When I was little, I loved going through the old photo albums that my mum had so painstakingly put together. Most of the photographs were tiny, sepia-toned images from an old box camera. The camera itself had long been tossed into the toy box, an oddity that was rarely given a second glance. The albums were leather bound and had thick, dark green pages. What amazed me the most was that each photo was annotated in special white ink in Mum’s handwriting. This was a window into the world-that-came-before. A life before marriage and parenting.
By the time I was looking at the photos, she had no time to devote to making beautiful albums, and besides, we’d moved onto the next great photographic technology, slide film. Oh, the slide night! That awkward, social family gathering where dads drove the projector and the rest of the family gathered around on the floor or available chairs to laugh and cringe at colour slides of the kids lined up in height order and squinting into the sun on their first day of school.
The thing is, old photos of life-before-kids showed younger versions of my parents, a version of Mum and Dad that I would never know. An article on the New York Times website inspired me – Mother’s Day is a great time to reflect on an earlier version of me, an earlier version of you. The ’me’ that despite all the story-telling and photos, our kids will never know. The me who’s in old spiral-bound albums gathering dust in the garage – along with images of so many friends and family. And thank goodness for that – because our own youthful, cringeworthy pix are not playing out in real time for the whole connected world to see!
Old photos can tell a fabulous story, revealing snippets of a life once lived, a life that continues now with so many extra layers. I love that as we move through life, it’s all woven together with laughter and tears, arrivals, departures, loss and gain, happiness and sadness, exhilaration and exhaustion, welcomes and farewells, achievement and disappointment. A life that is one constant balancing act, but one that is rarely in balance.One that has an evolving style, different haircuts and colours, 80s big hair and shoulder pads. A life that gets to see stone-washed jeans come round again! A life that can fast forward to a time when we share vintage fashion pieces with our daughters.
Perhaps we’re not so far removed from our young selves, we’re just a whole lot more adept and confident and comfortable with who we are. Actually, it’s not easy getting older, especially when your kids tease you about white stripes at your temples, tuck-shop arms, crying at the drop of a hat and hands that look a whole lot like grandma’s. That kinda sounds hard core, but I can tell you my core needs work. And my kids will tell you that, too.
Despite these daily challenges and honest reminders that we’re not 25 anymore, it’s still a fabulous adventure. We get a bit more saggy but a bit more sassy. And even if our children can’t possibly know the young person in the photograph, they sure get to know us through our dance moves as we crank the 70s disco and 80s dance music.
My mum chose not to reveal much about her life before kids. Whatever she did tell us was stylised and a show-reel of her early years. But I still loved looking at the photos, she was beautiful and elegant. Do you have a favourite photo of your mum from her pre-mum days?
So, from out of the archives: a memory from a fabulous beach adventure (North Carolina, June 1990). The B-52s Roam and Love Shack were tunes of the trip. Along with a stretch floral halter neck dress I’d just bought in New York, I wore a bucket of ice cold water poured from the balcony above. Everyone else in the beach house was in on the joke - just not me! Oh, the shenanigans! What will my kids think?
I loved the beach then, and I love the beach now. I guess some things never change.