Three days back from vacation and I think we’re finally getting back into routine here. The kids are in school, the mountain of laundry has been washed, dried, AND put away (that deserves a parade all on its own), and I can FINALLY sit down and get some real work done.
It’s not all blog writing and meme sharing, though. My job after our annual vacation is to sift through the even larger mountain of photos taken during it, pick out the cream of the crop, and painstakingly place them, in order, into a photo book that, once it has been completed, my entire family sits down and looks through together. I’ve become the photo book champion, six years running. Or is it seven… Honestly, after the thousands of photos, hours upon hours of tedious work, and years of putting myself through this, I’ve forgotten how many I’ve created.
Am I making this sound fun? Because it’s not fun. Don’t get me wrong, it used to be. To get back from an amazing vacation and to sift through all the photos and relive the experience all over again; to weave the photographs into a story my family can look at and relive for years to come? How would that not be awesome? But awesome turned to stressful. When you take over 200 photos per day on vacation and can’t decide between the one where everyone’s actually looking at the camera and the one where everyone’s smiling and/or doesn’t look like their face is melting (which usually happens to me), the fun part burns up in less than an hour like my skin in the Florida sun and morphs into this hideous hybrid between stress and frustration. And it was hours of that per day, because I’m an obnoxious perfectionist, and just like making sure to document every moment of vacation, I wanted to document every one of those moments perfectly in the book.
I was actually kind of dreading putting together this year’s photobook. Like… really dreading. The kind of dread you feel when you have to go to the gynecologist for your annual pap-smear kind of dread. It’s gotta be done but in no way shape or form do you want to do it.
This morning I sat down and tried to mentally prepare myself to dedicate hours of every day of weeks of my life to this project. I inhaled deeply and opened the first folder which contained day one of our photos so that I could begin going through them to write down the ones I might want to put in the book, start planning out the pages they’ll go on to be sure that I don’t go over the maximum amount allowed, only there weren’t hundreds of photos in it. In fact, there weren’t hundreds of photos in any of the folders. In one of the folders, there were maybe ten photos total. A slight sense of panic washed over me. I hadn’t gone through them while we were in the hotel/on the cruise. Had something gone wrong? Had I lost a bunch of photos? I’d forgotten the cord to offload photos from my camera to my laptop, so we ended up having to remove the SD card and popping it into the laptop and copying them that way, which we’d never done before. Did we do it wrong?
After I calmed myself and thought about it a bit, I realized that the truth was simple: I just didn’t take as many photos. My big DSLR barely ever came out of its bag. Unlike our previous vacations, I didn’t carry it around on my shoulder, and I hadn’t taken the time to stop, take it out, turn it on, tell everyone to wait, and snap a photo as often as I used to. I took more random shots on my phone than anything else.
But what about my photo book? What does this mean for it? I worried momentarily that it would make the photobook shittier if I wasn’t cramming it full of photos of every thing we did, every meal we had, every ride we rode, every step we took. There are more than enough photos to make a great photobook, but there would be things missing. It saddened me, like I’d messed up. I’d screwed everything up by not photographing it so we could look back on it later, but as much as I’d love to have photos of everything, not having the photos doesn’t mean the experiences didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean we didn’t have an amazing time, or do amazing things together. It means that, for once, I stepped out from behind the camera.
If you’ve never thought you spend too much time behind the camera documenting life as it goes on instead of being in front of the camera experiencing it- think about that now. Does it hit home for you? Because it does for me. I didn’t take as many photos because I was having an awesome time. Because I stopped caring so much about having photographic evidence of our vacation, and more about enjoying our vacation.
Thinking back on all the photo books I have from my own childhood- they’re great to have, and I love looking at them, but the memories I remember the most, the ones in the stories I tell my kids, and the ones my family laughs about when we get together, aren’t the ones that have hundreds of photos to prove they happened– like the time we were staying in a really shitty beach bungalow my mom rented, and EVERYONE was mad at her, and somehow I managed to get myself stuck between the crib and the wall and my poor uncle couldn’t get me out for hours because he terrified me– or the time my cousin got mad at me for laughing at her after she got slapped in the face by a fish- YES, SLAPPED IN THE FACE BY A FISH while tubing, and chased me around the yard with a tennis ball, or the time I got so scared on Snow White’s Scary Adventure at Disney Land that I screamed my way through the entire ride. They’re the ones we all experienced together, camera flash or not.
I want stories like that for my kids. Okay, maybe not exactly like those, but you know what I mean. I want to make those kinds of memories that we talk about for years, and while pictures would be great, the pictures don’t make the memories.
What I’m not saying is that documenting your vacations, activities, etc. is bad. I’m sure I’ll find myself doing it again, because I’m insane about my damn photo books. What I AM saying is that every now and then, put the camera down. Maybe even hand it to someone else for a bit. Take it all in. Enjoy it. You may not have photos you can hold in your hands, but I promise you’ll have a story to tell.
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