Two Vacation Photos
An ode to memory and selective editing
The first picture isn’t great.
It was snapped in a hurry, without concern for framing, lighting, or artful composition; its purpose was simply to document what had happened, because I really didn’t know what else to do in that moment other than to pull out my phone and take a picture.
A section of tree limb—about four inches in diameter, made of green, healthy wood sheared clean from a high spot on a tall tulip tree by a rogue gust of wind—protrudes from the top of our minivan, sticking through a jagged hole that moments earlier had been the moonroof.
We had parked near the tree not ten minutes earlier, having just arrived at our final stop on a week-long family vacation. In the time it took me to carry our suitcases into the rented house, the weather had decided to pull a fast one. A sunny, muggy early-summer afternoon was punctuated by a brief blip of a thunderstorm, one that lasted mere minutes but managed to do thousands of dollars of damage to the car we still very much needed to drive the final leg home the next morning.
It felt a little like the straw that broke the camel’s back, if only the camel were a Honda Odyssey.
Any kind of travel can be exhausting after a few days, but traveling with young children produces a special kind of soul-deep exhaustion, the kind that leads you to say clichéd things like I need a vacation after this vacation and truly mean them. We’d always said that this trip was more for the kids than it was for us, but over the course of the week that stated purpose had turned into a sort of mantra.
This trip is for the kids.
They’re having a good time, right?
I think they’re having a good time.
That’s why we’re here.
That’s why we’re doing this.
It’s for the kids.
We’d mapped out a 1500-mile round trip from Kentucky to Florida and back, and had made nearly all of our planning decisions with an eye toward maximizing the kids’ experience, often to the detriment of our own. An overly-touristy beach destination offered ample opportunity for entertaining them—we’ll go on a boat ride! We could play miniature golf, and ride the Ferris Wheel! Look at the view!—but wore at our resolve as we fought to stay positive in the face of things that didn’t go the way we’d intended, whether those were road construction delays, half-hour waits for resort elevators, frustrating encounters with rowdier vacationers, or even a surprise appearance by a pair of sharks in the water on our final day at the beach.
[completely full of shit voice] Look, guys, isn’t that neat? Sharks! Like in Finding Nemo!
It had worked, for the most part, but now we faced the prospect of more than four hundred miles of highway driving with a gaping hole in the roof of the car, a scene I imagined playing out like something from Tommy Boy or Planes, Trains & Automobiles.
There’s nothing that can’t be fixed without a little gumption and a lot of duct tape, though, and as I stood balanced in the door frame of the van later that evening, layering plastic sheeting and maximum-strength tape into a makeshift temporary roof, there was a second picture on my mind.
I took this one the first day we arrived.
After hours in the car and seemingly just as long to check into our rental, we’d promised the kids we’d walk down to the beach so they could stick their toes in the water before we went to dinner. Try not to get wet is a pointless thing to say to any five-year-old, but even more so when said to my daughter, a magical being of pure vibes who has never observed a single instruction in her life nor faced an ounce of consequence for not doing so.
In this photo, she’s neck-deep in the crystal blue-green surf, her eyes closed and mouth wide open, letting out a joyful squeal of laughter as a wave crashes over her back. It was a lucky shot, one I’d crouched to take at just the right instant, and one I couldn’t have planned in a thousand tries. Individual droplets of water, sparkling and clear, hang frozen in mid-air just as this gleeful moment of childhood discovery is frozen for posterity. From the second I took it, I knew it would be a photo I would cherish forever, something I would print out as soon as we got back, frame and sit on my desk to smile at during the duller moments of my workdays at for years to come.
I knew that it would be the picture I would choose to remember.
Childhood is brief, shockingly so. It sure doesn’t feel that way the first time around, but to experience it a second time is to feel it slip by at warp speed. The days are long, but the years are short, the saying goes, and I’d dismiss that as yet another cliché if it weren’t the truest thing I’d ever heard. Those long days are full of moments we’d like to forget, from sleepless nights and temper tantrums to dinnertime standoffs and buy-me-this demands to scraped knees and occasionally shattered moonroofs.
The hard moments aren’t forever, thankfully, but neither are the priceless ones—the child holding your hand in ankle-deep surf, riding on your back out into the waves, or sleeping on your shoulder while being carried to bed after a big day.
They say that the only difference between an amateur photographer and a professional is that the professional doesn’t show you the bad pictures that they take. I’m no pro—either as a photographer or a parent—but I’m coming to learn that life requires this kind of selective editing, too. The bad images don’t need to be forgotten or deleted, but they can be stored away out of sight, negatives kept in a box for the official record and perhaps—at least in this case—for the insurance adjuster.
The good pictures are what matters in the end, and one great picture can make up for a hundred bad ones.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
This is a free edition of The Action Cookbook Newsletter, which publishes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for paying subscribers. The full archive—everything from food and drink to fatherhood and flights of fancy—can be accessed here. Feel free to email me with your thoughts, questions, and pet photos.
If you’re new to The Action Cookbook Newsletter, here’s a few pieces you might like:
40 Things I’ve Learned The Hard Way — My 2022 graduation speech, or “life lessons from an idiot”
The Perfect Age — For all the people they've been, and all the ones yet to come.
A World Like This — On being a parent at times when the world seems impossible
Here’s To Buttered Noodles and Bad Pizza — an ode to the things I serve my kids when I just can’t have another dinnertime battle
The Perfect House — We’re just three major renovations away!
All of the Other Reindeer — Out of season, perhaps, but this magazine-feature-length retelling of the legend of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer might be the most fun I’ve ever had writing.
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[as an aside: it's weird to end my day with the newsletter instead of starting? anyway, cheers from Chennai, India.]
My dad, who will be 70 in an alarmingly short amount of time, has my version of first baptism by Gulf of Mexico framed on his desk to this very day. Last time the husband and I were over there, at our big ages of almost-41 and almost-42, I caught Daddy sneaking a quick glance at it and smiling, then looking back at us and smiling in that happy/sad way that is a dad trademark. So yeah, I have no doubt that you'll be in the same boat someday with that perfect picture of your little peanut.
Three things about that picture:
First, thank goodness nobody was in the car when it happened.
Second, it's objectively hilarious. Like Olaf's one flappy ear.
Third, I think you're lucky it landed square in your sunroof. If that branch had come straight down on a regular car roof you might not have been able to drive it home. Instead of an expensive roof repair, you can just replace the sunroof.