by Jen Rouse
The Short Years
I have a love/hate relationship with my digital camera. With digital photography in general, actually. So let’s be positive and start with the love, shall we?
I love the fact that the cameras we have nowadays are so gosh-darn GOOD. With the zooming ability and different flash/lighting settings, not to mention computer photo-editing software, it is so easy for even the most untrained of amateurs to get really good pictures. You can see the photos you took instantly, and then take another if you don’t like the way it looks. And then another, and another, and another, because you have a memory card that lets you store hundreds of shots with no problem. As a mom, it is now easier than ever to have stunning pictures of even the most mundane moments of your kids’ childhoods.
Which brings us to the reason I hate digital cameras. Now that digital photography has come along, I feel like I *should* have stunning pictures of even the most mundane moments of my kids’ childhoods. I feel the urge to bring the camera along whenever we’re going to the park. Who knows when I might have the chance to get a great candid shot of my kids’ little toes in the green grass, or their smile of pride as they swing across the monkey bars? And let’s not even get started on the “special” moments. At Christmastime or at a school play I can’t stop–I find myself snapping shot after shot after shot.
I took fourteen pictures during the approximately one minute my kid was on stage pretending to be a fish. And that’s not even counting the dozens of other pictures I took when she was just standing in the background singing as a part of the chorus. I think there’s something wrong with that picture. And it’s not the kid in the fish mask.
It came to me, at a recent school production, as I crouched in the aisle next to my seat, madly fiddling with the settings on my camera so I could get a good shot in low-light without the flash, then zoomed in and zoomed out, trying to find the best way to frame my daughter’s face, then I had gone too far.
I wasn’t actually watching her performance. I was there at her performance. My eyes were taking it in. But I wasn’t paying any attention to it. All I was focusing on was whether I was getting a good picture of her performance. And for what? So I could later on, one day, look back on a picture of said performance, which I wouldn’t even recall because my brain never focused in on the details of it long enough to form a memory?
Back in the day, my parents attended all my school performances. They raised their regular old film camera when I came on stage, snapped a couple of shots, and then put it away. They didn’t get picture after picture after picture, because who would want to waste a whole roll of film on the school play? And then one day, months later, when we did finish a roll of film, maybe we’d remember to take it to the drugstore to get it developed, and then maybe another month after that we’d remember to stop by and pick it up. The shots would be kind of far away, but that was okay. You could still see us kids up on the stage, and it was enough. No one expected the parents to be taking professional-quality pictures, because the parents were not professionals. Just folks watching their kids put on a mask and dance around pretending to be a fish.
And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to not document every moment of your child’s life. It’s okay to fully experience the present, rather than sacrificing the moment so that you can have a perfectly preserved memento. One that will sit on your computer forever, clogging up the hard drive without ever being looked at again.
I need to remind myself that I’m there so I can be enjoying life with my kids, not making a documentary about them. That sometimes it’s okay for me to put the camera down, sit back in my uncomfortable metal folding chair, and just enjoy the show.