Monday, July 5, 2010

Worth a Thousand Words

Gwen is twenty-six months old and for every single month of her life, I have written her a newsletter. One of the first steps I take when getting ready to write the monthly letter is to check out the photos we’ve taken of Gwen in the previous month and choose five or six of them to post. Imagine my chagrin in the days leading up to June 24th when I looked in the “2010-June” photo folder to find ... NOT ONE SINGLE PICTURE.

In that moment, I didn’t even feel like an adequate mom. I felt like a FAILmom.

We returned home from our circle tour on May 31st, and I guess the days that followed were full of catching up on lots of different things, settling back into routine, dealing with the sleep disruptions caused by the trip, and also kicking into high gear on our summer projects: deck, garden, schoolwork. And the days turned into weeks and suddenly three weeks had passed and there wasn’t a single picture of Gwen during that period.

I consoled myself by contemplating that a picture of Gwen at 26 months is not all that different from a picture of Gwen at 25 months. We certainly don’t see the gigantic physical changes that we did in her first year to eighteen months, where a few weeks really did make an incredible difference. Hell, in the early weeks she seemed to morph into a new baby every few days. No, the changes now don’t show up in photographs. Her cognitive skills, her vocabulary, her behaviours and attitudes. These developments are fascinating, and they challenge my skills as a writer as I try to capture them all effectively and record them for posterity. Not to mention how they challenge my skills as a mother as I try to keep up!

I can’t ponder the art and science of photography without reflecting on the night Gwen was born. I very much wanted pictures of the event, and I got them and am thrilled with them. But without sharing any photographs, I want to take you back to that moment, right inside my body and mind to visit a memory I treasure. I was on all fours, pushing with all my might, and it felt like I had been doing so forever. I couldn’t remember what it was like not to be in pain. The only thought I could hang onto was that I was going to meet my daughter soon. Before the last contraction (and of course, you never know it’s going to be the last one), my midwife instructed me that once I’d delivered the baby, I could just sit back onto my heels, kneeling, and my baby would be resting on the bed in front of me. Then, at last, Gwen was born, and I sat up to see her for the first time.

I’d like to tell you that I will never forget that moment, that the image of her resting on the bed, covered in a fascinating array of substances, waving her little arms and squawking, will be with me forever. The moment I became a mother, the moment my daughter entered my life. The moment we became a family and laid eyes on each other for the first time. I do remember the moment – I remember everything about it. But I can’t remember that image from my own perspective. The memory of that image has been erased by the photograph of the moment, taken by one of my doulas standing nearby.

There have been times when I’ve lain awake berating myself for not getting the right pictures of an event, such as Gwen’s baptism. There have been times when I’ve deliberately chosen not to rush for the camera to record a special or funny moment, because I’d rather stay and be part of the moment myself. I guess it’s a balance that everyone has to find for themselves – sometimes I get it right, sometimes I regret my choices. Just like anything else in parenting – or in life – you have to just live and learn.

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