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The grainy scenes on the 8mm film rattle through the projector. Self conscious children awkwardly go through the motions of having fun. Thankfully, it’s just picture, no sound, or you could have heard my father’s voice behind the camera. “Smile! Smile! Smile!”
Years later, I loved to watch my daughters as they’d go through their days. Such uninhibited fun, such unabashed theatrical performances! Who could resist trying to capture those magical moments? But sadly most of them were lost because I didn’t have the foresight to bring a camera along with us. I would wait until the end of the day when we were home and try to coax my girls into recreating that perfectly spontaneous magical moment so I could now take that picture. I may not have said it, but those words were in my head. “Smile! Smile! Smile!”
Looking back, I would love to have those unsnapped photos now — from dance class, the baby gym, the park, the beach, mommy and me class, and yes, even at the doctor’s office and pretty much every minute of every day. The pictures would be a joy now, but taking the pictures then, not so much.
What was it about snapshots and home movies? I was obsessed, always wanting the next one, somehow deluding myself into believing that this time everything would be perfect, and I would capture the essence of their childhood in an image I would cherish for the rest of our lives. Instead, I have boxes full of photos and too many memories of trying to get pictures of my daughters having fun rather than memories of them actually having fun. Here’s what I remember thinking when I did pull the camera out at home: Making faces at the girls and hoping they’d look more animated and engaged, I’d be wishing I was the one who was more engaged, more present. The camera was an intruder, an uninvited guest who made us all self conscious. The simple act of looking through a lens cheapened the moment for me and tarnished whatever innocent spontaneity there might have been.
Thankfully, smart phones weren’t available when my daughters were children because in the hope of capturing the moment, I might have missed even more precious times. Life would have passed me by even more than it already had. Like most mothers these days, I have hundreds and hundreds of photos of my children, but I also have many sweet memories that I cherish, and the satisfaction of knowing that while my daughters were splashing in the water or dancing on the stage, I was completely present with them, not focusing a camera.