As children we used to flick through photo albums looking for mum. As an adult, I look through digital versions of those grainy, out of focus snaps and look for me. I am but a ghost behind the camera, a figment of your imagination as was once my own mum. Now my daughter asks me
Where were you?
I’m thinking of a picture of my sister and I, sitting on a wall. We’re wearing long white socks pulled up to the knees and bright blue anoraks to shield us from the wind. It’s night time and we are alone on the wall. There is a mniature village behind us, beyond that wall, with tiny people and tiny cars and tiny lives being lived. And I remember thinking
Where was mum?
I’m thinking of another picture. This is one of another sister and I. We’re smiling beside a birthday cake with seven candles and the number seven written in shiny chocolate buttons, pressed into the icing on top. There are balloons hanging from the light fittings unintentionally assembled into crude positions. There are children in the background, mouths open as they sing. My mouth is smiling, but ready to form an O to blow out the candles. My birthday, then.
But where was mum?
The absence of mum from family snaps. Is she the one who takes all the pictures, makes all the memories? Or is she just the one who prefers to hide, away from the flash and safe from exposure? I never thought of this until my friends on Facebook started having babies. I was seeing a certain type of photo.
I was seeing smiling mums in hospital beds with tiny babies in their arms.
I was seeing happiness in a photo. I was seeing celebration. I was seeing.
Where was my photo like this?
I remember hiding. I remember choosing. No pictures of me. No happy snap with scrunched up faces and tired eyes and smiling mouths. I didn’t want to see.
Where was mum?
It got better, as it always does, eventually. Sooner or later. And then I started looking. Where was my photo? I’d missed my moment. And then I got a second chance. This is one of my most precious photos in the world. Isobel’s first photo. Where was mum? She was right there.