We sat around a table at the senior center last week passing around photos for a writing exercise. I was a stranger in this group that meets every week. I had come to check out the visiting writing teacher. My seat faced a wall-sized mirror, so I was looking at myself all the time, feeling too young and overdressed for this group.
The people were incredibly friendly, but I soon felt like an outcast in another way: Most of the photos included children. Kids lined up along a fence. Kids posing at Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa. Kids in the front row of family reunion pictures. You know the kind, where the original couple is surrounded by the many generations. Yeah. I don’t have a lot of those pictures. My albums are full of dogs, cats, buildings, beaches, mountains, and flowers.
The picture I brought, which inspired some smiles, showed my first husband, my father and my brother all leaning down looking into the back of the VW bus that we took on our first honeymoon. That was in 1974, when I was 22 and had no doubts about being a mom someday, and no clue that the marriage wouldn’t last. The honeymoon, a road trip all over the western U.S. and Canada, was great. At home, we didn’t do so well.
But back to the pictures. I suspect most of us don’t keep actual printed photo albums anymore. I don’t, although I have quite a few from the past. We store pictures on our phones, tablets and computers and post them on social media, but it’s still the same. My friends show me pictures of their children and grandchildren. I show them pictures of my dog or the weird bear statue somebody draped in garlands this Christmas (Bondage Bear, I called him). I have some pictures of my nieces and nephews, but I don’t see them often, and it’s not the same. I take a lot of pictures to accompany my blogs and other writing projects. But I’ll never line my children up on the front porch for the annual first-day-of-school photo. Or pose with their kids at Christmas.
What does that leave me to share or to save in albums? And who would I save those albums for? When I die, who is going to care?
I rarely get my own picture taken. Most of the pics I put online are selfies or photos I paid a professional to take. No one seems anxious to save my image or put it on the wall like the 1800s picture of my great-grandma Louise that I study at my dad’s house, looking for features that have been passed down, trying to sense the kind of person she was. Does anyone believe all those Facebook pictures will even exist in a hundred years? (remember floppy disks? Gone!)
I have been thinking about piecing together a family-tree style collection of photos of all my loved ones, especially those who have died, so I can look at them all in one place. The tree will not go on beyond me. My line goes only backward, not forward. I’m a twig that will never reproduce. So who would I do it for? Me. It would make me happy, and that’s good enough.
My brother, the only person with exactly the same ancestors, might be interested, but he is surrounded by children and grandchildren these days. His branch of the tree is getting heavy with new branches.
Back to that photo I passed around. The seniors got a laugh at the old VW with its “lawnmower” engine in the back. My ex, shirtless, squatted in front of the engine. He was the real mechanic in the group, but my father, still dressed up from the wedding, was bent over supervising while my brother, back in jeans and tee shirt, stood back, looking worried. It was his bus that we were about to drive all over hell and gone with “Just Married” painted in blue all over it and only three working cylinders. I could write a lot more about that picture than I could about yet another string of blonde, blue-eyed Oregon kids.
So what do you take pictures of? Do you put them in albums or other kinds of collections? Who will care about them when you’re gone? Does it matter? Please share in the comments.
The young photographer was bent on selling me a package of photos. I kept saying no. I was only getting my picture taken so that my face would appear in the new church directory. I had no need for an expensive package of 8x10s and 5x7s. Never mind that I was horrified at how I looked in the photos. So wrinkly, my smile so fake, the poses so unnatural.
“Don’t you want to give them to your children and grandchildren?” asked this 20-something fellow with the dark ponytail.
“I don’t have any,” I said.
He sat back, his eyes wide. “Oh!” he said.
Apparently it never occurred to him that someone my age might not have oodles of offspring. If my pictures had turned out well, I might have bought some to use as author photos for my books and blogs. The photographer probably never realized I did anything besides mothering.
It’s one of those things people who are not in our situation don’t think about.
I don’t get my photo taken very often. I’m alone a lot. Not a single picture of me was shot at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Most of the pictures I post on Facebook are selfies—and I’m terrible at them.
Once my own church picture was done, I took over at the hostess table, signing people in. My friend Georgia, who has a bunch of offspring, didn’t buy any pictures either. She didn’t like how she looked. On the other hand, a couple from our choir bought lots of pictures to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Some folks brought their whole families, including kids and dogs.
Between arrivals, I had lots of time look around. One of the photographer’s flyers said: “Seniors: Don’t forget photographs for your children and grandchildren.”
I picked the least obnoxious shots for the church directory, pulled off my scarf and my earrings and thanked God it was over.
Ages ago, when my youngest stepson had just moved in with us, my husband’s job offered a family photo deal, so we dressed up and posed in the spotlight. The photographer kept calling me “Mom.” None of my stepchildren called me that. I barely knew the child who was now living with us, and I was really hurting over the fact that I might never have children of my own. I finally told him to knock it off. My name was Sue, not Mom.
We looked good in the photos, but “Mom” looked slightly annoyed. The guy probably called all the women Mom so he wouldn’t have to learn their names. He didn’t know how much that word can sting for those of us who want children and don’t have them.
What are your childless photo experiences?
Thank you for your wonderful responses to my questions in last week’s post about what you’d like to see here. Most want stories about people who have overcome their grief and led happy lives without children. I will be on the lookout for those. Keep the comments and suggestions coming.
I’m preparing to publish my next book, Up Beaver Creek, a novel set here on the Oregon coast. PD, the main character, is childless. After her husband dies, she is starting over with a new name, a new look, and a new location. Things keep going wrong, but she is determined to keep trying. Then the tsunami comes. You can read an excerpt here.
I am looking for “beta readers,” people who are willing to read the book and answer a questionnaire about it to help me find any loose ends I need to fix. If you are interested, click here to fill out a form to get the process started.
Mother’s Day is over. Thank God. With no kids and no mom, I hate that day. This year, I had my meltdown on the two days before. I was too depressed to do anything. At church Saturday night, I played terribly and felt like the whole church was looking at me sitting up front at the piano when our new pastor asked all the moms to stand for a blessing. Afterward, I parked my car at a spot overlooking the ocean and cried. Then I went to dinner alone in a restaurant full of families. The young waiter kept calling me “ma’am.”
Making matters worse, my sister-in-law and niece were hosting a baby shower for my nephew’s wife, who is pregnant with her third daughter. I probably couldn’t have gone, but it would have been nice to be invited. Endless Facebook posts about that, topped off with a picture of my brother’s family—seven people with kids and grandkids—did me in. There’s only one person in my family photo.
I did better on the actual Mother’s Day. I got the day off from church and mostly avoided the media and other people. I played the piano, did online puzzles, read, watched videos and took the dog for a long walk. Later, I went out to jam with musician friends. Renae, our hostess, greeted me with “Happy Mother’s Day if it’s appropriate.” “It’s not,” I said. She grinned. “Me either.” We had a great jam. (You can read about it at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.)
Over the weekend, several people tried to wish me happy dog-mom day, but it’s not the same, as some of you have already commented. I adore my dog, but she’s not going to give me a family photo like my brother’s. And all those sympathetic posts addressed to those of us who are missing our mothers or feeling bad because we don’t have kids were posted with good intentions, but they made me cry.
On Monday, I thought it was over, but now everyone had to post photos from their happy Mother’s Day celebrations. Moms and kids all over the Internet. I’m happy for all of them, but they’ll have to forgive me if I had to stop looking.
How did you do? Did you spend the day weeping, cursing, calm, or stuffing down your feelings? Did you manage to escape the mother mania? Tell us about it. It helps to let it out.
Guys, your turn is next month. Father’s Day. Sigh.
Happy . . . Wednesday!