This has been the week of sorting photos. I went through the giant stack of pictures we developed before the holidays and got everything labeled and dated. It's a habit held over from the days before digital pictures when I would get the mystery envelope of prints from the developer and sit down with my calendar and try to remember when everything happened. I'm glad I did, because the first four years of Aden's life are a blur to me now without those photos, and the dates and reminders of where we were mean something to me. It's still nice to have information written out on the back of a photo, though, even if there are now high tech ways to figure some of that out.
We got our first digital camera when Mona was about eighteen months old. The best part about it to me has always been the ability to see right away if you got the shot you wanted, and to decide if it's even a picture you want to develop, or make multiples of. Not to mention the seemingly endless number of photos you can take to try and get the right shot. It's hard to explain the old limitations to my kids.
When I think back to using rolls of film, the main thing I remember is having to keep track of the countdown on the roll and having to be selective about what I could even take photos of. And seeing what pictures I actually got was always a surprise, but not one I would want to revisit. The quality of the photos, however, I still think was better with real film. There's a crispness to digital photos that can be great, but also somehow hard and flat. I'm sure that's not true of professional grade cameras, but there was a softness to the pictures of my old-fashioned point-and-shoot that's different from what I get with my digital version. Not enough to matter, but it's something I notice when I look back at Aden's baby pictures from before our jump to digital.
Another hold over from my regular film developing days is the boxes. Not every picture I got developed was something I wanted to put in an album, but I didn't necessarily want to throw them away, either, so I'd put the spares in a photo box. Even though I can now select what photos to develop, I don't always know until I really hold them in my hand what I think. I also like to have choices when I'm sorting and put things in an album that tell the right story. Sometimes that means some really nice pictures end up in the boxes, but that's okay. They are there if I ever want them.
I was good for several years about getting photos into albums. I have categories of albums, such as friends and family and the cottage. I tend to put big trips together into their own albums, so if I want to remember my visit to India, or Alaska, or my car trip out West with my best friend, I can find them. I sort pictures by what I think I might want to look for--such as photos from college, or Ian as a child.
For my children I have them sorted by kid and by age, and Quinn pointed out to me recently that he only goes up to age four, and Aden stopped aging apparently at nine. This bothered his own need for organization (not that that need extends to his bedroom floor, but that's a different post), and I decided if I didn't get them up to date soon it was going to be too hard to ever want to deal with, so Quinn helped me buckle down and get everything sorted.
Nobody sells refillable albums anymore, though. Not like the ones we were using when I stopped updating a few years ago. We found a couple of tall albums that would work for some things at Walmart, but that was it. I ended up having to order albums and extra pages online, so we are stocked up now, but I wonder down the road if there will be anything available like them again. Probably not if I'm the only customer.
I put together a single photo box of the entire hospice experience from this summer. That seemed wrong to put in an album somehow. I can't see myself wanting to pull those images out and flip through them like a book, but there are a lot of pictures and they are deeply meaningful, so having them in order in a box seemed like a good solution. I printed out the blog posts I did at that time as well and added them to the box. It was hard to go through those pictures. I tend to scroll past them as quickly as I can on my computer when I'm going through digital photos. Although I always smile a little, too, because in the middle of that batch are about a million pictures of me swimming laps at the local pool because my brother got a hold of my camera and thought that would be funny. It's just a useless mess of aqua images that I will never develop or do anything with, but I don't want to delete them either, because, again, the sheer ridiculousness of them makes me smile. I spent an entire evening sorting just the hospice batch, and it was good to look at each picture, and remember, and put on a date and a label. And then close the box and put it away.
The slowest part of this process has turned out to be resorting old albums. I wasn't planning on doing that, actually, but it felt like it needed to happen. I wanted an album of my mom and dad. As much as I wanted to set the hospice pictures aside for another time, I want to look at pictures of my dad. Pictures of my parents were just included in general family albums, so I emptied those albums and started over. I also pulled out the pictures of me and Ian. My kids may want to look at pictures of their parents one day, too, and I don't expect them to put together albums. That's my weird obsession, but they can benefit from it.
As of today Quinn and Mona's albums are up to date. I have an album now for Rivyn. Ellora has expanded into a second album. Chipper has an album so we can remember him in all his blurry glory and see his evolution of different haircuts. We are putting together a Mold-A-Rama album! And one for the Florida trip. My favorite new album is "Random Memories" for all the odd things that don't really go anywhere. It's kind of a family trivia history game. (Why do we have a picture of a katydid? What is that building? Who made that thing? What is that?!)
I know it sounds like a lot of work for not much gain in an era of unlimited digital storage. It's inefficient. It's all stuff as soon as I'm done with it will go on shelves in the attic. But I've been having such fun with Quinn looking at the pictures as we sort them, and he keeps saying, "Oh yeah! I forgot that!" as we sift through old birthdays and family gatherings and scenes from home and away. We're reminded of how much we've done and how much we still plan to do. I'm reassured as I handle images of my kids flying kites and fishing at the lake and laughing in the yard that they're having a nice childhood.
After beginning the great sort through my dad's boxes of clippings I'm more aware of what kinds of things I will leave behind for my children. I don't want them burdened with stacks of mystery photos. They, and even their own kids, may be interested one day in seeing images of Ian's side of the family, or our times at the cottage (which may or may not be still in the family by then), or to try and tell their identical twin uncles apart. All of that is easier if everything is labeled and organized, so it makes me feel good about doing it. Maybe when I'm gone it will just seem like too much stuff, regardless. But maybe they will see a photo they wonder about and be glad to find my writing on the back that explains it.
The main thing that has struck me this week looking through so many images is just how fast it's all going. Looking at pictures of my kids from three or four years ago is almost shocking. Aden in particular, going from age 10 to age 14.... And yet I can still conjure her in my mind at four months, three years, six. If I want to visit her at those ages I pull out the albums, but more and more those old images are ancient history.
I've been thinking lately about how easy certain things are getting. The morning routine used to be a frustrating search for shoes and hurrying kids out the door in time for school, and now it's nothing. They can walk places on their own. I'm not involved in dressing or bathing anybody but myself now. They can make their own food and handle their own laundry and overall fend for themselves just fine. There are different problems with older kids, sure, and it doesn't mean I'm out of things to worry about or try to teach, but the hard scramble of parenting is past. There is a different rush of juggling schedules to make sure lessons and appointments and practices and other activities are in order, however, that's not the same as also being responsible for everything about the other people in the house every moment.
But here's the thing: That ease? That's the evidence that we're nearing the end. If we've taught them well, as they grow up they shouldn't need us. Eventually they are capable enough that they are safe to leave. Quinn is halfway to 18. Aden starts high school in the Fall. As much as I don't miss having to do everything for my kids the way I used to, I'm more aware of what all of that work really meant. I miss feeling like I am at the beginning of this journey, rather than in the second half of it.
I'm acutely aware that at some point all I will have of my kids in my house will be photos. Thankfully, I have a lot of those.