You know that old saying, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes”? It’s true for family historians as well. I’m reminded of this as my daughter’s high school graduation is looming large, and she still has no baby album.
My beautiful, cherished, Catherine was not only our fourth child, she was also a very high-need baby, wanting to be held all the time, not content to play in her baby seat or bat at the toys hanging from her baby gym. And as comedian Jim Gaffigan quipped, ““Do you want to know what it’s like to have a fourth [child]? Just imagine you’re drowning, and then someone hands you a baby.” My life was filled with carpools, swimming lessons, after-school Spanish classes, preschool pickups, parent-teacher conferences, play dates, and more. Catherine entered the world at 6:29 am on a Saturday, and it’s a good thing she got here early, because my husband had to leave to coach our 9-year-old’s iceless hockey game a few hours later.
Despite all that we had going on, I had the best of intentions for preserving her babyhood. I lovingly recorded all her “firsts” in her baby calendar, just as I did with her brothers. I took the time to cross-stitch a baby bib with her name on it, just as I did with each of the boys. And I took so many photographs. In those days when digital photography was really starting to come into its own, I was slow to make the switch from my 35 mm camera. I feared that digital photography would lead to a bunch of computer images that would never be looked at, never be made into albums. So instead, I opted for photo prints that take up more space—and still were not made into albums.
It’s not like I never made photo albums. I was just slow. I wanted to do it right, and make personalized, scrapbook-style albums that included a bit of journaling and notes about each event. I made each of my sons a baby album that encompassed his first year, and then I made family photo albums as well, spanning the early years of our marriage and family life. By early 2007, when Catherine had just turned four, I think I’d gotten up to Christmas of 1999 in our family photo albums. I felt like I was starting to have more time to myself again, so getting caught up on those photo albums seemed like a very reasonable goal. I was only eight years behind, after all!
Then my husband was laid off from his job in northern Illinois, and we made the decision to move our family a thousand miles away so that he could start his dream job in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Between packing and moving and getting settled and decorating a new house and keeping up with all the children’s activities and my own volunteer commitments, the years kept flying by. Catherine’s non-existent baby album became something of a family joke. By the time she was six, she decided she should stipulate a deadline: she’d really like that baby album by the time she graduated from high school. Moreover, she didn’t just want a Shutterfly-type album like the one I eventually created for my Grandma’s 90th birthday, with uploaded photos and a nice leather cover. She wanted an album just like the ones I’d made for the boys—covered in soft fabric, trimmed with eyelet around the edges, with grosgrain ribbons to tie it closed, and an eyelet-edged photo frame on the cover, personalized with her name. (I’d been pretty crafty back in the day.) I agreed, of course. It seemed like I had such a long time to get the job done.
At some point, it became overwhelming, all those boxes of photographs — even though they were all neatly organized by date—not to mention all the school report cards, award certificates, sports team photos, and special school projects that were deemed worthy of assignment to the family’s “sentimental archives.” I love discovering family stories, and the stories of generations past always seemed so urgent. There’s always tomorrow, I thought, to tell my own family’s stories, to preserve my children’s heritage. So the eight-year lag in the family photo albums somehow became fourteen years, and in all those years of soccer games, play practices, music lessons, homework, summer vacations, graduations, softball practices, Buffalo trips, driving lessons, and caring for aging parents, my baby girl has grown into a beautiful young woman in front of my eyes, who graduates from high school next weekend. Suddenly, I’m out of time.
I certainly do appreciate the irony in this situation. A few weeks ago, I was bemoaning the fact that my parents saved so much stuff for me to sort through in order to sell their house. Now, I have become my parents. I’ve been feeling a little panicky as I go through boxes in the the basement, trying to find my 8×10″ copies of her 3-month, 6-month, 9-month, and 12-month portraits to go along with all the snapshots, and I can’t believe how much dust has accumulated on those boxes in the storage area, almost as if they’d been sitting there for years. But how can that be? The days are long, but the years are short, indeed.
I’m finally making good progress, I think. After some quality time spent with my hot glue gun, I should have the album itself done by the end of the weekend. Filling it with all the photos from my baby’s first year might take a little longer, but with her typical grace and good nature, Catherine is cutting me some slack in that regard. Having gained some momentum with the project, I’m confident that I can get this finished in a timely fashion, because I’ve gained a new sense of urgency. Tomorrow is not promised, and suddenly I feel as though I’ve neglected my immediate family history for long enough. My dead ancestors aren’t going anywhere. Right now it’s time to celebrate the living.
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021