The accidental photograph

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Looking through my phone for a picture of my boys at swim class today and this one came up that I took accidentally. I was sitting on the sidelines watching them swim, and because the lifeguards want us present for drop off and pick up, I don’t have time for a workout, so instead I check their home school work for the day.

This picture isn’t anything spectacular. It isn’t anything at all. As someone who has traveled all over the world and photographed some pretty amazing places and people, this picture in comparison seems dull.

I believe entire blog posts and articles have been written warning people against lives that lead to pictures like this. Every other month for the almost decade I have done this will feature an entire call for action against a moment just like this one. Against the routine. Against the danger of an average life. Against the monotonous and unexciting. I am also not the focus of it. Well, not intentionally. It certainly wouldn’t qualify as the backdrop image for an inspirational quote about my dreams or potential or ambitions.

It’s complacent to my role as a mother watching her kids during their weekly swim class while checking their school work.

It is a clumsy capture of a moment where I sat in a heated indoor pool space, immediately regretting wearing a heavy flannel shirt, an extra layer which added to unnecessary warmth while the sound of lifeguard instructions, splashing water, and chattering children echoed around me. It is a moment I hit the capture on my phone’s camera as I tried to balance it quickly to record my sons smiling as they worked together towards new personal goals. I was feeling especially proud at this moment because my son’s math work was brilliantly done on this day, with very little help on my part and I had just realized shortly before that he will be moving up a grade soon…and that I didn’t suck at homeschooling, at least not at that moment.

This capture and the one I took after it were a total fail. However, at that very moment, in this place, in this role, on this day, I felt I was not.

This accidental photo might have not been the image I meant to capture, but in the end it managed to capture something completely unexpected. A moment of appreciation for a life, not accidentally at all, but rather chosen and weaved into what I wanted and needed it to be.

In speaking to other parents, mothers especially, there is a tendency to view what I do professionally as some sort of dream job, a fantasy that they could only wish to pursue, or a missed opportunity of their more carefree days, or even a possibility for themselves still – because if I can do, why not? (I support this wholeheartedly, by the way). However, after being on “a break” for a few months, I also feel that so little of what we do in our daily roles is appreciated as much, or cherished as deeply. I have felt more fulfillment being home with my family, connecting with other parents, working with my community, and participating in our neighborhood events than I have felt in travel for a very, very long time. There is something incredibly enriching and meaningful, more permanent and worthy in a way. I can’t really explain it, but as exhausting as it has been, it has also been wonderful.

Maybe it’s easy for me to say because I have perspective. I have not only traveled extensively for years and can now be home and see things in a new, fresh way, but I have also just let go of a son to live his own life without me by his side. It’s true perspective helps, and it is difficult to appreciate any of this when one is in the trenches. This is why I felt it so important to share this photo because it is the image of so many of our daily lives. It is my hope that it helps you better see the beauty of these average, daily, unexciting moments for what they are: a life crafted, sometimes accidentally, with endless tidbits of moments and emotions that seem insignificant at first, but that will one day soon be the most precious and yet distant memories that went by too quickly.

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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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