There was a time before everyone had a professional-grade DSLR camera in their closet(or on their phone) when “good” pics were taken at picture studios. School photos, family photos, wedding photos, graduation photos, and anniversary photos were taken by someone you hired. You either went to their studio and posed in awkward stances, or they would come to your house and take pics in the 150-year old family barn or you standing by grandpa’s vintage muscle car.
These were folks that went to school to learn the art of photography. They took pics on film, and had to deal with light, shadows, and proper focus the first time around. There was no Photoshop or fancy digital editing. If the film was developed and the pics were shit then you had to take them again.
As a new parent you feel like you’re sort of obligated to go the professional photo route with your new bundle of joy. Every few months you head back and have some stranger document the growth of the kid. You put them in a baby doll-like dress(or fancy onesie suit) that they’ll never wear again, fill them with breast milk, formula, or Gerbers Hawaiian Delight, and hope this photo guy or gal can get them to smile once or twice before they load their shorts or explode into cries.
I say the new parent feels obligated. Some don’t. Some are raring to go with the pics. They’re obsessed with getting them done. Others, like my wife and myself, were the ones that felt obligated. We had our own little world in the home. We were just trying to survive being a parent. Getting the kid dolled up and smiling and cooing for the camera was the last thing on our minds. But grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, and siblings wanted pics, so like any other parent under great pressure to satisfy these parenting traditions we complied.
It’s probably been 16 years since we took any of our children to a photo studio. The last was probably our son when he was 6 to 8 months old, and my wife forgot to go pick up the pics for over a year(that shows you where we were mentally for awhile back then.) We had pictures hanging up on the walls in cheap, ugly frames. But most of the pics were for handing out as peace offerings to relatives we hardly saw or visited. And also to grandparents.
Over the years you’d find white envelopes in the piano bench or buried under sweaters in the top shelf of the closet, filled with memories of Walmart and K Mart photo studio pics. Bland, silk-screened pics of our kids next to teddy bears that weren’t theirs, sitting on stools with a fake flowery backgrounds with expressions that ranged from mildly content to zoned out.
Coming across them were reminders of how small the kids were, but also reminders of how hard and exhausting it could get back then. I was working full-time while my wife stayed home with the kids. When she did work it was selling Tupperware or Kindermusik kids toys, which ended up being more money spent than earned. It was more for her sanity just to get out of the house for a bit.
I wouldn’t change any of it, as it allowed our kids to be raised by us and not a daycare. Or burdening my mom to watch them. It was a sacrifice, though, as we didn’t have a ton of dough and racked up debt over those years. But we eventually figured it out once the kids were older. My wife read a book on budgeting and it literally changed our lives. It made us happier and more content with what we had. If we wanted something, we saved for it. No more Best Buy credit card purchases, or vacations thrown on the Visa. It was planned out.
Today my wife was cleaning out the junk drawers in the kitchen. Lots of pens, batteries, twistie-ties, and various allen wrenches. She also came across some old photo studio pics of our daughters. These were taken between 2002-2003. It was kind of nice seeing these pics and not feeling that ping of anxiety that I used to feel. I don’t remember that stress of being a young parent now when I see those old pics. When I look at my girls at those young ages now it’s more bittersweet.
Knowing that my oldest is going to New York for an internship in January, and my second oldest is heading into the final few months of her senior year of high school I can say I miss those simpler days. Or maybe it’s more that I can appreciate them more now, with so many years and birthdays passed by. Those days that seemed scary as a young dad wondering if I was doing things right, looking back I know I was doing the best I could.
It’d be nice to just go back for an hour or two and experience a couple hours with those little girls, playing Hi Ho Cherry-O or watching Tom and Jerry in the living room. Making up bedtime stories in the dark of their bedroom, and the joy of Christmas morning and being just as excited as they were for them to open up their gifts. Just an hour or two, then head back to the present where they’re all about ready to leave for their own adventures as adults.
But that time machine hasn’t been created yet. No wayback machine I can set course for 2003 on. Just a few ancient wallet size photos in the junk drawer. Pictures of two little girls that I seem to remember rather fondly, from a time I was still trying to figure it all out.