Friday, October 24, 2008

Take a Picture ... It Will Last Longer

For years, my brothers have teased me because I take so many pictures. When we were little, we walked around Lake Harriet in late spring in the Twin Cities, my parents leading the way, me scampering back and forth from snapshot to snapshot with my little Fisher-Price 110 camera, Danny dragging along rather unhappily, and Brian smiling good-naturedly in his stroller. Never mind the fact that Danny wanted to turn around and go back the way we came when we were a quarter mile away from the car, almost all the way around the lake. We could almost see the car from our vantage point near the bandstand. Never mind the fact that Brian was too little to even remember how many pictures I took. He would have gladly made funny faces for me for a hundred more photos.

When we get together and reminisce about good times, the subject of Lake Harriet almost always comes into the conversation. For a couple of minutes we talk about Danny's illogical request to "turn around" and walk a few miles to the car instead of a few blocks, and then my brothers craftily switch the conversation to how many pictures I took of the dozens and dozens of ducklings we saw at the lake.

"How could you take a whole roll of pictures of ducks?" they exclaim.

"Good thing you ran out of film!" they continue. The teasing goes on and on.

And the teasing continues at every birthday, holiday, or afternoon on the patio when we are together. "Take a picture, it will last longer!" they used to say. They don't say it anymore because they realized I would take another picture. I ignore almost all of it, because I love taking pictures and I know my photos are good. I love taking photographs of beautiful landscapes and postcard-perfect shots. I love my photograph of the Heidelberg castle in Germany, my shot of the valley of Big Sur National Forest, looking down from the summit at sunset, the picture I took in Yellowstone National Park of the terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs, the photo I snapped of authentic Mexico in Bucerias. I love the picture I took of the view of New Ulm from atop Herman the German because it reminds me of home, somehow painting a thousand memories into one four-by-six photo.

But the pictures I love the most are the ones I didn't plan to treasure. I have so many special pictures of everyday moments that maybe didn't seem special at the time. There is the impromptu photo I snapped of my sister-in-law Christine wearing her pink and purple feather boa when she was the guest of honor at the baby shower I hosted for her. I didn't know she may have already had kidney cancer then and we would have to say goodbye to her a year later. I can't find words to explain the emotions and the trueness of Christine that I captured in that moment.

There is the picture of Grandma Aggie holding Mitchell, him clutching her thin, bony fingers the way he always loved to do, she smiling because she loved it, too. After that, he was too heavy for her to hold, and she died the next year.

There is the picture of ten month-old Max covered in the orange and green of his chopped avacado and macaroni and cheese, sitting naked in his high chair except for a diaper, looking so tiny and lost in that chair that he couldn't even fit in today. At the time, I had thought, How am I ever going to get this kid cleaned up? but now I want that moment back. The picture is the next best thing.

There is the picture of Max smiling joyfully at Epcot Center, holding a very expensive Mickey-Mouse shaped cookie, standing next to an elaborate fountain. The snapshot tells nothing of the fit he threw minutes earlier inside the crowded French bakery, kicking and screaming until I had to haul all forty pounds of him out the door. But I remember, because I have the picture. There is also the picture that Troy snapped of me breastfeeding Mitchell on the ground in the next-door England section of Epcot, back when Mitchell wanted to nurse anywhere and everywhere and all the time. Amazingly and sadly (especially if you know the extent of my extended breastfeeding experience) it's one of the only photos I have of me nursing my boys.

There are the pictures from Mother's Day earlier this year, when Mitchell was having such a tantrum at the little Mexican restaurant we went to for dinner that I had to take him out to the car. The pictures I took of his silly, tired, not-in-control faces while we waited for Max and Troy have given me a hundred smiles in the months that followed that frustrating evening.

I have hundreds of photographs that are just as special to me as this handful of memories. (Just ask my brothers. They will gladly tell you how many gigabytes of digital photos I have.)

You would think that by now I would catch all of those better-take-a-picture moments, after years of practice, but sometimes I still miss the biggies. Two days ago, we returned home after being out of the house for most of the day, and when we opened the front door, the air inside the house seemed colder than the air outdoors. I went upstairs to check the thermostat, and when I saw 64 degrees on the display, I knew it was time. My days of having no heating or cooling bills were over for at least six more months. I reminded the boys that the funny furnace smell would fill the house for a few minutes the first time we turned it on for the season. In winter, our thermostat does reach 64 many times, but that night, I needed to take the chill out of the house, especially since my kiddos don't stay covered at night.

Later that evening, as the boys were getting ready for bed, Max jumped up and down and shouted, "Hey! It's the first day of turning on the furnace! Let's take a picture!"

He sounded *so* much like me in that moment.

"A picture of what?" I asked with curiosity, ignoring my brothers' taunting voices that were getting louder in my head.

"Of us standing next to the vent and shivering," Max said. I didn't take the picture -- but now I wish I would have. Somehow, his joy that evening turned out to be one of those everyday moments that I didn't really treasure until later.

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