This was supposed to start as a cliched story of a fabulous vacation photo with two of my little people. In fact I had spent countless hours in the shower working out the story in my head (or minutes really, just minutes, because I’m a mom and they’re always lurking, even when I’m in the shower while on vacation). So I had shuffled the emotions I had around enough to believe I had really figured out what it was about the picture, the experience, that had meant so much to me. I deciphered why I had fit into a cliche I had always strayed away from reading other’s accounts of, and, finally, I felt like I was ready to sit down at the computer and work it all out. And then it happened; high tide happened. And the story seemed like it was gone for good.
Let me take you to the beginning. We had arrived in the Outer Banks on a gloomy day. I’ll be more specific: it was pouring so hard that we could barely see out of our windows as we sat in traffic that didn’t move more than three car lengths every ten minutes. The only sound we could hear inside the car was of rain smacking against the roof and windows and a few restless little people grunts, but we stayed chipper(ish) thanks to Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka shenanigans and the knowledge that we had a full stretch of vacation in front of us.
By the time we inched toward our home for the week, it had grown late enough that we had no real time to explore the angry ocean. We were forced to do the details we all so desperately wanted to toss aside: unpacking, grocery shopping, dinner. We stayed in and watched the sky darken and said good night to the day and the sea, hoping for blue skies the next day.
But they weren’t. They were hazy grey. Thick and heavy with rain that threatened to fall at any minute. And did. We managed a few brief moments in the pool as an acceptable substitute for the ocean. We settled into conversation and games with the family we traveled there with. We drank some wine and passed the time. It wasn’t a bad way to spend a first day; in fact, I barely remember any of it–a sure sign it was neither remarkable in its beauty nor in its ugliness. It was mediocre. Until the sun came out. Sort of.
I grabbed the two biggest littles (the tiniest was sleeping), and we ran to the beach, buckets in hand, in full clothing. I was sure we were in for a shock of cold water, but we were bent on gathering some seashells so we could make seashell necklaces the next day as we waited out what was supposed to be another day of gloom. The littles responded to the ocean and the call of the water by getting deeper and deeper, squealing louder and louder, and dancing bigger and and bigger (and yes the lyrics of Moana go through my head each time I think of them there (really though, they go through my head literally 70% of my waking hours)). I took out my camera and captured a few of those carefree moments. The pure joy. The warm ocean. Freedom.
And then she walked up to me. This woman walked up to me and asked if I’d like her to take a few pictures of myself with my “beautiful” children. And in that moment I transformed from the Target-loving, coffee-drinking, wine-guzzling, minivan-driving momma I had been into a cliche of a momma (see what I did there?). I became the “Just take her picture” cliche. As I’ve said, I’ve never read these posts, but I imagine that they go along the lines of there being no photos of mothers with their children. There are photos of children, of places, of fathers and grandparents playing with children or snuggling children, but there are few photos of mothers, especially unstaged photos of mothers just being mothers. I probably don’t read these posts because I live these posts. And it’s a bit depressing. Mothers are the photo takers. I am the photo taker.
I hadn’t always been though. Before I had little people I would spend trips getting so frustrated at my husband for standing around and taking photo upon photo of places and things. I always felt it made him removed from the situation. There was something always separating him from the places he was photographing, and this “thing” was keeping him from really being present. From being alive in the place and the moment, smelling it, hearing it, seeing it truly. And when I became a mother, particularly a stay at home mom, I found that I was now the person with a camera between myself and the present. And I didn’t always like it. It meant that in the interest of documenting other’s fun, I had to step out of the fun. The fact that I wasn’t in any of the pictures just presented me further proof that I really hadn’t been “present” for those moments or in those places. I wanted to document memories, but in the interest of documenting, I took myself out of the memory.
So it’s no surprise then, that my gut response was to be so happy and so grateful to have those pictures; they’d probably be the only pictures of me that would come out of this vacation. But there would be proof I was there, and we, my littles and I, ran through waves together. We collected seashells and got sandy. They’ll remember that on this day we were so happy to see sun we took off without swimsuits or sunscreen. That was what this post was supposed to be about. But things change so rapidly.
We went home, and the next day it was beautiful. In the afternoon we all went a bit haphazardly to the beach together (when you’re dealing with little people, any time you don’t have a full shade set up and feeding station, it’s pretty much considered haphazard). My camera was tucked safely in a pocket on our Osprey hiking carrier we used to get our middle little back and forth to the beach (in his defense, he had been getting over pneumonia, so he was a bit exhausted most of the time…and he’s three…so he likes to complain). After jumping over waves and digging trenches around castles our shadows grew long. As high tide rolled in and all the sand castles got washed away, we started tossing our few items together to make a quick exit. And that’s when it happened: in one fell swoop my husband picked up the carrier, out plopped my camera, and in rolled a fierce little wave.
It was gone.
I had the camera, but even with my loving attention, it did nothing. I took out the battery and tried to charge it, and I rejoiced when I saw the battery still charged because it is situated right next to my memory card. It gave me hope. Because there were some memories I didn’t want to have wash away.
Ever a realist (not at all), I had to be honest with myself that I may have lost all the photos I failed to back up (like most of everything I own…why do I procrastinate…oh right, kids). I actually only had about three hundred on there, so I wasn’t going to be terribly upset. A number of them had I had uploaded already to posts, I’d shared on social media, or I’d texted to my husband. No matter how much I convinced myself it wasn’t the end of the world though, I just couldn’t shake it. There was that unsettled feeling that followed me and forced me to recognize it any moment I wasn’t focused on something else: the picture of me and my two biggest littles on the beach.
The thing is, they weren’t great pictures. And I could always ask my husband or our friends to take a picture of us, since we basically had all of our vacation still ahead of us. Maybe I could even get a great shot with all three of my littles. With enough tries they may all be looking at the camera and not eating sand even. But that wouldn’t be the same. There was still more to that picture, a bigger feeling inside me about those photos. And it took losing those photos to realize what it was. A woman on the beach saw me with my children. She saw me take photos of them, laugh with them, wrap my arms around their salt- and sand-covered selves. She saw a mother who took herself out of pictures and out of the sand-logged present to put her children in them. She saw a woman who was content with no longer just watching the world through her own eyes, a woman who has happy to remove herself and see the world through her children’s eyes. And those eyes weren’t content to stay dry and clean above the shoreline.
Traveling with little people means exploring the world differently. It’s about seeking out the perfect play spots, getting shoes and shorts dirty, jumping in muddy puddles, running late (wait that’s all the time), and sweating in the sun to make enough shade to cover a little head. There are things, as family travelers, we grown ups give up. But there is so much more we gain by traveling with little people because no matter how much fun it was, not everyone is going to like that we just jumped in muddy puddles before walking in the Louvre, but with little people in tow, it’s a bit more understood. For my family, traveling brings our worlds a bit closer. And for five swift clicks of a button, some lovely woman on the beach captured a moment when my little people and I were being a part of this world together.
Oh, and lest you be stressed about those photos too…I just stuck the card in my reader on my computer, and voila, there they appeared (I, of course, didn’t know my computer could even read the card until I got home from vacation, so I could’ve ended the stress early, but hey, you win some you lose some).
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