Sudden-Onset Scrapbook Compulsion

I have spent about fifteen hours over the past three days obsessively creating digital photo albums on Snapfish. One was of our recent vacation in Puerto Rico; the other included all of our family photographs from 2011.

I’d finished the first draft of my Technion manuscript. I didn’t have to start my new job at Golden Gate Audubon until next Tuesday. In the interim, I could have worked on my poor long-neglected novel. I could have immersed myself in checking out Bay Area bird-related Web sites and blogs, or reviewed the past two years of Audubon’s newsletter, or collected resources on nonprofit marketing, or… you get the idea.*

Instead, I uploaded and and edited and arranged  a gazillion photos.

And before that, I gathered up all of our home videos from B’s childhood and took them to the camera store to be transferred onto DVDs. That costs a ton of money. I’d been putting it off for about four years. But I did it this week.

It doesn’t take Dr. Freud to diagnose that there’s something psychological going on here.

On one level, this is just trying to tie up loose household ends as I move from one phase of life into another — from working at home with total freedom and flexibility, to working in an office with a whole additional set of external demands on my time. It’s a new calendar year, a good time to organize mementos from the past year, and who knows when I’ll have this kind of available time again? It makes perfect sense.

But I think there’s also a deeper level. Maybe I’m quietly gearing myself up for B. going off to college in the fall. I’m starting to tie up the loose ends of her childhood. There were twenty-one VHS tapes that needed to be transferred before they someday decay and before our decrepit VCR gives up the ghost. There are about six years of family photographs sitting in my computer, waiting to be put into albums.

B. will always be our child. She’ll come home on vacations, we’ll fight over chores just like we do now, we’ll help her with her problems, maybe even more than we do now. But as of this coming summer, her childhood is officially over. The years of outings to the Oakland Zoo and Children’s Fairyland, the birthday parties at gymnastic studios, the horrific Disney princess dresses and early-morning soccer games and lousy attempts to braid her hair. All gone, tied up like a package that has just gone into the mailbox with a metal, unarguable clang.

So some part of me wants to tie all these photos and videos up too. To have her childhood neatly organized and packaged, lined up in a row on a shelf. So I can look at that shelf and feel, “We did it. We did this project of raising an entire child.”

Some of this may be a little obsessive and Type-A personality. I just spent 20 years in a career where every project I undertook left a written record, a page of newsprint with my name and work on full display. I keep a lot of those clips jammed in a file drawer. Are these photo albums an effort to turn B.’s childhood into similar proof of my productivity?

But some of it is perhaps a normal reaction. She’s going away; our time with her will become a wisp of smoke, a tuft of cat fur floating in the living room sun. And these albums and DVDs are something tangible that can remain.

Perhaps when the albums are done and arranged, I will be able to read  them in order like a graphic novel and perceive the patterns and plot turns that were completely invisible to me as we were living through them. Perhaps the albums will help me make sense of it all.

When B.’s soccer team was little, we bought them cheap plastic trophies at the end of the season — whether or not they’d won any tournaments — so they would have a tangible reward for trying hard and being good sports.

These photo books and videos are my cheap plastic trophy.

I’m not sure how to tease out all these intermingled causes, but I do know my syndrome — SOSC.

Sudden-Onset Scrapbook Compulsion.

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*Author’s disclaimer: In all honesty, I did engage in some productive activities like looking at bird-related blogs this week. But I also did a ton of photo album stuff. :-) 

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4 Responses to “Sudden-Onset Scrapbook Compulsion”

  1. Anna Mindess Says:

    Ilana, I totally understand the urge to construct a tangible artifact of B’s childhood, so that you’ll have something to hold onto. With a daughter 3 years older than yours, I feel like I’m always trying to provide a little perspective from a bit further down the road.

    L is in her second year of college (in another country) and completely disarmed me on her last birthday when she called and told me that she regaled her friends with descriptions of “all those wonderful birthday cakes you made me” (decorated to fit with her latest passion, e.g. a forest with candy owls, undersea scene with gummy fish, teddy bears, etc.) I honestly didn’t really think she remembered them. So now, besides the boxes and assorted books of photos – I’m not as organized as you – I see the tangible artifacts of those sweet childhood years in the memories that L carries and shares with her friends ( and maybe some long day from now, her own kids).

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      I love the idea of your daughter passing on those cake stories to her own kids!

      Over the years I’ve tried to share stories with B. about my mother, whom she never met. Many of those stories involve food — recipes my mother made, and that I now make.

  2. karen tanner Says:

    I know exactly how you feel!

  3. Janice Dean Says:

    Last year my husband took his family’s hours and hours of video tape, converted them to digital files, edited them, and gave his parents the DVDs (and DVDs with the raw footage) as a gift. But they were quite the gift for me, as well. I relished seeing my husband as a child interacting with his family. I have also loved the time I have been blessed to spend with his grandma going through her family albums.

    I want to walk my husband through my family’s photos of my childhood, but I never make the time to do it when we’re visiting my parents in Michigan. We don’t have any video from my childhood, and that makes me sad. Perhaps one day you will have a new family member who will appreciate these records of your familial life as much as I have appreciated those of my in-laws!

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