I’m perusing eight years of photographs for my daughter’s father’s day present to her dad. It’s a bit torturous for me, as I scroll through those infant days, baby moments, toddler outings that show us as a family of three. Apple picking for the first time. Our first beach trip. Our first Hanukkah. We look…happy. I look happy. How could I have looked so happy in photos when inside I was falling apart? When I was an anxious mess about new motherhood? When he and I started to fight weekly and then sometimes daily? I feel like my mind is playing tricks on me and I start to wonder if maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought they were.
But no one was there to take a picture of the difficult times. No, those times aren’t documented in photos. But as I move past each year, the images start to show the divide that began to happen when our daughter was three. There were more weekend days spent separately, which I can see in the increasing number of photos with just my daughter and I, my daughter with her friends and my mom friends and their families.
I keep scrolling through the years, and I am struck by something pretty damn amazing. There are so many photos of my daughter with her father. Photos that I took. Somehow, despite being in a clinical depression and knowing that my marriage wasn’t going to last, I found the mental strength to document these moments in time.
What’s equally interesting to me is that at the beginning of our life together, I made a conscious decision to acquiesce the photo-taking to my ex-husband, a self-proclaimed lover of photography. He was obviously a much better photographer than me, I said to myself. I’ll let him take the pictures. But when I start with our honeymoon, there aren’t that many of us. There are some, of course. But there are seemingly more of weird bugs and mountains and the cocoa plantation we visited. It’s striking to me that he would opt for scenery over me or us. During these moments of looking back, I am still grappling with trying to understand this and come to peace with it.
When R. was born, I was home with her full time. One of my new mom friends was always so quick to take out her camera to capture a funny or sweet moment and she inspired me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t consider myself a “good” photographer. I was present and I had a camera. I realized that I’m the one here to document my daughter’s life. And so I did. I made sure to take moments with R. and her father and capture them, too. I accumulated a little treasure trove that is probably one of my greatest gifts to her.
On her birthday, when the three of us are together, I make sure to ask a guest take a photo of us. Because in that moment, I know in my heart that she is happy. And that’s all that matters.