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The Most Important Thing I See in Pictures of My Kids

I wade through their words as I walk to the bathroom. I trip over them as I make my way down the stairs. Their words are everywhere.
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My children never stop talking. Every day, the three of them talk over, under, around and through me, even if I've only been awake for three seconds. They talk about Llama Llama and Little Nutbrown Hare and snowstorms and squirrels and salsa. Once, I started walking away from one of my daughter's tangents; I thought that surely, I had done enough nodding and "mm-hmm-ing" and could be released from my listening duties, but she called after me, "Wait, Mommy! I have more words to say!"

I wade through their words as I walk to the bathroom. I trip over them as I make my way down the stairs. Their words are everywhere.

As a writer, my head is always filled with words of my own. When they start pressing too hard against the inside of my skull, I usually spill them out in my writing. It feels good to release the old ones, give life to the most important ones and make room for the fresh and the new.

And so, the never-ending stream of words that daily comes my way from my children creates a challenge for me. Their words are capable of erasing mine. Often, before I ever have the chance to make sense of my words, they're gone, obliterated by the questions and stories and complaints of three little chatterboxes. Some days, when I can't even think clearly in the dense, swirling fog of their words, I hurl harsh, impatient words at them that they don't deserve. And I know that I should be careful with the words that I use with these uber-observant children of mine, but it's hard. The words that I carry around in my head are who I am, and when they get forced out by those of others, I feel like I'm losing important parts of myself.

One of the hardest truths about motherhood is that I'm not always sure that it's worth it. On the toughest days, I wonder: Have I lost too much of myself in this business of mothering? Am I delusional, thinking that my words are ever going to amount to anything, when most of them, along with my time, energy and love, get sucked up by the children? I question whether I'm strong enough to handle it, even as I'm in the midst of handling it.

That's when I turn to pictures; they do say that a picture is worth a thousand words. When I finally get a moment alone, I sometimes find myself scrolling through my favorite photos of my children: the lovely shots of proud accomplishments, and the goofy ones of bedhead, messy hands and round, delicious faces.

Because the thing about those pictures -- the ones that show my girls laughing together in sisterly cahoots, or swinging with the sun in their hair -- is that they are quiet, and still. They are moments with my children that have been infused with a kind of purity, because as photographs, they are stripped of the noise and commotion that usually accompany us in all of our interactions.

In real life, those moments are loud and incredibly brief. In an instant, a peaceful collaboration on a block tower can descend into squabbling and tears. Many times, a child who just flashed me a gorgeously genuine smile will turn into a screeching ball of insanity mere seconds after I've snapped the picture.

So these pictures, these moments that I've captured in quiet, digital permanence, have become important to me, both as a mother and as a writer. Each picture is worth a thousand words, but I don't mean that in a cliché, conventional sense. Pictures of my children being happy, or brave or proud, get at the heart of my complicated, enormous love for them. When I can see them, really see them at their wild and beautiful best, I feel like all the things I struggle with -- the sacrifices, the hard work, the messes and the mistakes -- are worth it. Those pictures tell me, with no words, no distractions and no doubt, that being the mother of these girls, with their sweet smiles and a thousand words, is worth it, even if I have to give up a thousand of my own along the way.

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