Three kids and six years of fruitless toil later, I finally gave up the dream. The surrender came slowly. Every few months, I’d tell myself that I was going to set aside some time and “get back” to scrapbooking (as if I was ever “there” in the first place), and I’d try not to hyperventilate when I thought about how, with the passing of each day, my memory making was falling further and further behind. That’s the worst thing about the New Expectation of Scrapbooking: no matter how hard you try to narrate your life, you’re always living more of it, so your narrative is perpetually inadequate. It’s a lot like earning money and exercising in that way; why can’t we just do it once and be done? (Lotto/Plastic Surgery/One-Time Scrapbooking? Those are my three cups of tea.)
Months turned into years as the blank acid-free paper and unused die cuts aged listlessly on my table. I’ll get on top of it, I kept telling myself. This weekend. Okay, next weekend. But I will. My motivation always surged when a newly made, well meaning girlfriend would corner me at church.
“Hey, do you scrabook?” Bright eyes, big smile.
“Um, yeah…kind of…I mean, I’m going to get back into it.” Tight, tight smile.
“Oh good! Then you should come to our “Crop til you Drop” on Friday night! Bring all your stuff and you can work on it with the rest of our group.”
“Okay, thanks. Sounds super fun!” It did not sound fun at all, but I was determined to participate in this new-aged distortion of a Girls Night Out. I’d run home in a panic and start sifting frantically through the computer for our last five years of photos, desperately creating folders that would give them some semblence of chronological order: Ethan Age 2-4 (459 pictures) Megan Age 2-7 (874 pictures) Rachael Age 2-9 (1, 112 pictures); Family 2004-2011 (3, 476 pictures).
“Sweet!” I’d say to myself. “Photos are all organized; now all I have to do is print them out and put them in albums.” I convinced myself that “putting them into albums” was just a pesky detail. I mean, everyone knew that organizing your photos was the maddening part; how difficult could it be to print out, crop, mount, paste and caption 5, 921 photos? Sure, it might take a little time, but hey–was my family important to me or not? And I was a stay-at-home mom–it’s not like I had anything else to do.
The next step was to put the picture order into Costco, which was a feat unto itself but did allow me the hot dog/soda combo upon pickup and was, therefore, time well spent. Once home, I’d label each bulging envelope with a sharpie–i.e., ETHAN AGE 2 FOR HIS SCRAPBOOK DO NOT ACCIDENTALLY THROW AWAY!!! (Accidentally Throwing Things Away is a big problem in our house. I’ve found that labeling things in all caps with a Sharpie pen has done–well, absolutely nothing to prevent this mishap. But it allows me, somehow, to yell at the person whose doing it.) I’d lay out the envelopes carefully, giving each category its own special section of the family room floor. The “family” category required its own room, however, as the contents filled seventeen separate envelopes, which I naturally took as a sign of my superb mothering. Who else loved their children seventeen envelopes full of pictures? Not my own mother, that was for sure; she had stuffed her children’s self-esteem into a careless, crappy sticky yellow album. My generation of mothers knew what was really important. First things first, I thought smugly, as I dried out one Sharpie and uncapped another.
With my pictures sorted and labeled, it was now time for a trip to the scrapbook store. We had a cute one down the road, and I let it work its magic on me: I walked in with a little trepidation and walked out with a whole new confidence that only cost me one-hundred and nineteen dollars. Considering the angst I’d felt up to this point, it was a small price to pay.
[Tweet “Who else loved their children seventeen envelopes full of pictures?]
Friday night rolled around and, loaded with my pictures and supplies, I arrived at the “crop.” I said a quick hi to everyone and made my way to a table with plenty of space–my 5, 921 photos would need it. Because–and I truly believed this, people–I was going to put them all in an album tonight! I had the photos organized, the supplies purchased, and five allotted hours with no kids whatsoever. How could I fail? I’d crank this thing out and be caught up for the next decade, when I’d finally feel free to pay attention to my kids and vote (in both state and federal elections!)
How could I fail? I’ll tell you how. Even with the categorized envelopes, even with the purchased supplies, even at my friend’s house, with the good snacks and good company, working on that scrapbook was what it always was for me: tedious and time-consuming and stressful and boring. I left that night with some good food in my belly, some good gossip in my brain, and exactly four finished scrapbook pages in my bag. Four. That number seemed my destiny. In all my years of “creating pages,” four was the most I ever did.
And so, one hundred nineteen dollars and five Friday night hours later, I had reduced my pile of photos from 5, 921 to 5, 902. I went home and neatly stacked the supplies and envelopes into the plastic tub I’d purchased for just this cause. I cleared a space for it beneath the hanging coats in the front hall closet, where it could voice its importance every time I reached in. Finish me, it would call through the nylon and wool. Make me whole… Odd as it sounds, I was eager for the haunting. Since time and money had failed me, maybe the Tripping Over The Tub would be the thing that finally worked.
Eight years later, I can tell you that that tub has worked–as a really good boot rest. The photos within, however, have long since ceased their cries for release. After years of being ignored, I think they’ve finally resigned their fate to an indifferent warden who’s so busy running her family’s life that she’s failed to document it. Oh, well. The kids may grow up without knowing what they looked like as babies, but at least they’ll be able to read this touching blog post that Mom wrote instead. Worst case scenario, I’ll buy enough sticky yellow photo albums to shelter the 5, 921 (oops, 5, 902!) photos still looking for a home. I’m sure they–and my conscience–will be grateful.