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I’m one of those people who believes that the objects with which we surround ourselves not only reflect who we are and the values we hold dear, but that they also deeply affect our daily experience. They embolden and reinforce our sense of self-identity.
My house ain’t fancy, but so many of the objects within contain a little piece of our family story. Our dining room table is the first “real” piece of furniture he and I bought together. The stained rocker in the living room is the very one I nursed both my babies in through the wee hours of many, many nights. The orange dresser in the kids room, I spent days and days painting and wallpapering to make it just right.
The wall art tells stories about us, too – the homage to Eddie Vedder circa 1992 just as much as the Cesar Chavez poster. Don’t even get me started on the miniature paintings of each of our long-term pit bull foster dogs, or the WHAM! LP that hangs proudly on my living room wall.
Our family identity is woven into the photos we’ve chosen, too.
Have you heard the story about how kids seeing photos of themselves boosts their self confidence? It’s based on a 1970s Tulane University study of fourth graders, asked to work with photographs of themselves daily for a period of time. The study determined that children who routinely look at photographs of themselves exhibit a 37 percent boost in self-esteem. Pretty amazing, right?
So how does this apply here?
The broad conclusion is obvious: your children should have regular access to photographs of themselves – be it in albums, in loose prints, or on the walls. Digital viewing counts too, though many psychologists warn that the permanence and tangibility of print photographs packs a better punch.
But I’d like to walk you a little further down this path, because – in my opinion – it gets more interesting. When kids see photos of themselves regularly, it improves their confidence, right? So I’d argue that seeing photos of themselves as part of something – a family, a friend group, a personal environment – holds even more meaning. If a photo of a child alone boosts self-confidence, it’s possible – likely even -- that a photo of the child with her family would improve her feelings of connectedness and belonging – also super important to development and confidence.
OK – so stay with me as I go out on a limb. If the content of the photo matters – as far as the individual characters – then I’d argue that the details matter, too. After all -- if we only ever celebrate the photos of our kids with their clothing immaculate, their hair done up, and their faces bright and smiling, what kind of subtle messages are we sending? I, for one, want my children to feel appreciated for who they are in real life – not put up on a pedestal in dress-up-clothes and controlled environments that don’t feel much like them.
This is why I love displaying (and encourage friends and clients to display) real-life photos of their children and themselves in their homes. Not the “picture-perfect” photos where everything is just so, but the ones that tell the stories of who we really are – the way we live, the connections we share. Our real true selves. Because that’s what I want the kids to feel pride in.
THE PHOTOS THAT GRACE MY WALLS
SMALL BUT MIGHTY. First and possibly favorite. Doesn’t my daughter look like a badass in this image? I love her confident stance and the size of her on that big longboard. This was the summer she decided that she’d like to learn to surf. Possibly the most memorable thing about it was that it marked a transition in her, from a child who had always been a bit meek and unsure of her own body’s ability, to a child who jumped in to physical challenges with both feet. All in this one year she learned to ski, really swim, and ride a two-wheeler – plus take an interest in and some honest attempts at surfing.
THIS BOY. He always has and still does love trains, planes, and automobiles. Ever since he was a baby, he has been drawn to vehicles of all types. But he’s not ALL trains, planes, and automobiles. He loves sparkles, bunnies, fuzzy slippers, the colors pink and purple, and he’s incredibly vain about his long blond curls. The jammies he’s wearing in this photo are not hand-me-downs from his sister. No, they’re the first jammies I bought him that he requested with shocking specificity – “soft jammies with pink and white stripes on them.” I love the symbolism of his complex, thoughtful, pink-and-fuzz-clad self surrounded by a world of traditional “boy” stuff.
VACATING. Here’s me, chugging a beer on a rock at Lake Tahoe before noon, while my kids play. While I don’t necessarily need an homage to my relationship with breakfast beer on the walls, there is a certain playfulness to this photo that I just love. It reminds me that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and that our vacations are active, silly, and fun.
B.F.F. These friends wound up in the shower together after a particularly raucous birthday party. They’ve known one another since babyhood and share a bond very much like siblings. Their easy closeness and joyful laughter reminds me of this fleeting moment in childhood when the lines of “family” are so blissfully blurry.
TRADITIONS. Since well before children – hell – before marriage – we’ve been a part of a treasured Springtime tradition. It’s a private party / concert / two-step dance / potluck / campout in the Hill Country. The music is loud, the drinks are cold, and the kids run wild and barefoot through the dancehall and the woods until well past their bedtimes. It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year, and was always held at Twin Sisters Dancehall. Bringing our own little ones into the fold, and watching them experience the joy of this special community of friends – was a deeply moving and truly satisfying thing. Here are my two young ones – footloose and fancy free, still dripping from a swim in the nearby Blanco, being themselves -- high on life and anticipation of the brownie overdose and live music to come. The party has since moved to a new location that holds no long-term memories for us (yet), but this photo will always remind us of the way things were – the way they were always supposed to be.
So now you tell me, friends: what photos adorn your walls, and what stories do they tell about who you are, your family history, your childrens’ identity?