Not long ago, Owlet and I were checking out a collage of photos on her wall. I made it years back by family request to display at my mother’s memorial service and have dragged it with me across the country to both coasts, never finding a great place to hang it but unwilling to part from it either. When we moved into this house almost a year ago, I suddenly had the perfect place. Low down in Owlet’s room, tucked slightly behind the door. Every few weeks we find ourselves in front of it, sometimes just for a second, often for awhile longer.
All of the pictures have my mom in them, so she has learned to recognize “Grandma Jackie” by now, but many also have people she knows: me, my sister, my dad, and our extended family. My favorites are the ones that seem plucked from my childhood: mom and I sitting together, reading on the couch or playing the piano. The whole family on a hike. My mom’s smile often looks forced in the more formal photos, but there are candid shots where her real smile soars out through her eyes.
I always think of my mom when we do this, how much I love her, how much I miss her, how surprised I sometimes feel that so much life has happened since those pictures were taken. What it would be like to have her with me now.
As she often does, Owlet pointed out every picture with my dad in it — she gets to see him every week and adores him. Plus, he is the most familiar, as he looks a lot more like his younger photo self than I do.
My dad makes it into several posed group portraits, but we have far fewer casual pictures of him. He was the photographer, of course, and as a consequence is not captured nearly as often as the rest of us.
For the first time, perhaps because I am the photographer in my new fledgling family, something clicked and I saw, all at once, my dad behind each of my favorite pictures. Carefully framing the perfect shot. Recording tender everyday moments. Pursuing the perfect smile.
My dad appeared in a brief dream recently. I have been stressing somewhat over my relationship with Owlet. I get frustrated too easily, and she is more frustrating than she used to be. In the dream, I was feeling just the same, but he was holding me in one arm at his hip the way you carry a small child. Without actually moving, we spread apart from our shadows, which were also me holding Owlet. “See?” He asked, gesturing toward them.
Platypup wiggled in his sleep then, pulling me out of the dream to feed him.
Though I struggle to find the words, I know what this dream means. I stand where he once did; I inherit both his short fuse and his capacity for self-reflection and growth. The progress I make will fuel my own children. At the same time, Owlet is held as I once was, held and adored despite unquenchable boundary-pushing. My love is fiercer than my temper, and she will grow and thrive as I have.
The photographer captures beauty beyond words with a tangible patience, leaving footprints behind every picture if you know where to look.
Happy slightly-belated birthday, Dad! Owlet is excited about cake.