Saturday, September 7, 2013

Photo-Op Lost

We have three raised vegetable beds in our backyard, two long rectangular ones and one small, square Dory-size one. Dory plants in a hither-and-yon fashion, picking up handfuls of seeds and hurling them into the space. This summer, entirely by accident, she grew some Mexican sunflowers, tiny carrots, and many, many weeds. We finally uprooted the lot of it and now she has a bare bed, an empty palette.

Hence mudpies. We went out yesterday morning, a shockingly balmy day for September and we filled her bed with lots of water and made a mix of mudpies, mud balls, which we chucked at the wall behind the garden, and a mud monster.

I have to stop here and add, none of this comes all that naturally for me. Dory's five and I think this is the maybe the second time she's ever done real mud play. I don't naturally think, let's build mudpies! in the same way I don't naturally wear light cotton dresses and get caught in slow-motion with my head thrown back, hair blowing whimsically across my face, laughing. Were I to make an advertisement for Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger or J. Crew, it would be of me in jeans, in a chair, knees under my chin, looking up from a book to say, "I'm reading. Can I help you?"

However. I'm in the middle of Kim John Payne's book, Simplicity Parenting, and he's caught my attention on an assortment of subjects, particularly the complicated nature of children's play. He advocates for very few toys, very simple toys and lots more play in nature. He advocates for it far more eloquently and with much better expression that I just did. Nonetheless, there it is. Mr. Payne mentions a bit on mudpies and I, reading it, sat up in bed (or sort of pushed Dory over to the side a bit and shifted around) and thought, We could do that! We could make mudpies!

We did and here's the part that caught my attention. First, it was really fun. Second, I did laugh, but never anything Mr. Lauren or Mr. Hilfiger would care to photograph. And third, and somewhat related to the last, I did not have my camera. By camera, I mean phone, and I intentionally left it inside, cutting the two of us off from the world of electronics entirely. Yet, there I was, watching my straight-backed daughter, in her pink tank top and purples shorts, mud up to her knees, face creased in delight and I had no way to record the moment. None.

And then I thought- do I need one? Do I need to capture every single beautiful moment on film? Or really, do I need to capture every beautiful moment on digital recorder and perhaps, one day, transfer it to print?

I once called Dory the most well documented child in history and a father standing next to me marveled at it too. We can capture everything. And we do. But do we miss it, somehow, in the very act of seizing it? By needing a physical copy or the means of making a physical copy, do we lose the presence of the moment itself? We are blessed in a time when we will be able to show our children photographs, digital recordings, their childhoods captured and available for almost complete reproduction. Yet I wonder sometimes if we're losing the wonder of the moment simply by needing to hang onto the moment. I once spent a portion of a ballet open house watching the performance through the few inches span of my cell phone. I have every moment of six little girls dashing madly around the room to Skippy the Squirrel, yet my memory of the scene remains hazy. I have another video of miniature princesses performing a simple routine in Market Square, but mostly I remember cursing over the lack of close-up capabilities my camera held. The other day, I watched a commercial, for a cell phone, I think, of a children's play, with every grown-up in the room grappling to get close enough to record the show. The scene turns into a crazed fight, and the camera pans back to show the couple at the back of the room, also watching through a lens, have the best seat in the house. Why? Because their camera's zoom is unbeatable. Is that the message behind that scene? Is that your takeaway?

I did not seize the camera and we have no evidence of Dory, the Mud Monster, with mud up to her elbows, thighs and covering the better part of purple-shorts bottom. I cannot post any shots here of her flinging mudballs madly at the wall, laughing or chasing me with a garden hose. And they were beautiful shots, endearing, surprising, really, really funny. Yet the memories I have are crystal clear and by telling the story here, feel clearer yet.

I have a vague sense there's an even larger message behind this idea, something about us needing to record our lives so we can fill each other in digitally, something about the lack of personal touch and communication in the world these days. But that's out of my range, that's not really what I'm thinking about. Mostly I'm just glad I laid my camera down for today, that I got up to my elbows in mud, too, because I wasn't balancing a phone between thumb and pointer finger and watching her in high definition. I watched in real definition and I was delighted by the quality.

And, it's not lost on me, how I write this and fling it into cyberspace, that faux world where so much of our lives exist. There's a place for all of it, isn't there? There's a balance. I'm trying to find mine.

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