Today was my daughter’s third birthday party. It started at 9:00am. I was up until 2:00am scrapbooking – again. Why on Earth would I do that?
I know why.
Last June, Louisette became a big sister. It was also the time when we realised she was now actively forming memories – which meant that if we took her somewhere cool, she would (a) Actually enjoy it, and (b) Maybe even remember it. I take quite a few photos, and I realised that we could reinforce her memories by talking about them, over and over, and looking at pictures – plus maybe buying a toy memento (each time we’ve gone somewhere with animals, we’ve bought a soft toy).
The first big excursion was to Sea Life Aquarium in Sydney (taking decent photos in an aquarium is HARD). Then the Dinosaur Museum in Canberra (where I accidentally scared her by holding her RIGHT up to the mouth of a dinosaur, thinking it was a statue – then getting a huge shock for both of us when it turned out to be an animatronic on a sensor). Then the beach with my parents. Each one of these got a large poster with photos and stickers, plus sandpaper for the beach (and the dinosaurs had “fossils” that Louisette collected herself thanks to “My Pet Dinosaur” who brought two small animatronics and a lot of fun to her daycare. . . greatly assisting in the recovery process from her scare at the Museum).
When I talked to a friend about the posters, she said, “Why don’t you do a scrap book, so you can just keep adding to it?”
The idea kicked around in my mind – with the focus on TJ, of course, because his birth was by far our biggest family event post-Louisette. And so it was that I sorted through the three months’ worth of daily photos, picked the best or most significant of the lot, and printed them at Kmart – buying a purple binder, a pack of scrapbooking paper, and stickers to go with them. Along the way it became more than a repository for memories. It became a therapy tool, to help Louisette process her new role as big sister. And it became a powerful piece of propaganda.
All photos are propaganda, in a way. Family photos almost always carry the same motto, writ large and sometimes ironically across every picture – WE ARE HAPPY.
The message is so common that a large number of people reflexively cringe at it, particularly when there are a lot of photos with the same message over and over and over again until it starts sounding more and more like an insult to the everyday shabbiness and complexities of life. Sometimes it’s a message designed for others to see – defensive, or even bullying (“Look at my beautiful life/family. I am better than you”). Other times it is a desperate question – “Are we happy? Is this happy?” Still other times it is a desperate lie, spoken by people who know something is wrong but do not know how to fix it except by catching a fleeting moment that seems to have everything in the right order (husband, kids, dog, car, etc).
It is always complicated.
I took photos of Louisette every day for the first year. In the early days, as I sorted photos and saw a smile, a curled-up fist, or bare toes perfectly caught in pictures before they changed forever, I realised photos were a kind of therapy. A message to myself saying, “Look! Actually, today was a good day. Maybe not the whole day, but this moment was good. Keep this one, and throw away the rest.” It was also a message saying, “It doesn’t feel like it, but this time is going very quickly. See how her face has already changed! And again!”
Those two messages – “There WAS a good bit today” and “This too shall pass – and fast” are so much more important to me this second time, with PPD and a feeling like I’m failing both of my kids simultaneously almost every day.
But I was talking about Louisette. That first scrapbook is loaded with propaganda phrases such as, “Louisette is so gentle with him!” (Saying it makes it come true.) It also contains many of the phrases that Louisette herself has repeated over and over, for whatever reason (she tends to acquire language by repeating a phrase lots of time, and she’s working out her emotions the same way), such as, “Two boys, two girls.”
That was a lot of fun. I felt like I’d given Louisette something both loving and useful, and I also had a beautiful object, something to do with all those photos, and reinforcement for my own story (“We’re doing fine. This is okay. . .”). I was on a high.
A few weeks later, feeling depressed, I decided to make a scrapbook of Louisette’s babyhood, in order to celebrate her achievements and help her understand that TJ won’t always be as. . . well, boring and fragile. . . as he is now. TJ had just started sleeping on his own during the day (rather than in my arms). We bought supplies together, and I got to work. And he woke up. And I had to go pick up Louisette in a couple of hours. And everything was spread out in complicated piles on the table (“Photos of kids lying down looking cute”, “That time the kids played together in the backyard pool”). I freaked out utterly and sent an SOS to my sister, who came over and held TJ so I could finish the thing.
I finished the thing. Later on I updated the original “TJ and Louisette” book, and did a whole one just for TJ’s first six months (why? For me I guess, because I sure can’t think of anyone else who’d really be interested).
Lately I feel like Louisette has had enough of people talking about TJ. So for her birthday I made her a scrapbook that picks up where the “Louisette as a baby” book ends – her first birthday – and is actually about toddlerhood rather than babies. This one goes from her first birthday to her third (today; I left pages blank at the end). It was 80 double pages long in the end, which JUST managed to fit into the 20-page binder I’d bought (along with three packs of refill sleeves). It’s time for Louisette to hear about how special and wonderful and talented and beautiful she is RIGHT NOW, rather than two years ago (much as I do genuinely appreciate the fact that she can walk).
So that’s why I do scrapbooking. It’s a story to tell Louisette – and myself – that my kids are loved, that we have nice times despite all the heat and panic and irritability that I remember, and that things are getting better all the time. These are the stories that matter – they heal wounds and give hope, and they make us all better for the reading.
But now it’s almost 9:00pm and I need to get to BED.