October 30, 2012

For your kids’ sake, moms, get in the picture

I’m a picture person. I try to document every event, brunch and random moment with friends and family.

I’m a picture person. I try to document every event, brunch and random moment with friends and family.

It irks people on occasion. They don’t get my commitment to the camera. What they don’t understand is that the first half of my life is largely undocumented.

Ours was one of those families that moved a lot. Because of that, we put a lot of our lives in storage, including boxes and boxes of pictures. When my mom couldn’t pay the storage bill, we lost it all.

So we counted on family members to restore the collection. In the end, I got about a dozen photos of me. My mom is in two.

That’s all I have when it comes to childhood keepsakes of me and the woman who brought me into this world. Two photos. I’m about 6 in one of them. We were going to an amusement park. The other, my favorite, is us walking hand-in-hand on a beach. I was 4. My mom looks free and peaceful. It’s a rare glimpse of her at ease.

It’s hard. I don’t live near my mom. I don’t see her often. Her health isn’t the greatest. Smiling for the camera isn’t exactly fun for her. She told me it never was enjoyable. For her, a mother’s place was behind the camera.

“Whenever you would do something, I wanted to snap the picture. I just didn’t think about getting in the picture,” she recently told me.

Getting in the picture is just what Allison Tate, a mother of four, is challenging moms to do.

After realizing she was in very few of their family photos, the Huffington Post blogger wrote about the importance of getting in front of the lens and giving your children memories of their mothers.

The story went viral, viewed more than 6 million times. Moms everywhere relate to the reluctance. Some just don’t think about it. Life is busy. They just want pictures of the goofy things their little ones do. For others, it’s about how they look. They aren’t used to their “mom bods.”

My longtime friend Arketa is beautiful. She was no stranger to tiaras in high school and college. But now the new mom is camera shy. I often have to beg her for photos that feature her and not just her daughter, Zora.

“There are so many regular women who bounce back after birth,” Arketa says. “They work, they cook, they do everything I do, but they’re fit. I feel inadequate.”

She said Facebook and Instagram add pressure to look good. So, like many others, she’d rather take pictures of her husband and her baby.

“I feel fat,” she said, breaking my heart. “I think it’s a personal journey to get to the point where you feel comfortable in front of the camera. I will get in the picture. I just might take a million before I share that one.”

It’s understandable. I see how the media’s obsession with celebrity moms and hot bodies could nurture insecurities. But pictures are more than a snapshot of how you look. They can trigger memories and show children parts of their lives and their parents in a way they may not remember otherwise.

Like pigtails. When my friend Tiffiany lost her mother two years ago, she didn’t have a lot of photos. There were four or five of them together, and fewer than a dozen of just her mom. But there was one of her mom wearing pigtails. It made Tiff smile to think of her mother wearing a style so playful and cute.

But having so few photos poses a problem for Tiff. She has 2-year-old twins. She wonders how she will share their grandmother’s story with so little to show them.

She doesn’t want her children to find themselves in that same situation. She wants them to have more. So even on bad hair days, she takes pictures.

“I do think moms get caught up in how busy they are, how they look and how much they weigh,” Tiffiany said. “I was once reluctant, too. But I took the pictures anyway because I knew one day I might regret not taking it. You can’t get those moments back. You have to learn to override those small insecurities for the bigger picture.”

Don’t hide behind the camera, missing the moment. Go ahead, moms and dads, say cheese. I wish my mom had.

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