My mom requested just one thing from my brothers and I this Christmas: an updated photo for the living room bookshelf.
Since my parents moved into their house four years ago, the three framed photos on that shelf were of my brothers and I as seniors in high school. Each two years apart by grade, when viewed side by side at a similar age and with near-identical buzzed haircuts, the family resemblance is striking: my oldest brother, sitting on a bench while leaning back on the building behind him, a soccer ball propped between his elbow and knee; the middle brother,out in our orchard on a summer day with our dog at his side; and me, standing by a tree next to our high school track and football field, proudly sporting a Pleasant Hill High School Track & Field sweatshirt.
But those were the Neill boys of old, and my mom wanted an update. She wanted photos of us in our new lives as adults (or at least on our way to becoming adults – at 28 I don’t yet feel like a grown up). And as gifts were unwrapped on Christmas day we did not disappoint. My oldest brother gave a photo of himself and his girlfriend (which, to be honest, was the biggest motivator behind my mother’s request – she has spent enough time with single sons that we were not surprised that she jumped at the opportunity to display publicly evidence of a relationship). The middle brother (being the L.A. comedian that he is) gave two photos: one from a short film, another his favorite head shot. I gave a photo of myself in a suit, taken at a wedding in which I was a groomsmen. That photo has served as my profile picture for a while now, so I figured why not give physical form to that which has served as my digital stand-in for the last year and a half.
Though we didn’t talk about it, I think we all recognized the shift that these new photos represent. The things that make my parents proud are no longer our performance at the most recent basketball game, football game, or track meet, nor the scores on the latest report card. Instead it’s about relationships and careers – couples moving in together, contracts being signed, new ventures gaining traction.
From time to time I think about that transition to full adulthood that we are making, but there is something about taking a moment in time, framing it, and displaying it on a bookshelf that makes it become more real. Those newly unwrapped photos were sitting next to the T.V. while we watched Big on the night of the 25th. That’s what triggered me to think about the changes that have occurred in my brothers lives, and my own, since graduating high school. When we come together as a family we tend to fall back into the roles that we developed as kids, so it can be easy to overlook the things that have changed. But in addition to that sense of the familiar there is a taste of something yet to come, of new lives emerging.
Though none of us know what the next iteration of framed photos on my parents’ living room bookshelf will bring, it feels good to know that this time and place exists to mark those transitions and share them with family.