This year, my older daughter turned 27, my wife’s age when the two of them first met face to face. My younger daughter turned 24, which is four months older than her mother was when we got married. Over those years I have captured a lot of the moments in 10,000-plus family photographs. Now organized and digitized, they are a treasure trove to be happily looted for Mother’s and other days.
A quick look at such photographs can obviously bring back memories. A longer look can bring back the mixed feelings that come with great memories, as the joy of the old moment mixes with sadness at its passing. The best use of them comes, however, when you share such photographs and the memories with your children at your side.
So this Mother’s Day, pull out some old family photographs, gather family around on the couch or on the phone, and build another priceless memory for the small cost of a few minutes with some old pictures. Here are a few of the photographs I will look at this Mother’s Day.
My wife telling our minister that she was pregnant with our first child. It brings back that feeling we both shared at the idea of having a child — nervousness because we had no clue what we were doing, and amazement because we were adult enough to be doing it anyway. It reminds us of those months we spent waiting for that first baby like children waiting restlessly in bed for our parents to tell us we could go down and open presents.
My wife holding our younger child at 4 months of age. Their faces are a foot apart and grinning at each other for all they’re worth, and the two of them are obviously just thrilled to have each other. When you hold and behold such a picture, if the joy doesn’t flow from it like an electric charge up your arms to your heart and make that happily beat a little faster, check to make sure you have a heart that still works.
Last Friday, I photographed my youngest daughter and her mother gowned up and happily sitting on the couch together to see now Princess Kate marry her Prince William. Last May, I photographed my older daughter and her brand new husband enjoying what had to be one of love’s best kisses ever during bridal party photographs on their wedding day. He is leaning in, she is falling back into his encircling embrace with bouquet-laden left arm flung up overhead, and I am certain the whole world stopped briefly to watch.
Together those pictures remind me that great mothering requires mothers to guide themselves and those they love through things that must change, while simultaneously holding on to other things that never should. The former includes being able to see and treat your children as adults who grow up regardless of whether we parents are ready. The latter includes parents and children of any age being able to hang out on the couch, or at a favorite fishing site, and act like a couple of kids.
Other photos I will revisit: My youngest daughter as an adult actress on stage accepting adoring praise after a show from a 3-foot-tall audience member, or delivering a speech from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” with her wind-blown robes fluttering around her in an outdoor theater. Those photographs illustrate the parents’ paradox: Some of the things our children do of which we are proudest are often the things that allow them to develop lives away from us. The power of photographs is their ability to capture images with so much meaning wrapped up in a moment.
And, my older daughter wearing a tinfoil hat during a family poker game in order to prevent her mom from being able to read her mind and therefore her cards. Did it work? Who knows — a mother needs some mystery in order to maintain her power.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers, including those who mother the children of others. I hope it’s one of your great photos, and great memories.
Erik Steele, D.O., a physician in Bangor, is chief medical officer of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.