A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

This past weekend, Wil and I went to a surprise 40th birthday party for our friend, Mike. Friends, family, and people Mike had worked with over the years all came out to celebrate. And yes, when he walked in the door and we all yelled “SURPRISE!” he was completely surprised.

At the party, we chatted with old friends and new, then slowly made our way to the front of the room, where Mike’s wife gave a really funny and sweet speech. Then the lights dimmed, and a video displayed photos and home movie clips of his life.

As I watched the images of a happy boy go by, I thought of my own boys at that age. The day they were born, when they learned to crawl, and eventually walk. I remembered when they got their first teeth, that would eventually fall out, which gave me the opportunity to be The Tooth Fairy. It seemed like so long ago but at the same time, not.

My boys were one and three years old and I was 23 years old when I left their dad. I had saved up some money before leaving to be able to pay for diapers and food, and moved in very briefly with my parents in order to establish ourselves in their city. I found a job and daycare within a week, and was out on my own with the kids a month later.

As the video of Mike’s life continued to play, images of him with his family on vacations, celebrating birthdays, and just being a goofy kid scrolled by. I thought of my own kids, not having the intact family life when they were so little that I was seeing before me, and it started to make me sad. Home movie clips began to play on the screen, and I remembered not being able to afford a video camera of my own so I don’t have any footage of my boys. I did have a 35 mm camera that my parents gave me for my 18th birthday, so I made sure I took a lot of pictures with that so I would have something to look back on.

My mind drifted to those years of the photos I had taken of the boys, and because it was just the three of us, I had learned the art of holding the camera out with one arm and snapping a few pictures of us together, or asking a passerby to take one of the three of us. I wanted to capture as much of their childhood and our time together as possible. I had even taught the kids how to use the camera so I could have pictures of myself with them individually, which didn’t always come out very centered, but I kind of loved that.

I was really struggling to make ends meet back then, but I had figured out ways to do things with the kids that were fun and memorable and affordable. We frequently went to the beach, where I would watch my Β two tiny, toe headed boys run toward, and then away, from the water along the shore. We would build sandcastles with their little plastic shovels and buckets, which they would eventually ditch to go catch sand crabs buried in the wet sand. We would always end the day with the tradition of stopping at the snack shack for a drink and an Abba Zaba to enjoy on the drive home in my old ’67 Mustang.

For several years, we would go camping together down in San Diego over Labor Day weekend. I’d load up my car with a camping stove and tent I’d borrowed from a friend, and pack an ice chest of full of food. When we arrived at the campground, I would set up the tent, then cook dinner while the kids played, their tiny little legs racing them around with a ball or some toy on the fresh, green grass. Later, we would roast marshmallows for s’mores over a fire I had built, then eventually climb into our sleeping bags with flashlights, where I’d tell them silly ghost stories or read a book before we went to sleep.

I continued to watch the video of Mike as he turned into an adult; college, dating and ultimately getting married and having kids of his own. I thought of my own kids, now 22 and 24, living in their own apartments, heading toward the years of relationships and someday, possibly marriage. They may or may not have kids of their own, that is for them to decide, but they have their whole lives ahead of them to make those choices for themselves. The images of my little boys slowly being turned into adults once again filled my mind.

I may not have video, but the snapshots of those moments together tell a story in a chapter of our lives that I will always cherish.

Birthday party, ages 4 and 2.


Ryan and Nolan at the beach, ages 4 and 2.


Sightseeing, playing in the back yard, Nolan taking photo, 3 of us at beach.

group photos

33 thoughts on “A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

  1. When I was 13, and my parents divorced, my mom moved the kids with her to the only place she could afford, way out in the countryside. Months later, we had to leave (I think she hadn’t paid rent for a while), and we went to “visit” my dad in Kingston. Before we left, we had to pack up all of our furniture and possessions and put them in the shed because the owner was re-renting the house. That visit turned into all of high school, and we never went back for the stuff. All of our family photos were there, and now there are only about 6 or 7 pictures distributed around my extended family of me and my sister when we were kids. That’s probably why I took 3000 pictures of my own kids. Last year.

    1. Jeez, that is so sad. My own parents didn’t take many pictures of us but my grandma did, so we at least have those. That too is why I took so many pictures of my own kids.

  2. Very nice Story Anne. It’s easy to loose touch with family, and easy to forget the important things.

  3. Those photos are ridiculously cute. We never had a camera that could film home movies either, so I get that completely.

    However, my mom and dad both did a good job of capturing some memories, even though they were divorced. My mother made it a priority this year to put together by year all the photos she could find. I’m really grateful she’s tried as hard as she has to get everything organized.

    We’re lucky, though, since there are people who have lived who never had cameras or anything. Still photos are better than tricky human memory.

  4. My mother was a consummate scribe in my childhood photo album. I know when things happened and where because she included that information for every picture. I, in contrast, suck at it. I have tried scrapbooking and have even made some decent progress, but time and family just ate up too much of my time. My daughter was born during the beginning years of digital cameras, but they were still veeery pricey back then. We were struggling paycheck to paycheck so i was miserly with my film because it cost so much to get developed! As a result, my daughter has fewer photos of her when she was little. as digital cameras became more affordable, my father purchased one and began to inundate my email with his digital handiwork! Sadly, i learned the hard way not to store data on the computer desktop. My drive crashed and i lost about 5 years worth of photos. I tracked down some spare shots that other people had and began to build the portfolio back up again. Then my computer got stolen. Eighteen months later, my second computer was stolen, but at least i had learned my lesson and back up everything to CDs. My youngest was born when cameras and video recorders were becoming common on phones so there is plenty of him to go around! I am one of the few people who enjoy looking at photos of friends families (i.e. children)! Thank you for sharing this!!

  5. Aww πŸ™‚ they look so happy!

    I am a child of a single mom who also had children young. My mom wad 18 when she had my sister and 20 when she had me. My parents got divorced when I was 1 and I haven’t seen him since. I have lots of pride in my upbringing and my mom from back then for raising by herself as she did. We were poor and on welfare and I’m not ashamed of that. She has never remarried and only had a couple serious relationships when I was so little I don’t even recall them. When I was in third grade she enrolled in college full time and graduated magna cum laude 5 years later.

    some of the only videos we have of us were filmed by my grandfather or from when she had thw video camera on loan from thw school during the times she was taking a video class. We do have tons of pictures though and I love to see old ones! I think they can be better than videos sometimes.

    now many of us are spoiled with our fancy phones that kids aren’t even excited anymore for cameras.

  6. That’s beautiful, Anne, you have a real gift for writing. You should be so proud of how you brought up your sons, you’re obviously a fantastic Mum and I love reading your reminiscences. I have two nephews who are 24 and 21, so very similar to Ryan and Nolan, and it makes me think back to all the time I spent with them when they were little – my sister divorced when they were 3 and 6 and I spent so much time with them, I always thought they were the closest thing I would have to having children of my own. But at 37 I eventually became a Mum myself and my daughter is almost 14, and those 2 little boys who I doted on are now wonderful men who my daughter adores. Please keep the stories coming, they’re wonderful. xxx

  7. I have some dust or something in my eyes That was just beautiful and thank you for sharing your memories with us. I am SUCH a fan of yours! I know I found you cause of Wil (I love that he knows how lucky he is!) but I find you incredibly incredible. And I have loved puns for forever, so keep em coming! πŸ˜€ Not to mention I’m a huge animal lover. πŸ™‚ You’re the whole package! lol

    I am so sorry for all of your struggles over the years. What a shame that your ex put you through so much. Ugh! You’ve come out so strong and amazing though. You have a beautiful soul. (Well from what you can see online, but I have a feeling it’s really real with you πŸ™‚ )

    I love that your youngest (Ryan I think? I don’t know them well yet, sorry!) keeps planting a smooch on his older brother. Cracked me up how often I saw him do that! LOL awesome.

    I was lucky and blessed to have a great childhood with a Mom that took LOADS of pictures and a Dad who took us camping all the time (Oregon coast though, so you had to bring your tent and a tarp for the rain, LOL). They still live in the house I and my twin brother grew up in and all the pictures are there and we thumb through them all the time. It’s a blast to show my 17 year old those pictures of when his Mom was his age and younger. Good stuff. πŸ™‚

    Thank you for sharing, I was really touched and it made me think of my own son’s childhood and some of the fond memories we have. πŸ™‚

  8. Such a beautiful story Anne, you were stronger than you will ever admit to. It shows on the smiles in your boys faces. Not to mention what great adults they have turned into.

    My mom always took a ton of pictures. Usually a roll every few weeks and as we got old, I did the same thing. When I was in high school, we left my sperm donor in charge of paying for our stuff in storage. He didn’t pay and we lost everything. The thing that hurt the most was the pictures, the memories.

    I take so many pics of my kids, dogs, cats, everything because I don’t want them to miss any part of their childhood when they try to sit back and remember.

  9. What a wonderful life you’ve given your family. You gave them treasured memories and taught them to overcome challenges. You should be proud.

    And I hope you’ve scanned all those precious pictures and stored multiple copies so you never lose them. (I am in the process of doing that, finding pictures my family didn’t even remember.)

  10. My mother also carries a bit of guilt and sadness over not being able to give me that “intact” family experience. When I look at how damaging my time with him was for me I am glad that I didn’t have to grow up in a house with him. I do get dad envy every now and then though because I didn’t have a committed stepdad like Wil. I have great memories with my mom. She worked hard to give me a happy, fun childhood. I see it and I am deeply appreciative.
    PS- Is it Nolan that posed kissing and hugging his brother so much? So sweet.

    1. Nolan absolutely LOVED Ryan. I have a really cute pictures somewhere where Nolan had just learned to crawl and worked his way over to Ryan, climbed up on him, and planted a big’ol kiss on his mouth while Ryan is cringing and trying to turn away. HA! They were so close all growing up and even though there was some distance between them during their teenage years, they’ve come back around and are close again so they hug each other (no kisses) every time they see each other. πŸ™‚

  11. Camping, going to the beach! That is the sort of simple things my family did and it stuck with me all my life. Those are awesome choices, simple but fun, especially for young kids. I’ll be your kids remember that stuff fondly. Good for you!

  12. For those that are concerned for themselves because they don’t have enough pictures of their kids, or there aren’t enough of them as kids…..think yourself lucky you have a family. Some of us don’t get that chance. Be greatful that you have a family, and memories are a wonderful thing to sit down and talk about with YOUR family.

  13. Growing up, my parents took TONS of pictures of my sister and me. TONS. So much so that it was comical (slash annoying) at family events when it would come time for posed pics, and inevitably would be five or six rounds until it was “just right.” (There were also lots of candid photos, but I didn’t ever really notice those being taken.)

    I always assumed that this was standard for every family, until I met someone who has maybe three photos from their entire childhood. This completely baffled me. As a grown up, I have met other people who don’t have many pictures of their family/childhood. I am now so, so grateful for these photos. (No real videos; I grew up on the cusp of the home video camera and we didn’t have one). My sister has two boys of her own now, lives in another state, and is constantly sharing pictures and video with us so we can watch them grow up. It’s not the same as being there, but I am so grateful for the technology. And now at family gatherings, my sister and I are the ones taking photo after photo, trying to get it just right.

    Thanks for your story, Anne. Have been enjoying the blog, keep it up!

    1. When I saw their apartment behind the kids in that picture, I thought the exact same thing. Seriously, why you gotta tattle tale for every little noise? Hellions I tell ya.

  14. Wow. Wil isn’t the only one with a talent for storytelling. It’s obvious why Ryan chose the path he’s taking.

    Thanks for the peek into your lives, and for lending perspective that crazy, broken lives like many of us have experienced can lead to rich, rewarding lives and maybe make us more interesting and better people.

    I’m 49, and I doubt I’ll ever be anything like as productive and well-adjusted as you or Wil. But I can keep hoping and trying.

  15. Thanks for sharing that with us Anne! You are a great mom. I know it must have not always been easy doing it on your own, but you didn’t make any excuses, and were strong for your boys. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but actions are worth a thousand as well.


  16. Thanks so much for sharing Anne. When I got divorced the kids were 13, 10, 8 and 6 and the ex took all the pictures with her we had taken up to that point. I cherish every picture I have of them from that point on and we take lots of video of them now, as well as the grandkids. But I still wish I had something from when they were little.

  17. I like videos but I love pictures more because they make you go back to that moment in your mind in a different way.

  18. I was divorced with two kids at 24, but I didn’t recover as fast as you did. I stayed with my parents for a year before I had the guts to even leave the house and find a job. But hey, you and I both eventually ended up with our bearded gamer nerds and our four legged fur babies, so I think we did okay. πŸ˜‰

  19. What is wrong with you? Why are you trying to make me cry!? Just because my mother did the same things with me and then when my sister came along also. When we were little kids we went on trips to museums, parks, and many times go to Myrtle Beach. She even took me to libraries and used book stores when she saw how much I liked reading. And yes, there are a lot of embarrassing goofy pictures of the three us from my childhood!

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