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Capturing the Mile-Pebbles

Adventures in springtime photography

By Anna Mitchael

 

Not long after our baby was born, my mother was visiting us at the ranch, and in addition to the diapers and newborn sleepers and other supplies she drove out from the city, she also brought along my baby book.

It had been years since I’d gone through the pictures. Although I remembered most of them, my trip down memory lane unearthed one glaring fact about the pictures: there simply weren’t very many of them. There is a series of shots from the delivery room and a couple taken after my parents brought me home. Then there are some of me in my nursery: there I am holding my head up, there I am sitting up, there I am at 6 months. And then I’m walking. Two pages later I’m playing dress-up in hats and high heels, and then on the next page I’m on the stage at my high school graduation, diploma in hand.

It’s not quite that sparse, but you get the idea.

In the first two weeks that my son was alive, we had easily lapped the number of pictures that were recorded for my whole first five years of life. This is not because my parents weren’t out to capture memories. I actually think that the pictures they took probably catch most of the highlights one needs in order to revisit the past in a succinct, happy manner.

The difference is the advent of digital cameras that allow us to take 500 pictures without worrying whether we’ll have to develop every one of them, plus all the methods of photo storage and sharing brought to us via the internet. Now recording every single milestone (and even just the tiny mile-pebbles) has become more of a norm than an exception to the rule.

I would worry that I was the only one crawling after a little one with a camera hanging around her neck, if it weren’t for the fact that I see my friends’ pictures of their children on Facebook. And I get their emails loaded with pictures. And I visit the photo blogs where they store the annals of their family vacations. If any of our children decide they want to revisit baby pictures as adults, it won’t be a simple flip through the memory book. It might actually require a week of vacation from work.

And the sad truth of the matter is that our family’s photo archives are likely about to double — bluebonnet season is finally upon us. Though the return of springtime was signaled with a handful of tell-tale signs — a rise in temperature, occupancy of baseball diamonds, tomato stakes being driven into the ground — the most obvious indicator for anyone driving the state highways of Texas is the rather large number of cars temporarily abandoned alongside the road.

Those people are not lost. Their engines have not quit. No one is in need of directions. I am usually not a betting woman (unless I’m in Vegas and the stars align over the cheapest blackjack table in the room) but in this case I would be confident to wager that if you focus your eyes directly above the abandoned cars to the field that lies just 50 feet beyond, then you’ll see the former occupants of those vehicles.

And you won’t be looking at a frustrated family waiting on AAA. What you’ll see is a group of recently-showered and finely-coiffed children poised in a pasture while one adult holds a camera and another dances around like a hippo on a hot plate, trying to make the children smile in spite of the fact that their parents have inexplicably deposited them in a field off the highway with kind (yet firm) instructions to say, “cheese.”

Before I became pregnant with my own child, I thought I would be immune to the bluebonnet bug. Usually if I’m driving on a highway, it’s because I’ve got somewhere I was supposed to be five minutes ago. There is no time for a photographic detour. And though I dutifully said my oohs and aahs at the pictures of my friends’ children in seas of bluebonnets, inside I was always thinking, “Something about that picture looks very itchy.” I didn’t understand why people went through all the hassle to get pictures that looked just like, well, everybody else’s pictures.

But then my belly started to grow. And along with food cravings and crying jags inspired by auto insurance commercials, one day I also found myself slowing down as I passed a field of bluebonnets. Before I knew what had come over me, I was thinking about how in one year, we could have our own child in those very same bluebonnets. I don’t have a rational explanation for this change of heart — perhaps it’s simply programmed into the DNA of a Texas mother.

I’ve told my mother my plans for a bluebonnet photo shoot, how I think we can get some really great shots to add to all those other great shots we’ve been collecting in the visual encyclopedia of our son’s first year of life. She just smiled and nodded her head. I’m not sure what she was thinking, but I imagine it took everything she had to keep from announcing that she was about to go change the baby’s diaper, in case that was something I felt like recording for posterity’s sake.

I suppose we all have baggage we pass down to our children, regardless of our best intentions. My baggage will also happen to include a storage shed full of photo memories — heavy on the bluebonnets.

 

This column appeared in the April 2011 issue of the Wacoan.

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