We were at Legoland in San Diego, having shelled out entirely too much money to wander amongst the somewhat odd Danish version of Disneyland, when I noticed it. Dozens upon dozens of parents watching their children clamber over stacked-brick versions of lions and giraffes, watching the fun unfold through the pixilated screen of a camera. Taking snapshots of their kids' lives in three-second increments.
Hey, turn to daddy and smile. Click.
Quit pulling your sister's hair. Click.
No, no, no! Don't put your hands in your pants! Click.
I understand the desire to capture these precious childhood experiences. We've been conditioned through biographies and Lifetime television and that dreaded song by Harry Chapin that if we don't treasure every moment, the little sprites will sprout and next thing we know they'll be college seniors blowing off our haranguing phone calls. As the song goes, but it's sure nice talking to you, dad. Click.
But there's a flip side to this fixation with photographing every bad hair day and baked bean stuffed up a nostril--we're skipping the part where we play with our kids. Already we miss time due to jobs and schoolwork. Studies have indicated even the time we do spend with our children is distracted time--how often are we washing the dishes, cleaning the laundry, or checking fantasy football scores in front of our kids and counting that as quality family moments? Too much time behind the lens is no different. When we step back and look at the pictures we've shot, we'll discover there's something missing between the borders, and it's the family itself. Mom and Dad are too busy playing at Ansel Adams to actually play.
So what do we gain from this, this need to drag out pictures and recall Disneyland excursions and Grand Canyon hikes? Often it's seldom more than flashbacks to moments spent charging batteries and stuffing cameras into our pockets until we resemble mutated kangaroos. Would it be so bad to simply watch our kids get Mickey's autograph (or run screaming the other direction)? To hike down the North Rim with hands wrapped around sweaty little wrists, rather than tied to a camera strap? My brain isn't what it used to be, but I remember fun quite vividly when I experience it. I don't need a billion poorly composed photographs to help me. Besides, walking down switchbacks with my nearly forty-year-old knees and a three-year-old is distraction enough, thank you.
I do appreciate the pictures I have of my little boy, and I'm sure I will for years to come. But I can enjoy only so many candids before they become another exercise in amateur photography, another set of fuzzy pictures with my thumb lodged in the frame. Sure they contain my one and only child, a ball of cute with his finger jammed up his nose. Still, as wonderful as the nose-picking is, I'm sure I'll remember it just fine without the pictures.
Jeff Macfee is a writer and IT manager living in North Texas with his wife and son. He has a cat named Ed that acts like a dog. When not dealing with his family and strange cats, Jeff is working on a novel about repo men.