This is an early blog post from Edgyjunecleaver in late 2008. I still haven’t finished the scrapbooks.
Six months ago, I took on the huge task of making scrapbooks for the boys. Huge because Wally is 18 and Beaver is 14 and neither of them even had baby books. They did each have a small box with cards, pictures, mementos. I suppose I could take the easy way out and just scribble their names on the sides of the boxes and call it done. Trust me, this idea has crossed my mind a few times as I play detective and try to remember when a specific picture was taken. The good news/bad news? I simply don’t have that many pictures. When I ran away to myself in 2000, I left the albums with Ward; I was a bad mother and didn’t deserve the albums. (Oh God is that pathetic or what?). It felt cruel to take them with me: I was the one leaving, after all. “Tearing the family to shreds” was one of the many accusations hurled at me. The family pictures must stay with the family. I was no longer in the family according to Ward. The albums proved to be so *important* to Ward, they now languish in a storage shed. Given his propensity to dithering it isn’t worth waiting until 2020 or his death to repossess the albums. Frankly, I have bigger things to nag Ward about than old pictures. What concerns me is from an archival point of view: I just sort of threw pictures into cheap albums which continue to expose the photos to the element. My frustration rests more in the damage being done to the pictures rather than possessing the pictures. I should have taken better care of so many things, these pictures are just a small detail.
Fortunately, I had the foresight to “steal” the extra pictures haphazardly put in yellow envelopes. The B team pictures–you know the ones–heads are half gone and if they aren’t half gone, one or all of us are sprouting poles or trees. If we aren’t maimed our smiles are goofy or nonexistent. I lucked out and have a few gems. When I shared my project with Mother, she gave me all of her pictures to add to my little horde. I’m lucky only one very favorite picture is lost and I discovered several I thought lost. One of the lost treasures caused an explosion of weeping. It’s the only puppy picture of our Kipper-Dog and it captures his goofy personality like no other picture. (insert picture here). I only have three pictures from our trips to Canada. Luckily, I kept trip journals and they are lucid, thorough and without naval gazing so those memories are preserved for my family. I even stumbled across a journal Ward and I both kept when we went to Yellowstone before Wally was born. Sweet gifts all of these.
Looking over these pictures has brought back so many memories but the fact remains there is much I can’t remember. I can’t remember The Beav’s first step (nor do I have a picture of it). My periodic depressions have also muddled my memory, too. Two significant episodes have blocked a lot of memories. Unfortunately, one of these periods is much of Beaver’s first year. Go Team PPD! The other episode was the summer of 1999. But this space in time is easier to remember because I received real and credible help and it was the beginning of my Real Life.
I do have
stacks of self-serving crap masquerading as prose journals and I thought reading them would help jog my memories of the boys and help tell the story; in some cases it has. However because they are my personal journals and I am terribly self-centered, they are simply documentation of inner turmoil vomited into spiral notebooks. If I relied on my journals, my scrapbook journaling would rely on angry snippets of our dirtiest laundry.
Sometimes the desire to include angry snippets is overwhelming and my jaw hurts from pushing away the unhealthy compulsion. I did manage a sardonic touch on the page featuring the last picture: “Same Life, Different City”. How poetic my mother lopped off the top of my head reflecting how I felt at the time: my brain half gone; Wally tugging at me and Beaver squirming to get away.
Because my glass is sometimes half full, it took me a minute or three to remember the stop we made in the middle of nowhere New Mexico a few hours before the picture was taken. The night was one of those perfect dark nights free of clouds or moon. I was taking a break so I rolled the window down, smelling the twlight lit mesa and listening to the quiet. It was well after midnight and the highway was empty. Wally roused when he felt the car stop so I asked him if he would like to join me in the front seat and look at the stars. He clamored into the front seat and I held his sleepy body close to mine as we hung our heads out of the window, the night air brisk across our faces. He gasped as he looked out at the millions of stars. Then I exclaimed: “Wally! It’s the milky way! A magic cloud of stars!“ We ohhed and ahhed over the view for a few minutes until I felt his head bob and I knew I should finish the first leg of our trip. When I remember things like this; my love for the boys and even the way I once fought for happiness with Ward floods back to me in a brilliant instantaneous joy and peace.
Reading my journals has also been hard because as chance would have it the first entry I opened to was written the day we discovered Beaver was gravely ill–at 22 weeks gestation–and my own health was at risk. April 1994. I hadn’t read those entries since I wrote them and I still hold the cellular grief of hearing the hard news. “We have reason to believe there is a grave chance your baby will not be viable at birth. If he is viable, he will require surgery and at least twelve weeks in the ICU.” Hard news for anyone to hear. Especially a Neonatal ICU nurse, knowing what the outcome can look like and the slim odds of a favorable outcome. (obviously it was favorable, isn’t he a strapping fine boy?)
April remains a hard month for me and because I’m a bit slow, it only took about ten thousand hours of therapy to realize why I greeted spring with a dull sense of loss. I’ve learned to observe April with an extra dose of self-care and to find little ways to show Beaver how blessed we are to have him in our lives. Surprisingly, scrapping these pictures from spring/summer 1994 wasn’t as hard as I thought. I remembered how re-engaged Ward became when there was a possibility he could lose his wife and child; I reunited with my sister and forged a healthy and vibrant relationship with her after years of estrangement.
My memories make me wish I had been a better SAHM. My journals just make me wince over how truly terrible I was at it. The free floating resentment was so unfair to my boys. Staying home out of duty isn’t the way to do it. Had my earning power been on par with Ward’s he would have been home with the boys. Ward may be a lot of things but he is profoundly more patient and easygoing. I’m amazed my kids aren’t more anxious and screwed up.
I sound eaten alive with bitterness when I describe the pictures I include in this blog but after working my way through the bad bits it is easy to remark on what was good and right about the snapshots; and I am lucky enough to experience serendipitous healing. Not that my life is so terribly special. All lives are bittersweet and mine is no more or less than others.
So now I’m scrapping the past, and with each page the bitter is sealed behind the photo. The only thing you can see is the sweetness of two childhoods.