Family life

This Mother’s Day, Make the Photo Albums

Why I wish I had followed in my mom's footsteps and took the time to make those photo albums.

This Mother’s Day, Make the Photo Albums


"Say cheese!"

Those were the words of my childhood. My mother often solicited smiles as my father stood before us with the camera. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, my brother and I protested the frequent photo sessions before events. I didn't always want my photo taken, and occasionally, my facial expression showed it.

But we smiled to appease my mother. Before every violin recital—every school play—and every Mother's Day—we stood in front of our Japanese maple tree with a forced grin. At the time, it felt redundant—like another unnecessary photo to add to my mother's overflowing pile. I didn't realize how wonderful and sacred her photo album collection would be all these years later.

Film cameras brought surprises when developing pictures—candid shots weren't always what you intended, but sometimes they were the best of the bunch. Sorting through them for the first time was a form of entertainment. There were usually a handful of throw-aways, but the remaining few were hopefully keepers.

Every year, my mother would sort through the photos from the previous 12 months and place the best ones chronologically in an album with hand-written titles. Then, the album was placed beside last year's on the shelf below our television, beside VHS tapes and our camcorder. Slowly, the space filled beyond its capacity. They remain there today.

Milestones I met as a baby are visually captured for eternity. Every birthday party, school play, recital, and high school dance is documented so that my children—and one day my grandchildren—can see the highlights of my childhood. It's like traveling back in time for a moment of carefree bliss. There's nothing else quite like it.

Family taking a group selfie on the beach iStock

The downside to a digital album

As a mother myself, for the last twelve years, I haven't done the same. Even with a smartphone camera that never leaves my side, we have no photo albums in our family room. Don't get me wrong—I have nearly 32,000 pictures in my photo app, but the cabinet beneath our television remains empty.

Digital photos aren't the same as physical ones. My pictures are confined to my phone, sealed within the screen of today's technological world. I once thought storing them on a device that backed up to the mysterious cloud was safer and more secure than any album could be—I didn't know it meant just the opposite.


When my children were first born, it seemed my photos of them would exist forever, with the potential to make albums later. I told myself that I'd take on this endeavour when parenthood slowed down and time was more abundant. But that time never came.

My boys grew, and life became busier—diaper changings and feedings turned into soccer games and orchestra practice. Naptime and playgroup became homework and sports. Pictures piled up on my phone faster than I could sort through them. Eventually, the project felt unrealistic.

When we go to my parents' house, my boys hold my childhood photos in their hands as they page through albums from my earlier years. I reminisce about the year we moved into our forever home when I was four, and my bedroom became my sacred space. I look back at my 5th-grade roller-skating party and my first homecoming dance in 9th grade.

Other events I may otherwise have forgotten about are sealed within the pages of an album, waiting for me to recall them when the time comes. I remember the people and places of my childhood because my mother chose to preserve those years in photos—ones that can be held at the tips of my fingers and revisited forever.

photo album lying on a table iStock

A worthwhile project

In most ways, technology has eased our lives. But in other ways, it has led us to believe that hard work is unnecessary—that instant access to digital photos means they're more permanent than paper. I thought that smartphone technology meant I didn't have to put forth the effort my mother did. I was wrong.


My boys are now 12 and 9 years old, and I have yet to make a photo album. The thought that I could one day sort through my colossal mountain of digital photos and print them for an album is now overwhelming. Waiting this long is one of my biggest parenting regrets thus far.

So, this Mother's Day, take photos—but make sure you print them monthly. Make the photo albums because one day, your children will become adults who appreciate the ability to hold their childhood in their hands—and to visit the wondrous earlier years even for a moment.

Tell them to say cheese whenever you get the chance.

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