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Smile for the Camera

When Andy and I were in graduate school we visited Philadelphia. While I was taking photos from the steps of the art museum, Andy threw a mantantrum because I wasn't including him in any of the shots. If you sift through my albums from that period you see lots of photos of pouty Andy in various historic locations. Occassionally you might see a photo of pouty Andy beside me, if I was lucky enough to find a stranger willing to capture the moment for me. In the photos, Andy is always standing with his arms at his sides, stoically, staring through the camera in annoyance while I have my arms wrapped tightly around him. For a change of pace, we do have a few from grad school parties,where he is a little drunk, and he is leaning his head on mine for balance.

Last week, amidst all of the requests I'm asked to take care of and can barely manage, Charlotte's daycare asked me to supply a photo of the two of us for a project about the book, Are You My Mother. Three minutes before leaving for work one morning, I remembered the request and frantically searched our photo box. I found tons of photos of Caroline, Charlotte, Charlotte and Caroline, Charlotte and Andy,Caroline and Andy, Andy and both girls and a few of me with Caroline or the four of us. Yet, outside of Charlotte's birth photos (thank you to a friend for being there to take those), one taken by a professional photographer when Char was one, and a series documenting my preggo belly (that I asked Andy to take for me), I could find few photos of me and Charlotte,or just of me. Interestingly, when I am in the photo, I always have my arms around my family member(s).

I have a hunch that this is the case for many moms. We are rarely photographed because we are always the ones behind the camera. Our spouses don't take pictures of us because they just don't get that it matters. (Unless your spouse is a photographer and then you may find yourself as the frequent subject.)They don't realize that ten years from now you and your kids are going to want a visual record of those quiet, intimate moments together or the crazy outings and social happenings when you were half way between laughter and tears. Or,we purposefully avoid positioning ourselves in front of the camera because we don't like the way we look. We don't want to be remembered wearing our maternity pants post maternity, or seeing how thin our hair became while we were nursing, or those awkward months when we tried hard to fit back into our skinny jeans. Or we just don't think that it matters whether or not we are in front of, or behind, the camera when these moments are taking place. We were there, we will remember we were there, and that is what's important.

I once saw something on TV about what a person's posture in a photograph tells you about the relationship between the people in the photo. If you know me and Andy, you aren't surprised to read that he looks uncomfortable in photos (although you might not have thought that he asked to be photographed. I still laugh when I think about that time.) If you know me and Andy, you also aren't surprised that I am the one with my arms around him. I'm more affectionate than he is and less afraid to express my feelings. I'm also a hugger. I like to make contact with people as a way to show them I care. I put my arms around people as a way of connecting with them, so of course, you are always going to see my arms around the people I love the most. I'm keeping them close to me. I am protecting them. I have to confess that,as I was searching for the photo of me and Charlotte, I was sad that I didn't find any because it made me wonder, who is protecting me? Now that I'm the mom, who has their arms around me?

As I planned writing this, I noticed a photo on the fridge of me and my parents. I'm about six. My mom and dad are sitting and I'm leaning into my mom and she has her arms around me. I decided to take a look at a series of photos a friend took of me and my mom when I was in high school. I assumed that I would see more of the same-Mom, in Mom-pose, with her arms around me. This would seem to make sense, particularly exemplifying the complicated relationship between a mother (holding on) and a teenage daughter (ready to let go). But no, this was not the case. In most of the photos we are laughing, even dancing, and being generally silly. And, I am leaning in, with my arm around my mom. I was already much taller than my mom by the time I was 15 and it almost seems that,with my arms around her, I had already started to take on the role of the protector. Fast forward down memory lane: graduation photos with my parents, parties with my friends, post-race pics with running buddies, there I am, in the photo, with my arms around the person next to me.

Yes,it's true. Andy should take more pictures of me with the kids. Andy should also fold the laundry. We all have to accept our partners for who they are and let some things slide. I plan to start using my camera phone more often so I can take more silly self-portraits of me and the girls. Looking around my house, at all of the old photos, made me feel better and reminded me that feeling left out is an irrational fear of mine. These photos, with and without me in them, are evidence of the wonderful people in my life and the great things I have done with them. My embrace doesn't mean I'm afraid to let them go. It means that I love them and want to be there for them. For those of you often captured by my hugs (even when you didn't want one) is there anything wrong with that?


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