Going through boxes of files and photos for the last couple of weeks, the hubs and I have found a few items we each would rather forget: school photos with atrocious at-home hair cuts; shots of our dorky outfits that we once thought were so cool; pictures so blurred you can only make out a fuzzy smile. We spent a lot of time pondering why on earth our parents would keep these mementos?
We knew the answer, of course: as a parent, when you see pictures of your children you’re not actually looking for the “perfect” image. Much as Photoshop, Instagram filters and all the other fabrication paraphernalia would like to have us only interested in magazine-esque, air-brushed flawlessness, most parents would tell you the photos they really love are those of kids being themselves.
Sure, those beautifully posed images with perfect pearly-white smiles and camera-ready outfits are nice to send to family for the holidays. But they don’t represent who your family really is.
As much as I love the beautiful professional photos we had taken of my kids, my real favourites — the ones I look at all the time just to trace the outline of their gorgeous, chubby cheeks and genuine smiles — are the pictures of my boys with their hair going every which-way and cereal on their faces. These are the photos that reflect not just the image of my beautiful boys, but give a glimpse into their sweet souls.
Looking back at my own photos, I now realize why my parents kept the weird, confused and downright ridiculous photos they did.
Looking at the picture, I now recall that aged 5 or 6 I was obsessed with Robin Hood. I watched the Disney animated film (rented on VHS! Gosh I’m old …) more times that I could count. Though I would spend hours attempting to construct conical princess hats out of sugar paper, sticky tape and toilet tissue (very chic) in order to pretend to be Maid Marian, what I actually did whilst wearing my precariously-balanced head-gear was play at shooting the bad guys. To that end, I somehow convinced my long-suffering dad to make me a bow and arrows from a tree branch, string and twigs.
Apparently, it didn’t occur to my father that arming a small, notoriously uncoordinated child with sharpened projectile instruments was perhaps not the safest endeavour. What can I say? It was the eighties — health and safety hadn’t really been invented yet.
I remember how much fun I had playing with it, pretending to be an outlaw-princess-hero! I think you can see that in the photo. I loved that bow! I loved trying to make it shoot wobbly home-made arrows. I loved that it made me feel brave and strong and capable, even when I couldn’t tie my own shoes or cross the street on my own.
This, I realize now, is why my parents kept this photo: with my goofy pose and cute little red boots, it shows the reality of their little girl: a sweet, silly, slightly-awkward child, one who’s tenacious, adventurous, and a bit shy.
I would never win any awards for my posing, and my sartorial selections leave much to be desired. But as a parent now myself, I know this is what we love about our kids: their individuality, their sweetness, their quirks and foibles.
So while they are lovely, the (rare) photos of my boys that show them smiling their most angelic smile in momentarily clean outfits with minimal drool and breakfast-smears are not my favourite. Instead, the photos I treasure, the ones I keep by my desk and will always keep — even despite their grown-up protests — are the images of them in all their scruffy, slightly-grubby, adorably goofy glory.