My children are blessed with generous family and godparents and, as a result, each of the children has their own camera. It seems absurd to admit that at age 4, or age 2, they have a camera – albeit secondhand ones – and at first I was slightly ashamed of the fact. But despite having to download approximately one hundred and fifty pictures, weekly, from each of them, and despite having to admit that yet again yes, I forgot to put your camera battery on to charge last night (mostly because it’s hard to remember to do that after the half bottle of wine I needed after the day you gave me), their pictures have given me great joy because they tell the private story of our life, the one you don’t really want to capture on camera but somehow represent much better the reality of our life than the pictures of four boys grinning at the camera or the tidy kitchen ready for another party.
Instead we get blurred views of the seemingly never-ending games of chase that go on around the house, pictures of random objects, or, worse, individual pictures of every single toy car we own. DELETE. Sometimes there are whole stories enacted with Power Ranger toys and lovingly captured for eternity. Also, DELETE. Sometimes the pictures are a complete surprise and I look at them as they are downloading and think I don’t remember Harry having his camera there or I wish Ben hadn’t taken that one of me, I look so shiny – shiny and also fat. And then I make a mental note, stop eating cakes and also do not allow the children to bring the camera into my bedroom. The downloading and deleting process is bad enough without having to see myself shiny and fat and naked.
For the last five weeks or so Ben has been asking to take his camera to school so that he could take some pictures of the startlingly pretty shrubs that were flowering in the gardens. But by the time it had sunk into my subconscious sufficiently and I remembered one evening about putting it out to take the next morning, the batteries were dead again. No time to download, I would just have to charge the batteries overnight and take it to school the next day before the flowering shrubs were as dead as the batteries.
Ben was thrilled, and also a little surprised, that his mother had remembered the camera. ‘See Mummy, you CAN do it if you try’, he said guilelessly and I thought, rather depressingly, that despite the inference that I was generally a bit useless, it would probably be the nicest thing anyone said to me that day. Once at school he sprinted, life-threateningly, across the carpark and began to take pictures of the now-past-their-best shrubs. After approximately a hundred pictures, while the carpark gradually emptied and I thought about how tired I was, and how slow I felt mentally, and how much I needed a cup of good coffee when I got home, Ben turned his attention to taking photographs of an unwilling Edward. A fight ensued so, as we were now late, I hastened them into school.
Ben’s class teacher is wonderful and Ben adores her. She has brought him out of his shell over the last two years and when he arrives they have a wonderful daily banter, depending on his mood du jour. On grumpy mornings she gently teases him until he cracks a smile and on extrovert mornings she listens patiently to his incredibly important story of how mummy forgot his shorts/what he had for breakfast/how he wants a pet chicken/why doesn’t he have more lego, or if she’s lucky sometimes it’s all of that. But this particular morning he was brandishing his camera and jabbering excitedly about the flowers and his baby brother falling in the bushes. ‘Look,’ he said holding the camera so she could look at the pictures with him, ‘look at the bushes!’
‘Oh yes,’ said Sally winking at me. ‘Aren’t they lovely?’
I smiled, grateful to her for being endlessly patient as he flicked through dozens and dozens of pictures of blurry flowers. ‘Flowers. Look at the flowers. Look, more flowers!’
Then, ‘look Sally, look at this one, it’s my Mummy!’
‘Oh yes,’ said Sally.
‘Oh!’. The tone of her voice made me look across from Ben’s proud face and I could see her flushing with creeping embarrassment. Confused, I looked at her looking at the camera. She glanced up at me and it took me a second or two to register the shock on her face. With mounting worry morphing into expectant horror, I moved to look at the camera and there, in a haze of steam, was me, barely recognisable, but at the same time UNMISTAKEABLY ME, in the shower.
There is nothing else I can say at this point except thank God he’s changing schools in September.
And also? Aren’t you glad I chose a different picture to put at the top of the post?
Photo credit: stevendepolo