shoulder or the trace of my hand, quickly ducking out of view to avoid being caught on camera.
And out of the handful of photographs that I do feature in, it is inevitable that 99% of them will be scrapped, hidden away in my deleted folder, never to be seen again. Because I hold my hands up, I am massively guilty of that, of refusing to appear in photographs with my children. I am far too critical of my unwashed hair, my constant eye bags, the fact that my clothes haven’t seen an iron in the last decade. I am far too self conscious, too self deprecating, too concerned with my own insecurities to see past them and frame those precious moments with my babies. And I know that I’m not alone in that, that there are mums right across the globe who right this minute will be batting away the camera from their face, turning the other way, telling their husband, “Don’t take a picture of me looking like this!”. And so we appoint ourselves as chief photographers, spend a lifetime capturing moments that, in years from now, nobody will ever know we were a part of.
My own Mum was very much the same. I can remember how she refused to have her photograph taken at any given opportunity, resulting in very few photos of the two of us together. And actually, I feel really sad about that, how in years from now when time, and she, has passed, I will have merely a handful of photographs of my childhood, just a few snatched moments of the two of us, her head bowed to hide her face, her smile shielded by her hair, a hand, a newspaper snatched close at hand.
So when we booked in for family photographs the other weekend, I have to admit, I was dreading it. I worried over what to wear, how to style my hair, whether there was enough make up on the planet to make me look even half decent. And surely that isn’t what it’s about, is it? About only capturing the moments where you look like a better version of yourself? A face plastered in make up, our hair perfectly coiffed, wearing clothes that, although beautiful, are restrictive, too fussy, a whole world away from our daily look. Because in the future, when the children look back, they will want to see photos of their parents looking exactly the way that they remembered. Be that with our hair tied back into the messy Mum bun, our eyes crinkling at the corners, our cheeks flushed with the hundred and one jobs that we had to juggle that day, their own dirty handprints down the front of our t-shirts. And those are the photos that will mean the most, the ones with our heads thrown back, creased up with laughter, with smiles that reach our eyes and arms as full as our hearts.
So, for the first time, I decided to embrace the camera, to throw my arms around my babies and smile the biggest of smiles. And despite the rain, I beamed with happiness, love and complete and utter pride, so that one day, when the children are grown, they will look back and remember a time when they made me happier than I dared ever imagine.
And one day, in many moons from now, I hope that I will look back and see that once upon a time, when the children were young, I didn’t look half as bad as I imagined.