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 years?
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 old.
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 a minute.)
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’ childhoods unrecorded.
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.