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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Photo Albums
July 15, 2010 - 8:48am

My daughter, Katie, is staying with me in Chicago for a few weeks this summer. She turns fifteen this Thursday, and we’ve been spending a lot of time together planning her birthday — her Quinceañero, as she keeps reminding me…

Last week we drove to my parent’s house in Florida. Their 50th wedding anniversary is coming up this fall and we’ve been looking through photo albums. My sister Julie -- a writer, Presbyterian minister and our resident family genealogist -- was also there, overseeing our photo archiving.

My parents have a trunk full of spare photographs as well as many albums to go through. While looking through a box last week, Katie decided that she wanted to put together her own album. She went to Target, spent her own money and bought materials. The next night, I went out with a high school girlfriend. When I returned home there was a gift package waiting for me by the front door — Katie’s photo album.

Six years ago I suffered a brain injury when I was riding my bike without wearing a helmet. I spent a month in the hospital, three months in rehab, and lost a good deal of memory. The only activity that seemed to help me to restore memories was reviewing photographs. I lost my ‘short-term’ memory, which was memories from the last three to five years, but the entire decade was blurry. When I woke up in the hospital, I thought that I had just given birth to Katie.

Katie’s album is primarily photos of her father and me before our divorce, photos of herself and her brother in diapers, and (“scary”) photos of me in high school. But what brought me to tears when I first looked through the album was the note that she wrote in the back:

I love everything about you. But I love these things the most:
I love all of your dance moves. I love how you laugh at the most random moments. I love it when we have spa days and on those days when we’re by ourselves and can just talk, I feel more connected… You and Dad were in love. You guys had great times (ME) and some not so great. But I just want to let you know, I’m fine now….”

My accident coincided with my move to an academic job and a partner across the country from my children. I have commuted between Chicago and Tampa since that time. I recognize how my children’s sense of our family life (as told through our lack of photo albums) stops around the time that my memory also stops — six years ago.

Katie’s photo album proves - -just as Lisa Cholodenko’s hilarious film about family life suggests — that “The Kids Are All Right.” My daughter can see through my anxiety, even as I still struggle with it. I don’t need to worry about her so much anymore.

She’s doing fine…


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