Scrapbooking By a Thread

You’ll find my fondest family memories on my phone

phone photo

Okay. Okay. I admit. I’ve got an OCD streak or two. The kitchen floor must be swept every night. Clothes drawers must be kept tidy. And after I’m done with a text thread, it’s deleted. No old messages cluttering up my phone. 

Well … except one. That would be the group text that includes me, my husband, my two teens and my preteen. Our “fam text.” 

It goes back a ridiculous 18 months and takes a good 10 minutes to scroll to the top. But if you need to know when track practice was over last March or where I parked the car so my daughter could meet me after ballet in May 2018, it’s in there. Wondering what my youngest ate before a play date in December 2017? You can find that, too. What we ordered when we stopped by the cupcake store? Check. Who finished up their chores and wants to stream a show?

This thread has got dozens of penguins in top hats proclaiming “On my way” from when my husband went through a GIF stage. And all kinds of snarky proclamations from the Bitmoji my daughter made for me.

It includes the mundane (photos of gas station receipts that didn’t print) and the silly (a dozen photos of my husband in various glasses frames he sent when I couldn’t be with him for a new purchase — paired with the cartoon characters he resembles). But also the most memorable moments of our busy, crazy lives: photos of hard-won As atop tests, Personal Record running times for my husband and son, a photo of my daughter minutes after her braces came off. 

In short, it’s the best scrapbook a mom could put together.

Because, alongside the “on the bus” and “at work” assurances, this thread also captures the practical jokes we played on the kids. (We got new baby chicks! April Fool’s!) It records the scary day when storms blew through our city right at school pickup time, wreaking almost as much havoc on our carpool as it did on the trees and rivers.

There are dispatches from my daughter’s two weeks away at camp (“Last night, we had to evacuate the building bc someone burnt popcorn and the fire alarm went off”). Excuses for why my husband is running late (“Behind Zac and Nic for the shower”). Photos of how my son rolled out the pizza dough so my husband could respond with a thumbs up. Pics of the swim meet final score sheets. Useless emoji fests. And that time when I got hopelessly lost on the mountain bike trails and had to be texted back to the rest of the family. 

I don’t remember exactly who first put the group text together or thought it a good idea to keep us all — every immediate family member that carried a cell phone — in one loop. But it turned out to be a helpful daily record we could all refer back to. I know we’re not the only family who does this. 

For more than a year I deleted its contents every night, same as every other thread.

But at some point (was it when we started trading Pigeon Toady quotes after we saw the movie “Storks”?), I began to prize these writings as a way to hold onto the inside jokes that bubble up but are inevitably forgotten in the rush of the daily routine.

As my kids got older, these texts became a way to catch even moments I missed. The summer afternoon when the teens discovered one of our chickens had died in her coop. The updates my son sent from a thrilling high school football finish. A pic of my daughter’s pointe shoe shank just after it broke for good.

Why would I let these moments go?

In truth, my collection is not even one uninterrupted thread any more. When my husband was assigned a new phone number, when my youngest got a tablet and could join the conversation, we started anew. But I cannot bring myself to erase the years-long play-by-play we captured in that now-defunct thread.

Yet texts by their very nature are meant to be quick — and quickly forgotten.

This thread is the ticker-tape version of our lives, not the slowly spun story shared over a holiday meal — or even the carefully curated version we craft for social media. 

Maybe that makes me cherish them all the more. They feel real — and in real time. The boring and the momentous all swirled into one, long, string of day after day after day.

As perfect as these texts are at reflecting our lives, they are less ideal to archive. I always worried that a wayward swipe could disappear the whole collection.

Then my tech-savvy son discovered a simple Command P at the top of the thread can save them all as a pdf.

So, I have a new guilty pleasure. I scroll along the hundreds of pages in this document, stopping in any random place. Instantly, I am transported back — to last summer when we were scattered across the country taking in simultaneous adventures, to December as I sat at the Berglund Center waiting for my daughter to appear in her first lead role in The Nutcracker ballet, to spring 2018 when my youngest joined a new swim team.

I linger there for a while, breathing it all in: the uncertainty, the disappointment, the triumph, the relief.

And then I pull myself back. Because as delicious as it is to follow along this truest depiction of my family’s history, it’s even better to see a new text come across the screen.

“What’s for dinner?”

“Taco fixings on the counter. Warm everything in the oven.”

And know that this thread, our quirky, unfiltered family portrait, just keeps spooling on and on. 

This essay first appeared in The Roanoker magazine’s July/August 2019 issue.