I think most of us, if pressed, would admit to having something we care about enough that it counts as an obsession. Not necessarily to the point of a disorder, but something we know we attend to in a manner that is out of proportion compared to what everyone else around us seems to do. I think this tendency can either be exacerbated or broken when one becomes a parent because having children forces you to reexamine many priorities.
I bring this up because I just finished working on my latest stack of
photos, which is one of my running obsessions. Many years ago after
college while I was packing to move I began sorting through boxes and
boxes of photos. I was surprised at just how many images were of events
that I was sure I would never ever forget, but then I couldn’t even pin
down what year they were from. I love having photos of people and
places that interest me, but digging through heaps of pictures in boxes
was unpleasant. I decided right then that if I were going to bother to
take pictures I needed to start marking them and putting them in some
kind of order. I went out and bought albums and spent a week sorting
through all the pictures and labeling them and putting them where I
could find them again.
I became extra diligent about this once I started having children, which
is good because I apparently only make one model of kid and their baby
pictures are very hard to tell apart. I also paid attention to all the
stories I heard from people who took a million photos of their first
child and fewer and fewer of each subsequent child, so I made sure there
is an equal number of too many photos of all my kids. I’m not to the
point of doing any kind of attractive scrap-booking or anything that
elaborate, but all my kids have labeled and dated pictures in albums,
and that makes me feel good. I’m sure I’m messing other things up, but
the photo thing I’ve got down and they can’t accuse me of not
documenting their childhoods.
It’s funny to me when I think about how reluctant I was to get my
first digital camera. We bought one on a family trip when my regular
35mm Kodak bit the dust, and from the first shot I realized what an
improvement it was. I remember having the thought that I would miss the
surprise of getting my photos developed and seeing what I really had,
but from that initial photo of me and Mona where I could look at it
right away and know if our eyes were open or the composition was off was
I love having access to images (like that one) right on my computer,
and that the information about the dates they were taken is so easy to
find. I used to sit with a calendar when I labeled Aden’s baby pictures
and try to remember exactly which day we went to the zoo or museum.
Someday I hope to take some time to scan all my older photos into
digital form, but that won’t be for awhile. (That sounds like a good
nostalgia project to do when my kids are much older.)
In any case, I
talk to enough other parents about how they never get around to printing
out pictures, let alone put together albums, that I always feel a bit
self-conscious about my obsession. It’s just that I know how much I
like having real photographs to hold and look at to help me remember
things, and I think one day my kids will appreciate being able to flip
through whole albums of themselves when they were young.
Anyway, one of the casualties of the readjustment period of having Ian home again
was that I got obscenely behind in the whole photograph thing. I try
to be in a habit of emptying out my digital camera about once every
month, so that way there isn’t too much to do. And labeling photos (and
sorting out doubles to mail to friends and family) is an easy activity
for when I’m stuck in the house. It’s the kind of project that I can do
in the room with the kids while they do their own things and I can stop
and start as they need me without a problem.
But with Ian home I’ve
been able to escape the house more, and those stretches of time to do my
photo thing kind of evaporated. So the stack of photos I “needed” to
attend to went back months and was probably about seven inches tall.
It’s those moments where I’m drowning in photos that I wonder if it’s
That’s the thing about feeling a bit obsessed–you can’t just take
it or leave it. The photo thing is not that casual for me. I can’t
leave it. So I stayed up late and sacrificed my day off for building my
own instruments just to get caught up. I like the feeling of being
caught up. The problem is I seem to choose any number of projects that
never feel like they will be caught up, and I then I try to decide if
they mean enough to bother worrying about them.
The other big one for me that seems to hang over my head all the time
is that I write a letter to each of my kids on their birthdays about
what they were like for the past year. It’s a place to stick all their
cutest quotes and record all their firsts and describe where they’ve
been, who they’ve met and what they’ve done. It’s a nice idea, and I
like the letters I’ve written and tucked away to give them when they
turn 18, but the process got really botched with the deployments. There
just wasn’t enough time for everything when Ian was in Iraq, and the
letter project was hit hard. Several of the letters are in rough
outline form with chunks of detail that need serious editing, and it’s
something I need big blocks of time to read through and sort out. I sat
down to write Quinn’s latest letter on his birthday this week (my baby
is four!) and realized to my dismay that last year’s letter is still a
mess. I thought I’d at least gotten caught up with Quinn, but no. It’s
And I know this is a pressure I’ve invented to put on myself, and
that no one is requiring this of me, and I could just let it go, but I
don’t want to. It’s something in my head that I care about, and I feel
as if with the right determination I could do it.
I wonder why some things we can let go and others we let have power
over us. I used to be particular about setting silverware correctly,
but since having kids I don’t care. I notice when it isn’t “right” but
it doesn’t bother me. Whatever weird arrangements of spoons Mona or
Quinn lays out is fine. Adjusting to life with kids has meant learning
to relax my attitude about a lot of things, but the few places left for
me to channel my more obsessive energies I am keenly aware of.
Does anyone else out there have obsessive arbitrary projects that
they question from time to time? Or am I just trying to make myself
feel better by presuming other people do their own version of this too?
I’m curious to know.