I love taking pictures of my son. Not only do I find LL Cool T to be the most adorable little guy, but it’s like I need these reminders for myself that my child is here and alive and doing well. Our house is filled with pictures of him in various poses, at different milestones and stages, always happy, almost always smiling, and they all warm my heart.

But, I’ve noticed a trend of the pictures I love the most are those that are of him eating.

Elliot eating - Parenting After Loss: Sibling Photos

Author’s Personal Collection/Michelle Valiukenas

He is such a messy eater and so the pictures often are him covered in some type of food, again grinning and loving food. I thought about why it is that these pictures stick out and a few thoughts came to find.

One, he loves food and since I make the food, it is truly a joy to see him enjoy it. 

I also think that as an almost 40-year-old woman who has struggled with weight and is really working at redefining my relationship with food, it is so inspiring to see my son who enjoys food, who likes the healthy food mom cooks, and who is not concerned with what this means for him weight-wise. For the short time I spend with him eating at each meal and snack, I get to 100% silence the inner voice in my head that thinks about food in an almost overwhelming way, about what this one piece of whatever means, etc. Then, having the chance to see those pictures around our house and on my phone reminds me to release some of that inner voice when it does creep up.

Two, I love these times and treasure them so much. 

He will grow up and get to a point where mealtime is not about a mess and where I may get a word or two here and there or perhaps just a grunt. So, when he eats, he is there in the moment and I get to be there with him, watching as he grows and develops new skills, tries new foods, continues to love his favorites, and just be in that moment. Plus, when you have been through as many things as we have, all those days and weeks and months of wondering if having a child eating in front of us would ever be our reality, it is so joyful to have your baby there, doing all the normal things a one-year-old would do.

Three, the pictures and memories of him being a mess are great reminders that I am not the mom I thought I would be back when we started trying. 

That mom would have been worried about the mess, trying to stop my son from eating with his hands. But, the mom I am today not only is okay with the mess, but actually loves it. Messes from food are things I can clean up and make better, and these messes are part of what I have spent years wishing for, that are worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears, worth the three IUIs, three egg retrievals, four rounds of IVF, a gestational carrier, and all the rest. This mom has known loss and pain that I could have never imagined and yet has come out on the other side, with a whole new appreciation of life and her children. Sure, the wall near LL Cool T’s high chair is his splatter artwork of various foods and despite my husband constantly trying to clean it up, will probably need to be completely repainted at some point, but those are things we can live with, those are things that do not cause pain, things that can be fixed at some point.

But, the last reason why I love these photos is one that had not even occurred to me until I was at a PALS virtual meeting shortly after Elliott’s first birthday. 

Elliot eating his birthday cake - Parenting After Loss: Sibling Photos

Author’s Personal Collection/Michelle Valiukenas

Elliott devoured and enjoyed his birthday smash cake at our small, bubble-only party. The frosting ended up all over him, his face, his clothes, his arms, and legs. The pictures are priceless. While in the meeting, I made a joke about these pictures having posted them on Facebook. My fellow loss mommas noted that in the background of the pictures, you could see Colette. All of a sudden, I realized, yes, in almost all of the photos I’ve taken of him, you can see a picture of Colette, the front cover of the album we have of every single photo taken of Colette. Talk about a lightbulb moment!

Living in a world in which my two children will never be able to take a photo together is tough and so even though I didn’t realize it, creating a picture as close to that as possible of course would resonate with me.

Those photos of Elliott happy and thriving and Colette behind him, watching over him is the picture I have in my mind and although not perfect, the closest physical manifestation of that vision. And as all loss parents know, all the memories and moments we can have of our babies gone too soon are priceless.

So, in the meantime, I will love my little guy as much as possible, enjoy every mess he makes, every morsel that ends up in his hair or on his clothes, every streak of food that ends up on his face, every piece of something that lands on the walls or on the ground.  And I’ll also enjoy watching my angel girl watching over him and probably rolling her eyes over her brother.

More on this topic:

Share this story!