For our anniversary earlier this year, I gave Chris a gift certificate to have all of our home videos transferred from those old mini DV tapes onto DVDs. I had decided on this gift months ago after we had all gathered around the TV to watch one and the camera started “eating” the tape. It was a stern warning from the universe to preserve these memories while we still could. So after an afternoon of searching for and combining Groupons, I placed an order for just slightly less than our monthly mortgage.
A few weeks ago, I dug through the boxes in the spare bedroom and located the freezer-sized Ziplok bag that contained all of our tapes from the past decade. I boxed them up and sent them away to Southtree in Chatanooga, Tennessee. And then yesterday afternoon, as I was just about to start binge watching Season 5 of Friday Night Lights, Chris walked in and presented to me a small white box with a return address of Southtree.
I let out a little scream of excitement and tore into the box. Inside were 22 neatly labeled DVDs packaged in individual clear sleeves.
By this time, the kids had started gathering around me wondering what all the excitement was about.
“Wait ‘til you see this!” I said. “Annabelle, run and get my laptop…you guys are not going to believe what I have here!”
Annabelle returned with my laptop by the time I had randomly slid one of the DVDs out of the box. It was labeled,“2005.”
I popped the DVD into the laptop and huddled my kids around me. After a few seconds, up popped video of a baby in a highchair staring at a few cereal puffs on the tray.
“Who’s that?” Annabelle said skeptically.
“That’s YOU!” I practically screamed.
For the next 20 minutes, we all sat and watched Annabelle alternate from sitting in her highchair doing virtually nothing, to laying on her playmat doing virtually nothing, to squirming around in her crib doing virtually nothing. These weren’t the typical 30-second snippets of video that I take with my iPhone today. This was a different kind of video!
We were all entranced. The kids were beside themselves with what I can only describe as pure glee. Annabelle had a look on her face that I have never seen – I watched her watching herself and thought of just how cool that must be.
Had we not had a soccer game to get to, I have no doubt we would have watched all 22 DVDs right then and there.
Later last night, after the kids were in bed, I decided to watch one more DVD. Of course I knew that Sophia would be on some of them. But I had no idea which ones or how much. As my fingers flipped along the edges of the clear DVD sleeves, it felt as if I was walking through a field of landmines.
I pulled one out and it was labeled simply, “Sophia.”
I decided it was time. I poured myself a glass of wine, took a deep breath and slid the DVD into the laptop.
After a few seconds, the screen displayed two kids in a bathtub splashing and squealing. I could see myself perched at the side of the tub, swirling the bubbles with my hand, a huge smile of my face.
“Sophiiiiiaaaa….” Chris was cooing from behind the camera. “Sophiiiiiiiaaaaaa….”
The tears came fast and burned my cheeks. I was prepared to see her. I wasn’t prepared to hear Chris saying her name.
Over the next three hours, I watched footage of Annabelle and Sophia. Playing dollhouse in our sunroom, painting construction paper apples that I remember cutting out for them, swinging in the hammock at our cabin, swimming, dancing, singing, eating. And in every second of those hours of video, Sophia was smiling, laughing, exploring or doing all three at once.
I was shocked by how it seems like an eternity ago that Sophia was here and we lived in that house in Mankato. But as I watched the video, I was struck by how so much is still the same. My kids still play with the same maracas that Sophia was shaking. They still sit in those tiny blue plastic IKEA chairs. They sleep with the same blankets that were strewn around the living room in the video. We still sit on the same green sectional and display the same art on the walls. Chris still wears that gray and black swimsuit he wore as he bobbed in the pool with the girls.
I don’t know how I feel about that yet. I haven’t processed what that means to see Annabelle playing with one sister then and a different sister now. I don’t know that any mother could ever process that. So, as I have for the past seven years, I will just sit with these conflicting feelings and not try to make sense of them. I will just be okay with knowing that they never will.
This morning I had a “home video hangover.” My eyes were swollen my head was pounding. I was disoriented about what had happened, where I was and who I was with.
I was popping a few Advil just as Alec came in the kitchen rubbing the sleep from his eyes and dragging his blue blanket behind him. He snuggled up next to me and started telling me about how a roaring lion had woken him up in the middle of the night. Normally, I might have smiled, half-listening as I pulled up my email on my phone. But this time, I stopped him briefly, went to the front hallway and returned a minute later.
I propped the camera on the tripod next to the couch where we were sitting. I hit the Record button and turned back to Alec.
“Ok.” I said. “Now tell me more about this lion.”