They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is the case, then there already exists more than 2 million words about M’s life, including some while in utero. I am now realizing that this is both a blessing and a curse due to the wonders of digital photography.
I say it’s a blessing because of how truly awesome it is that we can now capture virtually every waking moment of our lives so easily. So proficiently. Someone blinked? Take another one. Uncle Schmunkle wasn’t looking at the camera? Do over! Color isn’t quite right for the mood? Nothing like a little switch to black and white to give it that creative edge. Annie Leibovitz ain’t got nothing on me so long as I have the rapid shutter and museum settings handy.
Gone are the days where one had to hire a painter to create one or two portraits to preserve the images of our loved ones…and only if you could afford it at that. It was with much excitement and relief that we said goodbye to the anxiety ridden days when only special occasions or rare moments were captured on 12, 24 or 36 exposure rolls of 110 film. Remember that feeling? You would only take one or two photos of any given event, hope that Aunt So-and-So didn’t blink, dropped off your film at the store and crossed your fingers that at least a few would come out OK. I think most of us recall those times when we felt a little deflated that the pictures didn’t really come out all that great, if at all. It got a little better with the advent of the 35mm camera, but not much.
Enter the digital camera. Now, taking pictures is so effortless that we almost take it for granted. M’s first smiles? I’ve got no less than 49 pictures of that 7 second event. M’s first Christmas? Two albums full right there. M’s picking out her annual pumpkin? Let’s get the camera! M’s walking around in my high heels shoes? Snap snap! M’s walking around in my sneakers? Oh, that’s cute too–get a photo of that! M’s walking around in my sneakers but this time it’s a month later and she’s 0.25 inches taller, yeah we better document that too. You get the picture (pun intended).
This is where it feels slightly cursed. M is only 3 years and some change, and yet I have already amassed more photos of her (and it’s mostly just her, sometimes with her Dad, other relatives or her stuffed animals, and RARELY with me) than what my parents took of my brother and me in our collective 72 years on this planet.
Why am I taking all of these photographs? Better yet, what am I am going to do with all of these photographs? And for whose benefit am I really taking them?
Initially it was dual purposed: memories for us as her parents, and memories for her so she can keep them forever, particularly the events that she is obviously too young to remember. And in her first year or so I was pretty good about managing all of those photographs into month by month files on the computer, printing them out and, when really ambitious, making some photo books. And I took many, many photographs for fear that I was going to forget each second of her life somewhere down the road.
Despite having these pictures it seems that I already have some memory lapses. Someone asked me the other day about when she accomplished some fairly significant milestone, and for the life of me, I could not remember, photo or not. And that’s when I realized that I was, and largely still am, taking these photographs in an extraordinarily fruitless effort to stop time. Yes, the photos portray images of her and us at given points in time, but what they don’t do is capture things like the smell of her hair when she gets out of the tub, the grating sound of her whining or getting angry at me when I tell her “no”, or the slightly cool rose petal feeling of her cheek against mine when we read a book together. Where is the digital technology for capturing those moments?
It wouldn’t matter. I still cannot stop time. I suppose that’s ultimately the point of a photograph.
I am getting better about not creating a virtual parallel life of hers through endless photographs. Now, I’m lucky if I remember to even take a photograph on some occasions. And organizing? I’m lucky if the photos have actually been downloaded onto the computer, much less loosely organized by season each year. This became apparent when I recently went looking for photographs from her third birthday party and ultimately had to reach out to family and friends to send me their digital photographs because I was too caught up in the festivities to be bothered. And I guess that is my point: I am starting to pick up the camera less and just “be in the moment” more because I’m finding it easier to remember the occasion by experiencing it with every sense rather than through the lens of a camera. While I may not be able to stop time, I am slowing it down in my mind. I will forever remember the smell of the chocolate cupcake frosting in the slightly cool and humid September air, and the off-key sounds of M’s family (self included) and friends singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” instead of “Happy Birthday” and the huge smile on M’s face because she wanted them to sing her favorite song instead of the standard fare, and they obliged her. Had I been taking pictures, I am sure I would have been more focused on properly framing the cupcakes in the shot and missed this moment.
Still, I felt some odd feeling of guilt by not having taken any photos myself. I blame technology for this. I think of what photographs still exist of my mother when she was under the age of eighteen. I know there are probably about 11 or 12 in a box upstairs in my house. Paltry by today’s standards, yet perfectly acceptable for when she was growing up. And what’s funny is that I can distinctly recall each photograph in my mind, likely because there are so few. In some ways those photographs mean more than what I might have been able to see if she was born during the Age of Technology. I think what also gives them some cache of exclusivity and inherent sentimental value is that they are unequivocally one of a kind. The negatives for these prints are long lost in the mists of time.
Quite the opposite for M’s photographs which far exceed the number of my mom growing up, and have been uploaded, downloaded, emailed to relatives, posted on Facebook, backed-up on a hard drive and, at least for the first third of her life, printed out. Overkill at its best. But will any of it mean anything to anyone (other than me) down the road? The Googler that I am, I wanted to see if anyone has pondered these kinds of thoughts and I came across this article. After reading it I felt motivated to keep taking pictures, but to find a way to preserve those types of memories with journaling and letter writing. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a start. I suppose my new goal will be to create something that is more tangible for M and me and future generations to come, even if it is to only laugh at the crazy hair styles and fashions over time or the silly faces that we all once made together.
I’ve also started to let M take some of the photos because it shouldn’t just be my perspective of what’s important to remember from year to year. While I might think it’s great to capture another round of candles being blown out, M might want to remember the tea party she set up for her and her dolls instead. It will likely be those pictures that will be worth more than a thousand words many years from now. Let’s just hope I don’t blink and miss it all.
Anyone who has kids or who has been near them, knows that they say the darndest things. And you often find yourself saying things that you never imagined, or, to the untrained ear, statements that would be so completely off the wall if they were outside the context at hand.
Here is what I have said five times this week after dropping M off at preschool:
“Put your underwear in the cup holder before going inside.”
And then I have chauffeured a (clean) pair of Thomas the Train underwear with me to work. Anyone who looks in my backseat must think we’re slightly off.
Here’s the context: M is presently in love with Thomas the Train. When she was sick a couple of months ago, she got to indulge in some serious couch/TV time and that was the On Demand show of her choice. She’s seen only a couple of episodes since she got better but she is still fixated on him. I’m sure part of it is the novelty of it having been on TV given how little she watches, but at any given point in M’s young life she has been fixated on the most random of inanimate objects for periods of time, including a random page from a kid’s magazine that she walked around with so much that we had to tape it together and were on the verge of laminating. We bought her a couple of Thomas books so that we could keep the TV off but indulge the interest a bit, and she bought a small Thomas train with some of her birthday money. These were our efforts to quench the Thomas fixation.
But when we recently went shopping for various household items, I remembered that she needed some new underwear. Since she happened to be with me, I let her pick out her new pairs. And that’s when she spotted them all blue and red and green in their packaging: Thomas and Friends underwear. A week’s supply! Of course she wanted those…but they were clearly made for boys.
But after only a two second pause and a large effort to quash the tirade going on in my head about how toy and costume makers continue to marginalize young boys and girls by essentially dictating what is a “boy” toy or what is a “girl” costume, I said she could get those underwear. Thinking ahead to her likely wanting to wear those to preschool, I told her that she’d have to wear them at home, not to preschool “because they were boy underwear”.
Open mouth, insert foot…
Why oh why did I tell her that? After a flood of questions about why they were boy underwear (the flap/escape hatch in the front–do little boys really use those?) and some unabashedly white lies about why she had to wear them only at home (I said it was because they were special underwear–the truth is I didn’t want her to get teased by other kids in the class whose families might have different views…she’s too young to take on that task just yet), I got angry again at the marketers and sellers of these types of products. Despite her incessant talking about them, showing them off and general love for them, she is also concerned about the fact that they are “boy” underwear.
Why ARE Thomas and his pals only on underwear designed for boys? The message that this sends–that only boys are entitled to share in the fun of trains, or that only girls are only entitled to share in the fun of fairies, princes and princesses–is extraordinarily disappointing in this supposedly enlightened age of gender equality. I’m not saying that I want to see a male attorney strut into court wearing pantyhose, but during childhood shouldn’t all of these things be created equal? I even Googled “Thomas girl underwear” to see if maybe it was just the store I was in. But the results confirmed my disappointment and a lot of the results showed rants similar to mine.
One would think that some of these companies would wake up and realize that they are missing out on a segment of profits simply because they are being biased. I wouldn’t even care if their motivation was to increase profits under the guise of promoting equality. Just give us parents, and more importantly our young kids, the option. Instead, we are left to make decisions like this and tell our blossoming and otherwise tolerant young children to hide part of who they are for fear that they may be teased by someone else over something so trivial as what is on their underwear. Even though marketers and retailers might tell our kids that they should not cannot have things just because of what’s between their legs, I will support M with her choices because they are made with her heart and what is between her ears.
The only danger in friendship is that it will end. – Henry David Thoreau
A few months ago, I wrote about making friends. Now, it seems, I am facing 180° in the other direction on the sidelines of a dying friendship. Sure, there are those friendships that end because of shifts in geography or a major blowout or just changes in circumstances like a marriage or having a baby that send people off in different directions. I’ve been through a few of those and for some reason they are easier to weather because it doesn’t feel so personal.
But then there are those friendships that slowly wane even though none of these things have happened. I am finding that what makes it so hard is how one-sided it feels, almost like a betrayal but without any obvious cause. Perhaps the best analogy is being on the wrong end of an affair: you are left standing there wondering what you did wrong while the cheater is living carefree and happy because he or she has got the next great thing already lined up to fill the void. It feels like I am waiting at the park for my friend to sit on the other side of the see-saw. And because they don’t show up, I am immobilized.
The truth is even if you did not do anything “wrong” to turn the friend away, you can’t help but second guess that you did something because why else would the friendship be dying on the vine? Turns out that someone has written a book on this very topic! While I have not read the book (yet), just knowing that this is not a unique phenomenon, and certainly not one that I should be letting consume me in a way that brings forth anguish and confusion is the kind of comfort that I needed at this moment.
In a world where email and voicemail is so prevalent, I wonder whether the ability to send one-liners from time to time without much commitment to really tending the garden of friendship does more harm than good. I am sure I am guilty of doing it too, but to continuously breathe life into an obviously ending relationship just doesn’t make too much sense. And when it comes to romantic relationships, we seem to demand more respect–either fish or cut bait as the saying goes–and there certainly seems to be more dialogue about it. I wonder why do we not do this with platonic friendships.
I ran into this quote when first starting this post:
A friendship that can end never really began. – Publilius Syrus
I am not sure that I agree with Mr. Syrus. I think Thoreau’s view is more on the mark because otherwise it would require friendships to carry on even in the face of major life changes or a serious hurtful occasion. But either way, I am finding that M is now starting to also run into these types of “miffs” as she whirls through the ever shifting sands of childhood friendships. One day you’re in, one day you’re out, then you’re in again. It could be something as silly as wearing the wrong color shirt to preschool. But they work it out and ultimately they all remain friends, at least at her age.
But with adults it’s different and I am not sure why exactly. Pride? Boredom? Lack of energy to commit to tending to non-family relationships? I am sure there are countless reasons. But as I meander my way through this prickly patch of a dying garden of friendship, I have hope that there will be new friendships to bloom and blossom in the space left behind.
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