I can identify several people in this picture – my mother, my grandmother, myself, one of my parents’ friends and her son who went to preschool with me. I would assume the photographer to be either my father or grandfather, most likely my dad. On the back of the photo is written “3”, what I assume to be my age at the time it was taken. Yet, I am only a very minor figure in the picture – I would not even call it a picture of myself, I would say that it is a picture of my mom.
I purposely chose this photograph because I don’t have any memory of the event, and I don’t think I’ve ever asked my parents about it. It is definitely some kind of preschool party. I can see nametags on the children facing forward, including myself. I can’t tell what kind of room we’re in or what the event is that’s going on. There appears to be glass cabinets on the walls filled with either knick-knacks or trophies, but that doesn’t help to identify the location. There is a strange grey and pink shape at the upper left that may be some sort of plush toy, or maybe a person in a character suit. Whatever it is, I seem to be looking at its feet. My grandmother looks like she is to be talking to me, but nobody else has acknowledged the presence of the camera except my mom.
This picture was in my childhood photo album until it fell apart, at which time I just put it in a box with other photos. I assumed that my mom put the album together. Before it fell apart, there were small pieces of paper captioning some of the photos and they were always in her writing. The handwriting on the back of this picture is also hers. It is only that number on the back that give any indication that she does not see herself as the primary subject of the picture. The number is the only thing that indicates that I am of any importance within the picture. I am not in the center of the frame, nor am I acknowledging the camera.
It is interesting to think about my dad being the photographer (which is what I assume based on other childhood pictures that he has taken) and focusing on my mom instead of me. Perhaps I was too distracted to hear him calling, or maybe he couldn’t get a shot of me because of all the other children. Maybe the two surrounding frames were pictures where I was more central and he just wanted to catch my mom mid-laugh. Regardless, it ended up in the photo album with all of my baby and preschool pictures and was inscribed with my age, so my mom must have decided that her presence, though it dominates the photo, was the less important one. Although she is fully and comfortably positioned within the frame, she diminished her own presence after the fact by relegating the picture to my baby book.
I don’t know much about my parents’ relationship before I was born, but I know they were married for almost ten years before they had me. My mom wanted to have kids but my dad wasn’t sure if he was ready. She had difficulties getting pregnant, which must have been scary for her given our family’s history. My grandmother, her mother, had seven pregnancies, of which my mom was the only one carried to term. The way that my mom looks at the camera is what makes me think it’s my dad who is the photographer and not my grandfather. She looks so happy and proud and seems to be sharing those feelings with the photographer.
This would have been three years before my brother was born. After his birth my family began having some financial difficulties and both of my parents had to work, so we don’t have as many snapshots like this after my preschool days. I don’t remember this event specifically, but I remember other things from around the same time that my family did. I remember vacations and my dad bringing home surprise presents for me and my mom. I like to think about what my parents lives were like at this moment, before the financial problems, before they were burdened with the problems that I know will follow. Even though my mom is happy in this picture, it gives me a melancholy feeling because I know that the years of my (and my brother’s) childhood and adolescence were difficult for my parents. I see this picture as representative of a part of their life that became obscured for many years.