A thousand words

This post originally appeared in the Globe & Mail's “Facts and Arguments” column on May 30, 2008.

About five years ago, I decided to organize the thousand or so baby pictures that my parents took of me and my older brother in the early 1970s and then tossed into a huge cardboard box in the basement.

Of those thousand baby pictures, approximately 850 were of my brother, and the rest were of me. Or, of me and him.

Of course, the injustice of the situation was not lost on me, especially given the fact that I was newly pregnant with my first child and full of resolutions about how I would raise that baby and its subsequent siblings, assuming they ever arrived.

The injustice of the situation was also heightened by the fact that my parents devoted so much film — remember film? — to their firstborn despite the fact that he was not, shall we say, the most beautiful of babies. He did grow into a beautiful toddler, and is today a very good-looking man. But to this day, at least one close family friend still likes to torment him by telling him what an ugly baby he was. It is abundantly clear, however, from the number of photographs that my parents took — and the glowy way they look at him when they are present with him in those photographs — that they thought otherwise. “We just thought you were beautiful,” my mother used to tell him in the face of such cruelty. “We didn’t know what they were talking about.”

I vowed that I would not perpetuate this injustice with my own children. And by that, I mean I vowed that I would not deprive my second child of his or her fair share of photographs. There would be parity. No one would feel left out.

And now, if you look through the archives of my computer, you will find a couple zillion baby photos of, Rowan, and perhaps a million or so photos of, Isaac.

To make matters worse, when Rowan was a baby, we booked time with a photographer and had a series of slick, black-and-white photos taken and framed. We have yet to do the same now that Isaac has joined us.

I’m not quite sure how this happened. I mean, I try to take photos of Isaac, lots of them. I really do. And not simply because that would be the fair thing to do. I try to take photos of him because, simply put, I am madly, soppily, sloppily, heartbreakingly in love with Isaac. Isaac is, at 11 months, a perfect little ripe plum of a sweet baby, just on the verge of falling into what I am sure will be equally adorable toddlerhood. It’s not that I don’t gaze at him a hundred times a day and ache at his beauty, long to record and preserve each moment of his gorgeous, smiley, bow-legged, thumbsucky, crawly, screechy, hand-clapping, babbling little self.

It’s just that there’s this three-year-old around now. It was easy to take thousands of pictures of Rowan when he was the only, non-mobile child in the house. But now, leaving the room to grab the camera — let alone finding the camera amidst the toys and sippy cups and the like — is just more complicated. Plus, if I do get out the camera around Rowan, I have to fend him off because he inevitably wants to take pictures of the floor or his thumb or our legs.

Hence the disproportionate number of photos of my big brother, and the disproportionate number of photos of (and blogs about) Theo’s big brother. It’s not about more love, even if that is what my brother told me when we were children. It’s about time, and energy. And the fact that Rowan, at the moment, tends to take up more space. And that he’s just been around longer. And, possibly, realizing that no amount of photography will keep Isaac from inching out of babyhood into something else, so maybe I had better just soak him up a bit more instead of searching for the camera.

But what will Isaac make of all this? Hopefully, by the time my sons are old enough to notice such things, there will be slick black-and-white portraits of both of them on the walls. Maybe, we’ll achieve some form of photographic parity — and maybe we won’t. Maybe Isaac won’t even care. If he does, however, maybe I can show him this entry. Or, maybe, he’ll just have to wait until he has children — if he has children — of his own. When he does — if he does — I know this much: they will be gorgeous.

As I sorted through all the baby photos at my parents’ house all those years ago, my mother began to sift through the pictures. She shuffled through the 90 dozen or so photos of her firstborn as an infant and then looked at me, genuinely surprised, and said, “You know, now I can see it. He wasn’t very good-looking, was he?”

She paused for a moment, looked down at the photo in her hand, and shook her head. “But we still thought he was beautiful.”