The Proof Is In The Camera Roll

Tony Tan

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Proof is in the camera roll-2.jpg

There are 10,243 photos on my phone right now.

Yes, you read that correctly. Ten thousand. Two hundred. Forty-three. The photos date back to January of 2018, so these 10,000+ photos represent roughly 18 months of my life. That’s approximately 569 photos per month, 131 photos per week. 

I bought this phone just seven months ago. My husband and I booked a babysitter at the end of December and used precious date night hours to walk around the Apple store in the mall on a Friday night. I was eight months pregnant and remember feeling especially uncool in a sea of twenty-somethings wearing crop tops, pink streaks in their hair.

My parents bought me my first Apple computer when I was around ten years old. It was one of those bubble iMac computers, and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, google “vintage iMac” and a picture will pop up of what I had. It was a different time back then—I had a computer in my room with unlimited access to the Internet and when I think of that now, I cannot help but gasp in horror. Miraculously, I never stumbled across anything truly heinous (unless, of course, you count chatting with boys on AIM who said they were 12 but could have been 42 for all I knew).

My love affair with Apple products dates back that far—to the age of ten, to having a computer in my room for the very first time. Eventually, when that iMac bit the dust, I graduated to an iBook. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, google “clamshell iBook” and you will see that once upon a time, the laptop version of Apple computers came with a handle. A handle! You know, for casually carrying around town like a Carrie Bradshaw-esque accessory.

At the time, I used my computer like every other girl my age: for homework and talking to boys. My AIM screen name was LiLDollFace27 and yes, it’s okay to laugh. Every afternoon I’d sit at my desk doing math homework to the faint sound of a creaky door opening and closing, signaling my “buddies” coming and going.

In the summer of 2004, when I first started dating my now husband, he commented once on the number of Mac computers we had in our house. 

“Yeah,” I shrugged, “My dad bought Apple stock. We’re a dedicated Mac family now.”

Which is why, seven months ago, when my husband and I stood in the Apple store shopping for a new phone, it felt like an out of body experience. How was it possible that I—the girl who’s owned Apple products for two-thirds of her life—still didn’t understand iCloud?


I’m propped up in bed, laptop resting on my legs, responding to an email with my baby girl lying next to me. She is chewing on a teething toy and babbling to herself when my four-year-old hops up next to her. 

“Oh hi, Pwes!” he says. 

(I’m going to be devastated when he stops saying “Pweswey” instead of Presley.)

He rubs his hand across her head, forcing her perfectly coifed hair into an old man combover of sorts. She looks like a congressman with impeccable skin. I take a picture and send it to my husband with the old man emoji. 

(Make that 10,244 pictures.)

Sometimes when I have time to kill (do mothers ever have time to kill?), I clean out my camera roll. Some photos are easy to delete—the blurry ones, the unflattering ones, a screenshot I no longer need. Others give me pause.

I scroll up and up, looking for a string of photos I can delete. It’s bothering me that I have so many pictures on my phone right now. It feels like looking at an inbox when you come back from vacation, or coming back to a group text after you’ve left your phone for two hours. This is a digital circus. A technology torrent. Who needs ten thousand photos on their phone?! Are they all in iCloud? What happens if I delete them? I still don’t know. 

I keep scrolling. There’s a photo of my baby smiling in her bassinet. My baby covered in pureed carrots. My baby holding a pacifier, a teething toy, a green spoon in her tiny dimpled hands. Scroll scroll scroll. Pictures of my boys running through the sprinklers in their underwear. A selfie I took with my four-year-old on his last day of swim lessons, holding up his fruit rollup in triumph. 

He nuzzles next to Presley beside me, putting his face against hers. She grabs his hair and he giggles. 

“Mommy! Take a picture of this!” 

I oblige. 


Most of the photos on my phone are of her. I justify it because she is my last baby, my last everything, and how can I not capture every second of it? I swore I’d never forget, but in just four short years, I did. Some days it seems I’ve forgotten everything—when do babies roll over? And when do they grow teeth? When do they stop spitting up half their food down my bra?

My google searches do not match those of a third-time mother.

I swore I’d never forget any of it: the way they smell, the way they breathe, the way they cling to your arm when perched on your hip like a baby koala. My memories have transformed from lucid and visceral to pale and faded, like a t-shirt that’s been washed a hundred times.  

I suppose that’s why there are 10,245 photos on my phone right now. Because I just became a mother all over again, for the third time, the final time, and everything is vivid again. These days are numbered. I am documenting them like a journalist, a paparazzo on steroids. No moment left behind.

What will I even do with all these pictures? 

The majority of these moments will never be shared, and will never be seen by anyone other than me and robots in the cloud. They’re simply a collection of pixels, that, for one season of an iPhone, captured our life and our days. Pictures of these kids with their skinned knees and popsicle stains and the baby covered in sweet potatoes. For every five hundred shots, there is one grainy selfie of me in the middle of it all, wrinkles forming on my face from smiling and yelling and doing everything in my human power to soak up every last breath of this life, to document what it was like to be here, with them, leaving footprints everywhere we went.

How could I ever forget any of this? This love, this life, this marriage, this house, this baby on my lap, this moment of worship. I keep clicking and clicking, futile as it is, desperate to capture every ounce of this world, even though I know photographs and human minds don’t last forever. 

But still, I hope. Someday when we leave here for a better place and everything turns to ash, I hope our Maker will let us remember everything that brought us closer to Him while we breathed.

Until then, the proof is in the camera roll. 

(The baby just smiled at me.)
(Make that 10,246.)

Words and photo by Ashlee Gadd.

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