Before I go, I have something to say


When our first child was due, my husband and I thought we had it all covered. We would bring everything we needed, from a polka-dot onesie for the baby to wear home to a pair of baggy sweatpants for her mother to do the same. A few toiletries, a list of phone numbers, and the camera. This being ages before digital picture-takers, the camera was my husband’s single-lens reflex Panasonic, which took exceptional photos.

When Allison was born, she was not only healthy but beautiful, and we were delighted to take pictures of our newborn for the three days she and I spent in the hospital.

Thus we were devastated when we learned that the film had failed to advance, giving us no pictures at all. Even though we could start over on her fourth day, there was no way to replace those brand-new, day-one portraits, her eyes half-open, her hair not yet turned to fluff.

We were extra careful when her brother made his debut, and we have plenty of photos of him freshly hatched, curled in a semicircle on my hospital bed. Priceless.

As both kids grew, the pictures kept coming. Every birthday is documented, every first day of school, and all the times in between, from first steps in the living room to walks across the stage for high school and college diplomas. There are sweet photos, goofy photos; Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, baking with Grandma, reading with me. It’s all there.

Allison and I mined those photos for a very special wedding gift to our son and his bride last month, sending 80 or so to Shutterfly so they could create a hardcover “Dan Through the Years,” from a photo of a very pregnant me to some terrific shots of him and his smiling fiancée.

I thought there would never be another priceless moment that went unrecorded, especially after the advent of phones that take pictures. I was wrong.

My son got married this summer. It was a three-day event, really, with the first day spent not only rehearsing the service and eating dinner together at L.May, but also – and first – wandering around the Arboretum for countless photos taken by a pro, all of us dressed in our wedding finery.

At some point, Bob and I were told we could bow out, since the final photos would focus on the bride and groom and their attendants. Because Allison was one of the bridesmaids, and she had hitched a ride with us, we waited up by the office until she was done.

There we were, talking about this and that, enjoying the breeze that cooled us off somewhat. Another bride and groom were having their actual wedding down in the gazebo, and we watched with bemused interest. Then something happened that made me say aloud, “Oh! I wish I had my camera!”

It was nothing earthshaking. Just my two kids, too old to be called that by anyone but me. Dan, the groom, was walking his sister, the bridesmaid, up the path to where Bob, his step-dad, and I were waiting. Dan had slung the jacket of his tux over his shoulder, and Allison had taken off her kitten heels to walk barefoot. I have no idea what they were saying, but they were smiling and laughing, so I’m sure it was good.

Tears had been coming to my eyes off and on ever since Dan and his true love made their announcement just after Christmas. This was one of those teary times. All I could think was: “My kids. They made it.” Out of the violence of my first marriage, which they endured from the time they were babies; out of the breakup of their home; out of the move from Colorado, their native state, to Iowa and a new school, a new house, and no mountains.

They had survived countless challenges, including the emotional and verbal abuse their father continued to heap on them, as he insisted on his visitation rights. They had survived his death at the age of 48. They had, as a friend pointed out, not only survived, but thrived. That’s all I wanted. And here was some proof.

The next day, there were two more moments I wish had been caught by a camera. Right after the wedding, the bride and groom sat briefly to sign the legal forms sealing their union. Then Dan’s groomsmen, guys I had known in younger days dressed in jeans and t-shirts, now looking spiffy in white ties and tuxes, grabbed my son and surrounded him in a group hug. Wow, I thought. Where’s that photographer?

The third unrecorded moment came at the reception, just minutes before the dreaded ritual Mother-Son dance. Dan came to get me as his bride cut the rug with her father, laughing as he said, “I hope you’re ready to dance with me!” When I protested, “You know I can’t dance!” he led me into a side room where the gifts were piled. He put one arm around my waist, and took my other hand in his. It was so easy, I laughed out loud. It would have made a nice picture.

I’m told the official photographer took hundreds of shots, and I’ll be getting my own share soon. It’s okay that nobody caught those three. I’ve got them right here, after all. I’ll have them forever, exactly as they looked in the summer of 2014. Three incandescent pictures, framed and hung forever in the gallery of my heart.