Over-sentimentality is both a blessing and a curse

Homeschooling photos had no place in the pile to be submitted for the school yearbook

‘Chatting to other mums I realised I was far from alone in my lamenting.’ Photograph: iStock

My mother-in-law frequently mentions that she thinks my children may be the most photographed of any she knows. The 20,000-plus photos on my new phone alone suggests she might be on to something. The fact that the number one consideration for me in buying any new phone is the camera, serves to back up her claim. Because I’m obsessed with snapping pics of the most ordinary of occasions, just so I won’t forget them.

Which means, of course, that perhaps sometimes I’m not living in the moment as much as I should. And yet my photos are mostly of moments – those perfect in their ordinariness, even if that sometimes means the background includes evidence of the chaotic nature of large family life in the shape of an untidy house. Over-sentimentality is both a blessing and a curse.

It meant that when the request came home from our primary school for some specific photographs of special times had by our sixth-classers for the end of school yearbook, I felt confident I’d have plenty available to me. The only problem was, like much of my life, there is little to no order when it comes to how photographs are stored, so it would involve not only wading through the 20,000-plus photos on my phone, but also the thousands kept in boxes in the attic.

The first thing I realised when going through them was that only my firstborn had the luxury of having a “my first year” memory book. After the rest of them started arriving, it was every baby for themselves.


“I can’t believe you dressed me like that,” the aforementioned firstborn said, unable to hide her disgust as she surveyed the photo pile on the dining room table. “And am I wearing make up in that one?” she asked, eyes wide in horror as she spotted a different photo of her, this time aged 12.

“Firstly, I didn’t dress you like that, you dressed you like that – because you were a three-year-old diva,” I replied. “And secondly, yes in that one you have a bit of eyeliner on, which I hated, but that’s what’s called picking your battles,” I continued. “I really hope you have a daughter one day,” I teased.


The kids dispersed and left me to my photo sorting. And as I went through them, memories came flooding back catching me quite by surprise.

I found a photo of the sixth-class boy on his first Christmas Eve, when he was just days old. Shortly afterwards, I came across his first day in school, early sports days and birthday parties with school friends – days when normality was normal.

When going to school could be taken for granted and school trips were looked forward to all year. When school nativities were a rite of passage for the infant classes and sports days were watched by smiling parents on the sidelines and filled with fun, laughter – and even jellies. And when no one knew what lockdown birthdays were or that they’d move on from unprecedented status.

There's something lovely about getting lost in a moment captured and remembering the time and events around it

Notable by their absence, were photos from his last two years in school, as normal events were cancelled and sports days took place alone in our back garden. There were no photos of school trips, final-year school concerts, confirmations, or school sports finals. The instruction was to send happy photos of happy memories, so the homeschooling photos had no place in the pile.

I pored over the photos of the children for a little longer. There’s something lovely about getting lost in a moment captured and remembering the time and events around it. What struck me most though was how much the middle five children had grown, and not just the eldest and youngest. Too often I’ve been distracted by the fact that my eldest is now an adult and my baby has left babyhood well and truly behind him to notice, perhaps, that the other five were also growing up at far too quick a pace for my liking.

Yes, those pesky kids kept on growing with little regard for the pandemic or their mother’s feeling on the matter.

And even though I know this year’s sixth class are lucky in comparison to last year’s, who left primary school one day in March never to return, I still can’t help but feel sorry for them, for all the time lost and experiences missed. Chatting to other mums I realised I was far from alone in my lamenting.

I opened my email and sent off the photos for the yearbook, feeling as sentimental for the photos never taken as the ones that were.