My children never stop talking. Every day, the three of them talk over, under, around, and through me. They talk to me about what they need and want and love and hate, even if I’ve only been awake for three seconds. They talk at me through the bathroom door when I’m in there doing my thing. They talk about Llama Llama and Little Nutbrown Hare and snowstorms and squirrels and strawberries and salsa. Once, I started walking away from one of my daughter’s tangents; I thought that surely I had done enough nodding and “mm-hmm-ing” and could be released from my listening duties, but she called after me, “Wait, Mommy! I have more words to say!” My life is filled with their words.
They come by it naturally, I suppose. My grandfather used to say that I was vaccinated with a phonograph needle. Which, now that I think about it, makes him sound even older than he actually was. I didn’t understand the joke when I was a kid, but it was his goofy, old-timey way of calling me a chatterbox. I’m not very chatty now, as an adult, but my head is always filled with words. When the words start pressing too hard against the inside of my skull, I usually spill them out in my writing. It feels good to release the old ones, give life to the most important ones, and make room for the fresh and the new.
And so, the never-ending stream of words that daily comes my way from my children creates a challenge for me. Their words are capable of erasing mine. Often, before I ever have the chance to make sense of my words, or to get the important ones into writing, they’re gone, obliterated by the questions and stories and complaints of three little chatterboxes. Some days, when I can’t even think clearly in the dense, swirling fog of their words, I lash out in frustration. I release words at them that they don’t deserve. Harsh words. Impatient words. And I know that I should be careful with the words that I use with these uber-observant children of mine, but it’s hard. The words that I carry around in my head are who I am. I make as much space as I can for other people’s words, but when they force my own out, I feel like I’m losing important parts of myself.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. That every picture tells a story. These days, we talk a lot about how pictures don’t tell the whole story. We try not to let our Instagram and Facebook feeds fill up with only the perfect moments, or we at least acknowledge that there is much more to our stories than the shots of sunny picnics, sparkling smiles, or proud accomplishments.
I take a lot of pictures of my children, but I don’t share all that many. I keep a lot of them for myself, on my phone or computer where I can easily pull them up to look at them whenever I want to. Because the thing about those pictures – the ones that show my girls laughing together in sisterly cahoots, or swinging with the sun in their hair – is that they are quiet, and still. They are moments with my children that have been infused with a kind of purity, because as photographs, they are stripped of the noise and commotion that usually accompany us in all of our interactions.
In real life, those moments are incredibly brief. In an instant, a peaceful collaboration on a block tower can descend into squabbling and tears. Many times, a child who just flashed me a gorgeously genuine smile will turn into a screeching ball of insanity mere seconds after I’ve snapped the picture.
So these pictures, these moments that I’ve captured in quiet, digital permanence, have become important to me, both as a mother, and as a writer. Each picture is worth a thousand words, but I don’t mean that in a cliché, conventional sense. Pictures of my children being happy, or brave, or proud, get at the heart of my complicated, enormous love for them. When I can see them, really see them at their wild and beautiful best, I feel like all the things I struggle with – the sacrifices, the hard work, the messes, and even the mistakes that I make every single day – are worth it. Those pictures tell me that it is worth having to listen to thousands of their words, even if it means I lose some of my own along the way.
One of the hardest things about motherhood, for me, is when I question myself, and my choices. As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I do wonder: is this worth it? Have I lost too much of myself in this business of mothering? Am I delusional, thinking that my words are ever going to amount to anything, when most of them, along with my time, energy, and love, get sucked up by the children? It’s fucking hard. I question whether I’m strong enough to handle it, even as I’m in the midst of handling it.
And so despite the struggle, and despite the fact that I sometimes wonder what on earth I was thinking when I decided to have a million (give or take) kids, these pictures tell me the truth. They tell me, with no words, no distractions, and no doubt, that being the mother of these girls with the sweet smiles and a thousand words, is worth it, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.
A version of this post also appeared on The Huffington Post: The Most Important Thing I See in Pictures of My Kids