I don’t know what parents did before digital cameras. Like my parents, many likely stored dented boxes in dusty attic corners, brimming with hundreds (thousands?) of baby photos. The most organized of those parents probably put them into baby books and photo albums, testaments to the life that existed before those kids – now grown – could remember.
Now, in lieu of carefully pasted photos yellowing on pages in tucked away albums, parents have websites and Facebook pages devoted to their kids. We shoot off email missives, photos attached, of our children’s latest adventures: birthday parties, trips to the beach, visits with the grandparents. Their first steps are recorded, downloaded, and presto! An hour after the event, everyone from your old college rugby teammates to your stepfather-in-law’s estranged daughter can watch a clip of those wobbly first steps, from virtually anywhere in the world.
The digital age is sure convenient. And our family definitely takes advantage of that convenience, with 1,673 pictures and video clips of Elle in our I-Photo library, many of which have been posted to websites and Facebook pages and emailed to all corners of the planet over the course of the last year.
This week, though, I did something different with our most recent photos of Elle. I didn’t look at them from a computer screen. I held them in my hand. Then I sat down, the pile of her first birthday photos stacked before me, and wrote five letters – with pen on paper, no help from the keyboard. Then I put a few photos of her in each envelope, addressed them to Oklahoma, points across Boston and France.
It took five times longer than writing an email. It required many more steps. (And, I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually made it to the post office yet to mail them, so they’re still sitting here on the kitchen table).
It began with my recent realization that there is just something special about a real photo. It’s something you can stick on the refrigerator or put in a frame on the mantle. Is it more genuine than an email attachment? More extant than a Facebook page? Not always, and not to everyone. But in certain circumstances, a real photo – folded like a little hug into a handwritten letter – truly is the best thing to do with all those images of the little one.
In our case, the real photo trend began when I realized my grandparents, Elodie’s great-grandparents Jerrell and Dorothy, probably don’t think opening photo attachments on an email is very quick or easy. Opening an envelope with some photos of their first great-grandchild, along with stories of her recent little exploits, is on the other hand the greatest gift they could receive.
So it started with some photos of Elle for my grandparents. I figured I would write a short note to go along with them, explaining how the birthday cake is actually a blueberry cheesecake, on account of Elle being absolutely crazy about blueberries… and that the photo of her in the car-seat is actually on her first day of daycare, where she has a best little friend who is the daughter of one of my friends from high school… and the one of her on the blanket next to a river eating a cheese stick with her belly hanging out was taken while on a mini-road trip with her mom, who was supposed to be watching a basketball game in Dove Creek but wound up on the Lower Dolores for a sunny early spring picnic, instead.
The “note” went on. The photo of her in the living room wearing nothing but a diaper and pointing a calculator towards the camera, because she aspires to make our house a nudist colony and knows that one of these gadgets with buttons can make the television turn on. The one of her sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by cookies, which she had helped herself from the pantry because she now knows all about opening doors and drawers and discovering things to throw out of them.
Writing the now lengthy letter to my grandparents helped me realize how many little things happen in the course of a few weeks, in the life of a 1-year-old. How all these things are such a part of our life now – that we are never without blueberries and are forever repacking the contents of drawers and pantries and can never find the remote control – that we sometimes don’t think to stop and tell the people we love, and who love us (but don’t get to live nearby) about it all. About blueberry cheesecake birthdays and an incurably busy little girl who doesn’t like to wear clothes.
I won’t admit that I don’t love my daily dose of email, and being able to so effortlessly keep (lightly) in touch with everyone in my address book. But while the process of letter writing and real photo sending is lengthy, it feels good. It feels real, and I’ve vowed to do it more often.