I'm an over-documenter, I'll admit it. I've been
known to halt my girls' activities with a "hold it, hold it" until
I can slide my iPhone's camera over to video. I've got a callous on
my thumb from applying Instagram filters left and right. I scan
their artwork, scribble down their phrases and preserve reactions
with the dexterity of a historian.
But I need to stop. Or at least, I need to step away
occasionally. Is it a nostalgic favor that I'm doing for my kids?
Or am I doing them a very real disservice- both physically and
mentally- by preserving a veritable flipbook of their early
Momentarily ignoring the fact that a parent who never
fully experiences moments with their children because they're too
busy recording it is seriously missing out, let's talk about the
future storage ramifications. If I'm teaching them that everything
they experience and create is sacrosanct, aren't I relegating them
to a lifetime of sifting through storage pods full of art projects
and photo albums? I'll be the first to acknowledge that it's darned
near impossible to get rid of anything my older daughter has made,
but I'm already running out of room for the (admittedly brilliant
and gorgeous) stuff she's made. And she's four years
Then there's the mental issue- and it really is mental- of
raising a generation who believes that every bath time,
fingerpainting session and dubious "first" is worthy of
photo-documentation. I realized it was becoming a problem when I
berated myself for not snapping a pic of Baby's First Trip To
Costco. (Because I had definitely done so for his older sisters. It
still gives me a bit of a twinge.) And both of my daughters have
stopped me on multiple occasions and said, "You're really gonna
want to film this." YIKES.
Here's what I want my kids to know: I love them. In fact,
they'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who could ever love them
more. But we're not royalty. And I'm not the Tate Modern. It's
highly doubtful that collectors will feel cheated out of acquiring
a complete set of my kids' memorabilia.
But still, there's this fear: if it's not recorded, did it
really happen? If they someday ask what their third-day-of-school
hat looked like in fourth grade and I can't provide a picture, am I
a bad mother? (Probably yes to both.)
I need to work on this, though. And since neither
technology nor new means of addictive media are slowing down
anytime soon, it has to be on me. I have to convince myself that
it's truly okay to cull bits and pieces of my kids' childhoods and
leave the rest to memory. Put the "scrap" back into "scrapbook," if
you will. Otherwise it becomes a gargantuan, stressful and
seemingly impossible task. And it kind of is, if you think about
it. Raising a family and simultaneously preserving each moment as
it occurs? I mean, even documentarians get a film crew.
My dad, the youngest of five, has the equivalent of a
post-it note stating that "David walked" on such and such a date.
Would my father like to have had a bookshelf of albums and wittily
titled collages? Sure. But does he doubt for a minute that he was
loved and had a happy childhood? Not for a minute. (Okay, maybe for
By frantically capturing these moments, it's almost like
we're striving for immortality. But guess what? It won't work.
There's no way to capture every second of every experience and
besides, it won't reverse time.
Some of my favorite memories of my children are times when
no camera was around- yet these images are forever seared into my
brain. My firstborn tentatively peeking over her crib at me to see
if she'd slept long enough. (She hadn't.) The wary look in my
middle's eyes as she convinced both herself and me that her bath
seat was a good idea. (It was.) And the patient beam of my son as I
glanced down at him while nursing. (Which made me think that I
should be looking at him way more often.)
That's what's real. Those are the memories which have
become my happy thoughts and proven to me that we were here and
this is what we did. And while there's no way in heck I'll reform
overnight, I'm going to attempt to leave some moments of my kids'
I'll always have my memories of their childhood. But if I
put down the camera and gluestick and go join them, they might just
have some with me, too.
Keely Flynn is a Chicago playwright, freelance writer, and blogger living with three young children, an extraordinarily tolerant husband, and two cats who just try to make it through the day without being ridden like ponies. Check out her personal blog, lollygagblog.com.
See more of Keely's stories here.
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