Grab the Camera


Some parents, when they see their youngest child covering his ears at the sound of a blaring guitar riff, might just turn down the volume. But me, I grab the camera.

For more than 7 years, I have been perfecting this habit without criticism, but now a little someone has started calling me out on it.

One recent night our wee one, Smiley, was flinging his dinner on the floor and making a spectacular mess of pasta, beans and strawberries. So naturally I reached for the camera. I shot frame after frame (always aiming for the perfect mid-air capture) until finally a voice of reason spoke.

Big sister Doodlebug said, “Um, Mom? Maybe you should stop him from throwing food instead of taking pictures.” Right.

Thank goodness I have someone here to remind me to be a parent.

I often wonder what message I’m sending the kids with my near-constant documenting. Worst case: they grow up believing that the perfect photo-op trumps the actual moment. I’m thinking specifically of the day I forgot to bring my camera to one of Doodlebug’s ballet performances. I grumbled and cursed at myself until she said, “Mama, I guess you will just have to watch me.” Of course.

So I guess it’s about time to question the merits of playing the double role of family historian and parent.

After years of documenting the kids, do I know how to fully live in the moment without thinking about the perfect photograph?  Am I taking notes for them or for me (or does it even matter)? Is all this documenting going to come back and bite me in the form of family therapy bills? Will my kids be able to pick my face out of a line-up if there’s not a camera attached to it?

All important questions—for you and your own wrestling-prone conscience. Personally, I’m willing to take the risks because I believe my heart is in the right place. I’m giving them a gift that also happens to fill me up creatively. I am showing them that their lives, their stories, are worth cherishing (the good, the bad, the messy).

And when their memories become full of grown-up worries, I can offer my kids tales of how their childhood appeared from their mother’s eyes. And perhaps if we are lucky, we will all look back and laugh at the fun (and sometimes “fun”) we had learning to be a family.


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  1. Hokgardner says

    Even though I’m not nearly the photog you are, I wrestle with this too. But even at age 40 I love looking at pictures of my parents from before they had me and of my childhood. So I keep snapping away in the hopes that my kids will be grateful for the documentation of our lives.

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  2. Adrienne Breaux says

    I actually struggle with this in life in general. I hate those memories I have of events or places that are only really snapshots of memories. I try now to do a mix of both—take a few shots and really experience a moment while I’m in it, and write down the memory soon afterward. I can see how with kids you might be even more tempted to photograph everything all the time!

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    • Liz @ Peace, Love & Guacamole says

      Yep, I wish this were just a mom problem…but I wrestle with this in all kinds of situations. I think Twitter was built on this very compulsion.

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  3. Julie says

    This is a great post. I’m not a photographer, and I’m the one who always forgets the camera, but this helps me not to feel SO bad about THAT! What a great “object” lesson!

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  4. Raquel says

    I think that the kids will LOVE it later in life. They will not remember holding their ears or that the music was too loud but they will know that you were right there to capture it all.

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  5. lceel says

    Parent? Journalist? Whatever. But as in all things, moderation is its own reward. If your daughter needs to remind you, perhaps there’s too much of the “Journalist” being expressed in your relationship with your family. On the other hand, too much “Parenting” has its own lack of merit, as well.

    Just play it by ear. The fact that you’re thinking about it – that you’re aware of it, speaks well to who and what you are as a Parent – and as a Journalist.

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    • Liz @ Peace, Love & Guacamole says

      “The fact that you’re thinking about it – that you’re aware of it, speaks well to who and what you are as a Parent – and as a Journalist.”

      Thanks for that!

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  6. Holly says

    Haha! So true… I’m always behind the camera instead of watching… This past Christmas at the in-class dance show, I set up my tripod and remote… Just so I could actually watch. There are even days on vacations when I refuse to being my camera, just so I can live in the moment. There’s a fine line to walk, for sure.

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  7. Pop says

    Great post, Liz. And timely for me. The other day at the mall, I forgot my phone at home (I felt terribly naked), so I noticed how many parents whipped out their camera phones to document even the most mundane things their kids were doing – which I would’ve been doing had I had my phone. W/ 2 young daughters (2yo & 3 weeks old), my wife and I are still trying to find the balance between documenting the moment (usually you can’t enjoy the moment w/ the kid but u can enjoy it together later) and simply enjoying the moment together.

    Additionally, I’m an amateur photog at best but somehow, I’ve managed to accumulate several HDDs filled with photos and videos over the years. Growing up, I used a film camera, so w/ only 24 exposures, you thought a lot about what pictures to take. Now, armed with a 16GB CF card, I take multiple shots of the same composition – usually from different angles. And I’m not sure how it is for others, but for me, it’s hard to delete any of them. As a result, I’ve got a lot of photos of our 2yo that are just taking up space. So for baby #2, I’m trying to pretend I’m using a film camera or if I go nuts, edit and delete that same day.

    Congrats on being a cool kid! :-)

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    • Liz @ Peace, Love & Guacamole says

      Photographing the mundane…yes, it’s funny what people find compelling (although, sometimes some of the best photo ops are built on a mundane moment.)

      I like your idea of pretending the use a 24-exposure film camera. I tend to take a lot of photos, but I’m brutal when it comes to deleting.

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      • Tres says

        One way to pretend you are using a 24 exposure camera is to use the best quality and biggest resolution setting on your camera. You will limited by how many pics you can take at that time. Oh yeah, use a smaller memory card too!

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  8. Lisa says

    I think it is great that you see the humour in life! You are savouring every minute of their childhood. It is a much better response than freaking out on them for all their messes. My first child was horrified when she accidentally made a mess, and would fall to pieces over it- we had to constantly remind her that it was no big deal. I am a photographer and I can tell you it is so important to capture the history of your family; they grow so fast and photographs have a way of bring back all the memories that surround that timeframe that would otherwise be forgotten. You are giving your kids such an important gift that they will appreciate many years from now. So keep clicking….besides think of all the blackmail material you are gaining! :)

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  9. gigi says

    yay, Liz! Great post. I wonder this all the time too. First it was photography, now it’s photography, food blogging (and its accompanying photography) and mom blogging.

    I have started to look at nearly everything as if from a distance.

    But as you said, I think it’s a great way to show our lives in the written word and photos.

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    • Liz @ Peace, Love & Guacamole says

      “I have started to look at nearly everything as if from a distance.”

      Yes! Like I’m in a freaking movie sometimes. (Reminds me of Scary Mommy’s musical guest post the other day!)

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