Today was the first really beautiful spring day we’ve had so far, and I took my 3-year-old to the park. He ran around everywhere, his long, dirty-blonde hair flying around in the breeze. He jumped from step to step, climbed up the slide, bumped into other kids, stood at the top of the ladder, and tumbled into my arms.
And there I was on my phone, taking pictures of him. I probably took 50 or so. I don’t know what it was about today, but I had this nagging feeling that I had to capture it all.
My little boy, 3 years, 6 months, 5 days old. His hair exactly this length, with that one pesky strand that falls in front of his eyes. That little blue sweater—the same one his brother wore—already getting small on him, his long green shirt hanging out from under it. And the way he spun around, looking for me about every minute or so, his giant blue-green eyes flashing open, certain I was somewhere, but unsure of where.
I had to capture it, preserve it all.
For our children, time is slow. They live totally in the moment, and every day feels like a million years. And for us parents, it can drag too, especially the tough parts. But we are also acutely aware of how fleeting it is—the awful speed with which our children grow up before our eyes.
So I photographed him to remember it all, to hold onto it even as I saw it slipping by. Not every day is this excessive, but I do take many photos of my kids, especially when we are out and about. Sometimes I wonder: At what expense? If I stay behind the camera so often, am I really living each moment to its fullest, there with the kids?
My father was a professional photographer when I was growing up. But his favorite subjects were my sister and me. I remember having to stand and pose for him often, in front of a giant Redwood, holding my sister’s hand at the amusement park, at the playground, the beach, the museum—everywhere we went. And even when I wasn’t posing, he was behind the camera, clicking away, capturing our ordinary moments (he always said candids were his favorite).
I remember finding the whole thing kind of grating on my nerves. There was an obsessive quality to the whole thing, a magnifying glass on me, scrutiny of my every move. And yet, I felt loved and appreciated then too. My dad would take breaks to play with me. He was a good listener, a great playmate.
And now, I am extremely happy to have piles and piles of gorgeous, carefully considered photos of my childhood, through the lens of my father’s eye. I look at some of the photos and want to cry. They capture everything that was beautiful about my childhood (which was often quite tumultuous), and they give permanence to the impermanent nature of the past.
I know that in the digital age everyone is guilty of being glued to their phones, of recording (and sharing) every last moment of their lives rather than simply living their lives. Is my obsession with recording my children’s lives problematic?
I don’t know for sure, but I think the answer is no. I like to think I can have it both ways. I can be a little crazy with how often I photograph my kids, and still be able to put away my phone when life presents itself—to delve into the real-life moments that matter.
Toward the end of our morning at the playground, my son wanted me to chase him. I was aware of how freeing it was to just run after him without my phone on me, feeling the breeze through my own hair, and chasing his squealing figure across the playground tar. I wasn’t worrying about capturing anything, but just being there with him, experiencing it all.
And yet, when we sat down to share a bottle of water, I did feel that itch to record—his face, his laugh, the adorable, wondrous words that spilled out of his mouth. I didn’t want to lose any of it, though I knew there was no point. It would be gone—poof—just like that.
And so, after a good 20 minutes of stopping all the ridiculous photography, I got out my phone and took one last picture of him as he sat in his stroller eating peanuts and crackers. And I thought to myself: Maybe this is just one of those days that I’m just going to be a little annoying, a wee bit obsessive.
My kids are pretty much the best thing I have in this world, and moms get to be a little nutty about it all sometimes, you know? I believe that someday my kids will thank me for all the pictures I’ve snapped, for the beauty I saw in their every gesture, and for preserving those ordinary, extraordinary moments of their childhoods.