Childhood photos

I’ve alluded to my mother’s mental illness before. Manifestations of her mental illness became more evident in my twenties. It is both good (for me) and bad (for her) that I missed much of it; I spent my twenties living 500 miles away for work or 2000 miles away for graduate school. When I heard about what was happening with my mother, it was often too late to do anything to help the situation. Other times, I was aware of what was happening as it was happening; I would do what I could to help but I was often at a loss of what should be done. I’m still not sure I would know what to do if it happened today. What does one do when a family member walks off the edge of normalcy?

My mother was evicted from her apartment for reasons related to her mental illness, causing the bulk of her belongings to be placed into various storage situations. During this time, many family heirlooms were inadvertently left in situations that amounted to an offering to weather and squirrels. Periodically, my husband, my father (divorced from my mother) and I would have no alternative but to discard many formerly-precious items. At one point, we had a bonfire. Heirlooms beyond saving. Antiques crumbling. History aflame. Memories burning, forever gone.

Every time I sifted through the stored belongings, I focused on finding photographs of my childhood and saving anything salvageable that had sentimental value. Mostly, I sought to find the photo albums. Find the albums. The albums. The albums. I was in possession of only one photograph of myself as a child at the time that I left for graduate school and my mother’s tumultuous-ness and transient-ness peaked. One photo.

I desperately sought photographs of my childhood as I dug through the dilapidated remnants of my mother’s former life. Many times I searched alone, scaling precarious mountains of broken possessions to reach a newly-eyed box, only find old cans rotted through giving another stark insight of the warped mind that packed the box. I thought that my childhood photos were lost forever. I would ask my mother about the albums, but she refused to provide any information to help me (mentally ill, remember?).

A year ago, my mother underwent a series of hospitalizations for physical issues that led to us moving her to a nursing facility near us. She requires more medical and psychological care than we are able to provide. This series of events – while very sad – enabled my husband to find the albums I was seeking for twenty years. One long day my husband packed her small apartment while I stayed home with the kids. I desperately wanted to go, but there was no one available to watch the kids for an entire day. I left him with details regarding my mother’s wishes but ended with, “Please find the albums.”

He found the photo albums – hidden – in an almost secret compartment of an end-table. That was last May. He called to tell me the news and I immediately broke down in tears. My past had been reclaimed. My husband claimed it for me. I would get to see a photo of myself as a child again. I could hardly wait.

I am now in possession of photos of myself as a child, photos which I had not seen in twenty years. Finally, I could compare my children’s faces to my face at their age instead of comparing their faces to my distant memories of myself. Finally mine.

I share some of the photos with you as a reminder that – if something really, truly matters to you – never give up no matter how dire the circumstances.

Just look at that little girl (click to enlarge):

With my nana. Five months old.

The photos of me as an infant like that above were surprising. This is not at all how I thought I looked at this age. By about two years old, we arrive at my self-perception.

I remember the bizarre rabbit - human doll
At my first birthday party
At my first birthday party
At the beach. Two years old
At the playground. Two years old.
Two-and-a-half years old
Seven years old.
Ten Years old. With Marshmallow kitty.
At the beach. Twelve years old.

12 thoughts on “Childhood photos

  1. You never cease to amaze me. Never.

    Each and every time that I see that you’ve written mind care barely contain itself as your words wash over me and I get another glimpse into your life…and you’ve done it once again. Completely blown me away.

    It makes me so sad that you grew up with this..and that you’ve faced this pain, confusion and..turmoil in your life throughout the years..but the fact that you have triumphed and came out of it the person you are today? That is a testament to your deep down inside character which is constantly revealing itself to be more wonderful than I even first thought. Which is hard to do, since I’ve thought you were pretty damn amazing from the start.

    Also? Coming from a home with mental illness (not to this degree…but yeah..) I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to not only read about your perspective..but also to read about your..survival. To know that you came through it. To know that it can be done.

    You’ve made me remember how much I love photographs and how important they are…I’ve always thought this..but life gets busy and you forget to look at them..let alone organize and make them into albums and la la la…and sometimes I just..need that reminder. That they’re not only important to me..but on some level..everyone loves a good album of pictures. I loved looking through photos when I was younger..I still love going through “my” albums of childhood pictures..and I cannot even begin to fathom the pain or the joy or the millions of other emotions you must have had over the years and now from losing and then finding and then having them to go through and relive moments in your life..

    I’m so glad you found these pictures. Not only because you’re adorable and were a super cute little kid..but because it’s…a part of your life. That’s made you into you. Sure, it’s not always the easiest things to remember..let alone LIVE THROUGH..but all of those experiences..they made you, you. It is your past..good bad or ugly…and I’m so glad the memories and momentos of your life are back with you where they belong..

    This post made me cry and laugh and just about everything in between…and I’m so grateful you found it within yourself to share. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been.

    Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being amazing. Thank you for reminding me. Thank you for giving me hope. Thank you for being you.


  2. This post had me tearing up. Such strong emotions ( unfortunately or fortunately) I haven’t had a chance to experience. Thank you for sharing your life lessons with us.

    1. There are some journeys I would not wish on another, but your reading it adds to the realness of its happy destination.

  3. Priceless pictures~
    Moments of truth ~
    To the child in you.
    Live a lovely life, Kat.

  4. I’ve finally had time to sit and truly read this post and look at the photos. I’m just awestruck by how courageous you are. It’s difficult to have a mother who isn’t what you expect, or who isn’t what a “typical” mother should be. It’s hard to formulate your own memories, to create your own path without that maternal guidance, and to decide what type of mother you’d like to be yourself. And you’re doing all of this amazingly well.

    I’m so glad you were reconnected with these photos. I love seeing that happy face of yours. And I see a lot of both S and V in your images.

    Thank you for sharing this story of strength and perseverance. You are one tough cookie and you carry yourself – and write about it all – so gracefully. ((hugs))

    1. Thank you for these lovely words. It’s a challenge to be a motherless mother and I stumble through, but we have instincts and we have friends to help us along the way when there isn’t a typical maternal guide.
      Now I’m starting the joyful process of comparing my photos to that of my children. :) Amazing.

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