Miss M was the Star of the Week in her classroom last week. An honor, to be sure, but also one with a burden: she was supposed to bring in a picture of herself for the Star poster. An actual, physical, three-dimensional picture. As I read that request, it occurred to me that it has been months, if not years, since I have produced a hard-copy photograph of either of my children. All of their memories are locked away in digital form. Which doesn’t bother them at all, of course. They’re happy that the longest they have to wait to see a picture is the time it takes for them to run to the other side of the camera. There are no multi-day waits for processing, no delayed thrill of opening the sticky-sealed envelope to see what 24 treasures are inside. I feel some nostalgia over that, but really, it’s a technological advance I have no qualms about, either. More pictures get taken, more moments are recorded, and for someone with a memory as bad as mine, more of our past remains accessible in the future.
But as I printed a grainy black-and-white picture (we were out of color ink) for Miss M to take to school, I did wish that I spent a little more time and money to make those pictures a part of my everyday surroundings. I have a plethora of talented photographer friends and more amazing photos of my family than I can count, but the only pictures on my desk are Miss M’s pre-school Mother’s Day card, a home-printed photo pulled off a CD (also forced to be grayscale), and my niece’s birth announcement (made on Shutterfly.com).
I don’t care if my kids never drive up to a Fotomat, but I do want them to know the pleasure in pulling out a photo album and flipping through their own personal stories, even those stories that pre-date their existence. I can clearly envision the album in my parents’ house that contains pictures from my dad’s time in Vietnam. The weight of that book across my knees was significant, and the solidity alone lent itself to reverence. I looked through it many times as a child, always quietly and carefully, knowing that many of the details from the year it documented would only be revealed to me through those pictures. It’s hard to imagine that a Flickr stream would have quite the same effect.
So this morning, as I got Mr. Baby into his button-down and special-occasion sweater in preparation for pre-school spring picture day, I made a mental promise to both of us that I’d transform more of our virtual memories into tangible artifacts. And when the box from Shutterfly eventually arrives, I’ll let the kids open it and ooh over what’s inside.