I spent Sunday working on a gallery wall for our living room. That meant plotting the size, shape, location and color of 21 frames, painting said 21 frames, and then taking a trip down memory lane in order to choose 21 perfect photos. It was a cross-country trip, because I decided to focus on pictures from our family’s year-long road trip around America . As I flipped through hundreds of digital images and asked for my husband and kid’s input on their favorites, I got a nice refresher course in what matters most to our family.
We didn’t have a single photo of some shiny thing that we had bought. Granted, we were living in a tiny RV, so we weren’t acquiring a whole lot of stuff during that year. But looking through those pictures reminded me how much we loved that tiny RV and the primitive campgrounds we parked it in, even more so than the handful of fancy hotels we stayed in for my work.
"What was your favorite part of the trip?" Jared asked last night while he tried to choose his favorite among two photos I’d showed him.
"There’s no way I could pick one favorite thing."
"No, I couldn’t pick one thing or one moment. But, my favorite part wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. I mean, it was all this little stuff," he said, pointing to a picture of him grilling chicken breasts over a campfire.
"Yeah, for me it was the hiking together," I said, and I saved a picture of my kids scrambling over the rocks in Albuquerque.
"That’s what I mean," he said. "Who would have thought something like hiking would have turned out to be so important to us?"
Jared and I have been talking a lot recently about what’s really important to us. With the adventure of a full-time road trip behind us, we’re still getting adjusted to real life . Instead of other RVs filled with retirees, we’re now surrounded by upscale homes filled with two working parents and kids who are busy with countless extracurricular activities. The streets in our neighborhood are lined with late-model vehicles that you can’t hear coming, the exception being our rumbling 2002 Trailblazer.
It’s not easy to keep telling yourself none of that matters when all of that is everywhere. It’s not easy to turn down the job that pays more but requires working every weekend when your daughter’s art camp is $150 and all of your son’s friends are going skiing. It’s easy to say we can’t have it all at the same time, but it’s not near as easy to choose - day in and day out - which part of the pie you’re willing to give up, especially when there’s just so damn much pie to be had and everyone else seems to be eating the whole thing.
They aren’t, of course. No one has it all all the time. We all make sacrifices and choices. We prioritize our time and our money, and hopefully we do it according to our values and not according to unconscious habits or societal pressures. But man, those habits and pressures are absolutely there, and sometimes we can forget where they stop and our personal preferences begin.
Our photos help to remind us.
The things we document, the moments we realize even as they are happening that we want to save them forever, those are what matter most to us. Those are the prizes worth working for, worth sacrificing for, worth feeling a little awkward in a group for.
More than that, those are the things worth protecting.
For us, that means protecting the time we have to spend together. It means keeping our lives simple enough that we have emotional mojo leftover for afternoon walks and family craft projects. It means doing more than having, and doing together was much as we can.
I’m glad we’ll have those photos on the wall to remind me of that every day.
What do your photos tell you?