12/04/2014 01:02 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

Picture Perfect

Sabina Khan-Ibarra

My daughter walked out of the bedroom with her father's cap on her head, covering her eyes, a bottle in her mouth. Of course, I immediately grabbed my phone to take a picture.

So many thoughts filled my head as I snapped the picture. After taking the picture, I paused and scrolled through my photos and realized that although I was not an avid or even a good photographer, I had documented so much of my children's childhood.

In recent years, especially in the era of Instagram, many people are posting, prolifically, pictures from their everyday lives. My personal friends have amazing and artistic pictures -- of
food, places they've visited and their loved ones... especially their children. A recent Instagram stalking binge led me to the conclusion that my photographic skills are severely lacking.

I also started thinking about life pre-Instagram. What did my mom and other women of her generation do?

A few years ago, my mother gave my five siblings and I some of the pictures from a huge cardboard box filled with pictures and photo albums. The box sat on the top shelf in my parents' garage.

Today, I looked at some of those pictures to see if I could see them through my mother's eyes.

One of my favorite pictures -- and one Mama is extremely proud of -- is of me praying next to my mother, wearing a saadar (scarf) pinned neatly on my head.

I must have been 2 years old. We lived in Chicago at the time. The apartment was small and a humble one, with patches on the wall and an old carpet. My father took the picture.

I imagined my mother fixing my white saadar, making sure it stayed in place, like hers.

A piece of my hair still peeked out. I bet she tried to push it back and finally gave up. She probably started praying on her prayer mat when noticed that I was mimicking her. Mama probably called Baba to bring his too-expensive-but-must-have camera and take a picture.

Baba waited for just the right moment, not having the luxury of viewing and deleting pictures he didn't like.

Mama was the one who took the rolls of film to be developed. The pic was taken in winter, according to Mama. And since Mama developed the pictures right away, she probably walked through the snow, my sister Saira and I in tow, to the closest Woolworth's (this was the early '80s) to get the film developed.

I imagine her filling out the envelope, neatly and carefully writing her name and address, ripping off the receipt and dropping it into the film drop off box.

After a week or so, Mama probably went back to the store and paid for and picked up her developed photographs. If she was like me, a little impatient, she probably opened up the thick envelop right outside the store. Saira and I most likely watched her, her enthusiasm catching. She went through each picture slowly. Each one meaningful and perfect, even if slightly imperfect -- some with a thumb un the way, some blurry, others where we looked away or blinked just as the camera clicked. I imagine her stopping for a second longer on the picture of her and I praying. I think she showed me the picture, like she shows my children pictures she loves. She probably smiled, shook her head and told me the picture would have been perfect had my hair not been out of place. Maybe she also told me that I should be focusing on my prayer instead of focusing on the camera.

She definitely made more than two copies of this picture, one of which I have.

If photo-taking was a metaphor for a mother's love and commitment, my (or my friends') many, instant and edited photos didn't mean that us mothers now care more for our kids than our mothers did. It just means the feelings have always been the same, but the technology that creates hundreds of images instantly makes us take for granted the hard work that was put into one single image and one single moment.

I took my photograph, with all of its flaws and fraying edges, and carefully put it back into my photo album, knowing that it means more to me now than it ever did.