I have a ritual. I perform it every year. It might be the most important thing I do. I’m a subscriber to a host of mindfulness practices, some of which are more effective than others. One I particularly like the idea of is taking the time each day to look back on what you have done and think about the positives. That, in turn, gives you positive vibes, and sends you into the next day buoyant and driven.
At least, that’s the theory – but who has time to do that every day?
My business can, all too easily, eat up my every waking minute and it often chews into my sleeping hours too. What little time it leaves me tends to be devoured by the children – who aren’t exactly stay- at-home arts-and-crafts types. I’m lucky to pee before lunchtime.
So, as the year draws to its close, I force myself to sit at the computer every night for a few weeks in the run up to Christmas. That might not sound like your typical soul-balancing act of personal enrichment, but trust me, it’s surprisingly effective. I’m not battling through work emails, ordering more school gear or to dredge through the swamp of messages from other school mums enquiring as to the whereabouts of their child’s blazer as I am most nights, but to sort through the hundreds and thousands of photos that my family has created over the past 12 months.
I am very lucky in that my work means I travel a hell of a lot – both with and without the kids. A lot of time on these trips is spent on autopilot (that’s what traveling for work can do to you), but, there are moments of inspiration, of wonder, of silliness that send one or other of us reaching for the camera.
And so I sit there night after night, husband and children ignored, staring at the screen until my eyes get sore, sifting and sorting, cropping and rotating, compiling the visual story of our year. As I go through them, each one evokes a memory, a smile, a moment when we were having fun together that made me stop for a second and just take it in and I feel like I’m enjoying it all over again. The ones I choose may not even be good photos – none of us is exactly a master of composition – but even those that aren’t Instagram-worthy can still conjure a time that made me happy.
The result of all these antisocial, eyestrain nights comes through the post – a printed book of everything we did this year. This gives me the chance to relive it all again, through the eyes of my children – and my husband’s look of astonishment: ‘did we really do all this in one year?’ Those moments of thumbing through last year’s story set me up for the next; they inspire me to ensure that my family keeps doing these things, seeing those places, spending this time.
When you work hard and have children, there’s a danger of becoming stuck in a vicious cycle of guilt – if you’re not neglecting one, you’re neglecting the other and whichever you’re paying attention to, you’re likely neglecting yourself – and it’s very easy to allow the days to rocket by in a blur. You know you’re supposed to ‘live in the moment’ but the moment is gone as soon as it arrives and sometimes, unless you make the effort to remember it can be lost forever. Well, my annual photo ritual is my effort to remember – to take those moments and preserve them, ready to be relived at any point, for the rest of my life. So this winter, as I’m going through this year’s photos, I will look back through my books of our past, and be thankful.