Growing up, my mother was a fantastic keeper of memories in the photographic sense. My sisters and I would spontaneously select an album from the book shelf and thumb through the pages, hesitating over specific pictures and remembering our childhood experiences. I remember a random conversation as a teenager in which I was discussing first memories with friends. I swore up and down that my first memory was when I was very young and we had taken a family trip to a beach. I told my mom about this later, and she remarked, “Wow, you were incredibly young! It is kind of amazing that you remember that. I don’t think you were even two years old then.” I paged through one of my early albums and gazed at a photo of me lying on the beach, examining a bug. I then realized. I wasn’t sure if I remembered my actual experience in that moment or simply the photograph taken.
When I moved into my own apartment at age 18, I lugged two gigantic Rubbermaid’s along with me. The albums were stored for a couple of years until I eventually bought a house of my own. They remained in storage, still, for the most part. I would sometimes curse the gigantic boxes when attempting to make room for other things, but when I stopped and looked through the photos, it was mesmerizing. And then I felt bad for cursing them, thanked my mother, and decided I just needed a bigger house.
In my experiences with viewing other peoples’ printed photographs, I understand now that my mom had a unique talent for organizing time. Most photos are stored in boxes somewhere on a top shelf, and that in itself can even be considered old-fashioned in our day and age. Now the exchange of experiences happens instantaneously within the realm of social media, but they never live long enough to become memories in the same way that a carefully crafted book of photos captures those moments.
I kept up with my own albums through my twenties. Backpacking through Europe. Halloween parties and craziness with friends and black and white photo shoots in alleys. Wedding, honeymoon. My older daughter has multiple albums. I think the first is hundreds of pictures of her first couple weeks. My second daughter has perhaps two. I gave up, somewhere in the months after she was born, in my attempts of becoming a fantastic keeper of memories. I admit that I am swayed by the immediate gratification of uploading a photo, and the minimal time necessary to dedicate to the task. But I still cherish the print media every single time I pick up an album.
When the first Christmas after my separation was impending, I felt the need to start a new tradition with my daughters. One of the presents was a disposable camera for each girl. Their assignment was to document whatever they wanted throughout the day (part of the new tradition also involved going out for breakfast, visiting a candy shop, and soaking in hot springs). I laughed out loud when I had the first set developed; both kids had taken many shots of their other gifts and blurry-too-close-for-a-disposable mementos. But they had also caught smiles and hugs and happiness.
I was recently taking pictures with a disposable camera at my older daughter’s music camp rock show and one of my dearest friends remarked how strange it was to be using such a device. I explained the purpose behind the camera (my older daughter still had pictures left on her camera from Christmas and we had forgotten to take them) and she exclaimed how incredible it was that I was teaching my kids a lesson about not having a disposable life with these cameras.
After three years, the Christmas pictures now live in albums. We laugh at the blurry-too-close-for-a-disposable shots, reminisce about particular presents (“Hey, where is that book now?!?”), and remind each other about the details of each particular holiday. My daughters and I page through the photographs often, and I realize my friend was absolutely correct in her observation. In my own small way, in the virtual world we exist in, I have become a fantastic keeper of memories for my children.