I recall being sleep deprived and irate with my first baby, dabbing milky vomit from my shoulder and having older women come up to me on the street saying, “Oh, they’re little angels, aren’t they? Treasure every moment!”
Grumpily, I thought these were the moments I most wanted to forget. My aching arms, his needy squawks, the overflowing nappy bag and the constant breastfeeding.
Now I touch my son’s grown-up eight-year-old face and wish I could recall in perfect detail his round, pink-cheeked, milk-smelling babyface.
Instead, I try to commit to memory the beat before he breaks into a goofy smile, his out-of-proportion big front teeth and the sweaty smell of an active kid.
Every moment with our kids is precious. It’s just that sometimes we’re too tired and overwhelmed to appreciate it.
We don’t always know the things we’ll want to remember when they’re happening, and although we live in a world where we can take photos and videos of our kids multiple times a day, there’s still so much we can’t capture.
It’s become important to all of us to have content of our lives we can share with others; content that strikes a balance between making us and our kids look polished and attractive, yet is not without a touch of humour or irony.
Snapping a picture for Instagram is fun, but I realised recently that the things I want to post on social media and the things I’ll want to look back on when the kids have left home are probably different.
Since COVID-19, we haven’t been able to pick up our kids from their classrooms. Instead, the cul-de-sac in front of the school is closed at pick-up time and all the parents wait there like cattle, trying to social distance while still chatting.
I love to watch the mini-reunions as kids see their parent and run to them.
Ani DeFranco wrote a song called The Arrivals Gate about another reunion microcosm, and although most of the kids at school have only been away from us for six hours, the intensity of the reunions is often equal to those where people have been apart for far longer.
The emotions flicker across kids’ faces as they leap into the arms of those who are waiting – joy, relief.
Some crumple or burst into tears or grumpiness. They’ve been on their best behaviour for so long. They are hot.
All day your child refused to take off their jumper, but now passively lets you peel it over their sweaty, red-cheeked little head. Despite the rampant pandemic-induced handwashing, you feel a suspiciously sticky hand slide into yours.
Sometimes I wish it wouldn’t feel weird when I take pictures of these reunions. Or wishing there was an appointed paparazzi photographer who could capture these real moments for us, our kids flying at us with their hearts written on their faces, tackling us with their love.
What else will we want to remember that can’t easily be captured?
The hot breath of a toddler in your ear in the early hours, saying, “Mum, I need to poo.”
One friend had a toddler who insisted on holding hands and maintaining eye contact while toileting. These are the kinds of intimacies we’ll likely never have with anyone else, except maybe the care nurse when we’re very ill or elderly.
Your child’s bed, when it’s not Instagram ready, is a nest of their favourite blankets and toys with damp drool stains on the pillow.
The way the morning goes is everyone rushing through the bathroom, passing in the hall, handing clothes back and forth, an opportunistic hair comb, and fighting over the toothpaste.
I’ve often heard other mothers complain they are always behind the lens. I’ve been one of them – equal parts embarrassed and indignant when I ask my husband to take a photo of me.
It’s not purely vanity that drives women’s desire to be captured, it’s wanting confirmation and acknowledgement of our role as mothers.
We want someone to capture the easiness we bring to a job that asks everything of us and, just as I wish there were more photos of a time when my babies were constantly in my arms, I’ll wish I had more evidence of the primary school years when they’ve passed us by.
Evidence of the howl that follows a skinned knee, of mud on the carpet, of clothes balled up in the washing basket.
The little angels.