Dear Mommy in the park,
Sitting here at the neighborhood playground to let my kids run off some energy before dinner, I can’t help but notice how engaged you are with your daughter. Playing with her, and hovering to be sure that no falls, bumps, scrapes or other childhood trauma could possibly occur. It’s easy to spot you FTPs. (first time parents) with your enthusiasm and your beautiful monogrammed bag full of tricks to cure anything the big bad world might dish out.
I’m not judging you. Quite the opposite. Watching you reminds me that I should get up and play with my kids too, even though I know I’m more likely remain in the shade, staring into my phone, silently disappointed in myself for having no inclination to follow your example.
Then I noticed you brought out your phone for a few pictures and I suddenly began to feel sorry for you.
Your intentions were in the right place. They’re not babies very long, you have to document these moments, but everything changed when you began throwing cheese. That’s the precise moment you sabotaged any chance of having real memories of what your child was like at that age.
It was hard for you to notice since you had the phone in front of your face, but the moment you asked her to look at the camera and “smile!” I observed her confusion and the momentary spell of play she was under was broken. She did her best to look in your direction, then get back to the task of spinning that steering wheel attached to the jungle gym. Little did she know that since this was your phone, and phones don’t take photos very quickly, she would need to repeat this action three times making her completely forget that just a few seconds ago she was having a good time playing.
I guess it’s not your fault. After all, we learned it from our parents. “Say CHEEEESE!” We all heard it when we were kids too. As parents, we want to believe that our kids are happy with the world we create for them and sometimes we like to prove it to ourselves with contrived photos that lend evidence to this fantasy.
Again, no judgement, but think about it for a minute. What if the next time you got out your camera to document those precious memories, instead of breaking the rhythm of her play, what if you could stay quiet and capture her as she really is? Simply be the observer, instead of shouting a command that results in her mouth looking happy while her eyes look impatient because you took her away from what she was enjoying.
Twenty years from now, (assuming you backed your photos up properly) I hope you’ll be able to look back at your daughter’s childhood through images that show her true essence and spirit. Photos that let you relive her energy, excitement and limitless curiosity instead of merely depicting her face with a big forced smile in front of some place you visited. It’s with this perspective that I encourage you from now on to take all the pictures you want, but try to keep your play dates dairy free.
My very best wishes to you,