Mixed emotions

Mixed emotions

This column originally appeared in The News-Gazette on Feb. 29, 2017.

You know that moment when you see a memory in the making, and you grab your phone or camera to capture it?

Things don’t always go well.

Typical story: my daughter’s fourth-grade music performance. I brought three recording devices along, for backup. Just as her class began to sing, my camera flashed the “memory full” message.
I grabbed my phone. Dead.

I pulled out the video camera. It clicked on, recorded for a few seconds and then ran out of room. I frantically tried to switch over to the hard-drive memory but gave up so I didn’t miss her entire performance.

Luckily, I have friends who are more technically savvy and shared photos with me.

But this is my eternal struggle, to preserve these precious memories before my own memory fades.

My daughter and I recently watched the movie “Inside Out,” which I somehow missed when it came out in 2015.

This smart, touching, beautiful film, about the inner workings of a young girl’s emotions as she struggles with her family’s move to San Francisco, touched a chord.

As Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) jockey to control Riley’s moods, an accident jeopardizes the girl’s core memories. Joy and Sadness set off on a journey to save them and restore normalcy.

They navigate the winding paths of Riley’s long-term memory, racks and racks of balls each holding some precious moment. As events unfold in Riley’s life, we see some fade and disappear.

As Joy held them carefully in her hands, watching long-ago moments come to life, my heart ached, thinking back to events that can seem so distant and powerful at the same time.

Moments of sheer happiness, like the day my newborn gazed into my eyes for the first time, or the time he turned an unassisted double play to end an inning in Little League and all his teammates mobbed him, cheering.

Or watching my daughter twirl in her pink tutu in “Teeny Ballereenies” with her best friend, blissfully unaware that she didn’t know any ballet. Or her imaginary friends, Releasa (we have no idea), and Sally and Tracy (names she chose without knowing they’re two of my closest friends).

Or those aching moments as the kids marched bravely off to kindergarten or my mom gave me the news about Santa Claus in second grade.

At the end of “Inside Out,” as Joy and Sadness reconcile and Riley resolves her own struggle, I sat watching with joy and sadness in my own heart. They are best friends in my brain.

Maybe this explains why I cry at every stupid heart-tugging commercial, or during touching scenes in movies, or when I watch my kids perform. The moment is joyful, and yet I’m already feeling the bittersweet pang of remembering it someday.

Watching Riley’s memories roll away or be sucked into the “memory dump,” I felt a panic, both for my own fading memory — “You know, that movie with what’s his name, who was in that TV show we liked?” — and for the haphazard state of my memory substitute: photos.

I’ve always loved documenting trips and weddings and graduations and just everyday moments, lest we forget. But the job of keeping those memories alive has become exhausting.

When I was younger, I was good about putting photo albums together for every event.

For our wedding we spent more money on photos than anything else except the reception. My poor niece came with me to go over the proofs with the photographer, and three hours later asked weakly, “Could we get some food?” I picked so many that the photographer suggested two volumes; my husband still jokes about our wedding end table/album.

We took zillions of photos once our kids were born. We have a few albums, but the rest are in boxes and bags around the house.

And then things went digital, presenting a whole new storage issue. Initially, I’d upload to Shutterfly and make an album. I’d store the rest on memory cards, or my computer.

But then our home computer died. I lost some photos. I got a new laptop, but then it got hinky. In the meantime I started taking photos on my smartphone, and when it was full I got a new phone.

When it filled up, I deleted extraneous photos or those I had backed up somewhere else. I bought another laptop but it didn’t have much storage. I downloaded to my husband’s laptop and filled up a Dropbox account.

Then this summer I got this message on my phone: “Your SD card is damaged.” All the photos on it had disappeared.

I was crushed. But a miracle happened.

Sometime last spring I had finally set up my Cloud account, and it had backed up most of the photos.
Of course it was also full, so I had to buy more space. I also bought a new SD card and backed up all the photos I’d taken on my phone since then. I know I lost some in the process, but it’s OK.

I felt a new sense of calm, and also made peace with the fact that I won’t be able to keep every single photo, or remember every event in our lives.

But I know the core memories are still there.

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 Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth, or leave a comment on her blog at news-gazette.com/blogs/there-yet.

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