My boys pull out all those photo albums that haven't been updated since just after number three was born and we look through the pages together.
They like looking at their younger selves, held in the arms of family, and they like looking at the faces they love most, smiling and silly through the lens of a camera.
We turn all those pages, one after another, 200 after another, and it doesn't take long to realize who is most missing here in a collection of photographs.
It's not clear why, at first glance, because maybe I'm the one taking the pictures, or maybe I was just setting up that Curious George birthday table, or maybe I had just stepped out when that one was taken, and that other one, too, and the 40 more after that.
But I know the truth.
It's tangled up in that day, just a few weeks ago, when my brother-in-law tried to snap my picture at my nephew's third birthday celebration while I sat on a picnic bench watching the kids. I noticed his camera and said, "Oh, don't take my picture," and he laughed just a little and said, "Every female I try to get in a picture says the same thing," and then he moved on, respecting my request.
When did this happen? When did I stop allowing my image, as I am today, to sit in the story of a day?
Because there are those years before marrying their daddy when I smiled happy into a lens, and there are those days after, when I posed and duck-faced and leaned on the shoulder of my beloved.
I was not afraid of the camera then because I was thin. And because I was thin, I was beautiful.
And then, that first pregnancy happened, and my nose swelled fat, just like every other part of my body, and my face rounded out and my stomach stretched and my hips widened more than they'd ever done before, and that's when I stopped pictures, because the bulging felt un-beautiful, and I sat out for all those days after I came home from the hospital with a tiny human and an 15 extra pounds.
The first was easy, so it only took two months to bounce back to that ideal thin, and I'm only absent for 60 days. And then came the second and the third and the two together and then one more, and it got easier and easier and easier to stay missing because of all those places on my body that I didn't like to see reflected back from a camera, set in those albums forever and ever and ever.
I've looked at those shots my beloved snuck in and I've said the words, "Ugh, my knees look like baseballs. When did that happen?" and "Ugh, my arms need some work. All that flab!" and "Ugh, my stomach. Do you see how gross that is?"
The way we look today is not what we want framed in a picture. So we just stay out of them.
This needs to be healed, sisters.
We need to smile brave, just as we are. We need to stop being invisible.
Because our children will look through those albums, and they will see themselves, and they will laugh at their daddy's silly selfies, and then one of them will look at us and say, "Where were you, Mama?"
And it doesn't matter if we explain that we made that cake and those brownies with cream cheese frosting and diced up all those vegetables for their third birthday party, there is no visible record in those pages that we were even there.
How do we explain our photo-dodging when they ask the inevitable why?
That shirt made my arms look too big.
That angle just makes it look like I have a double chin.
My stomach was sort of hanging out in the one photo taken, so I just threw it out.
Our children, they don't understand too-big arms, and they don't comprehend perfect camera angles and they don't grasp the importance of engaging stomach muscles at all times to avoid looking bigger than we really are.
They see through love glasses, not perfection ones.
We feel uncomfortable in our skins today, or every day, but they only see beauty, and we know it in the way he climbs out our car door and says, "I'm going out your door because you're beautiful"; and we know it in the way he comes inside the house in the middle of his playing, just to give us a flower he says is "beautiful like you are"; and we know it in the way he does a double-take when we're wearing our hair different, and those words spill out: "You look so beautiful, Mama."
All these people in our lives, at least the ones who really count, don't see that double-chin-from-the-unflattering-camera-angle or the forgot-to-hold-in-my-stomach-pooch or the not-wearing-any-makeup-that-day face and think, Wow. She shouldn't have let me take her picture.
We are the only ones who think that, sisters.
We are the only ones who believe it's better for us to sit out of a lasts-forever picture book, forever, than to let one picture make it to those pages that we don't like.
Enough of being invisible.
We deserve more than invisible.
We deserve to be celebrated for all our differences, for all our curves, for all our imperfection, and we will never step toward celebration if we choose hiding over presence.
We are beautiful. We are.
And maybe the best way forward into beauty is to let go, to let those pictures snap, to let our children look at albums full of jigglier-than-we'd-like arms and no-mascara eyes and stomachs that hang over jeans.
Let them see us.
All they see is a mama who is beautiful now.
So today, I resolve to stay in pictures. I resolve to stop that negative voice shouting I shouldn't. I resolve to believe that the me in all those pictures is beautiful.
Because she is.