I’ve always loved taking pictures. As a kid, I stumbled upon a huge bag of undeveloped film in my parents’ closet. I begged them to develop two rolls a week until all of the film was developed. Then my mom and I sat together pouring over thousands of pictures and arranging them into albums by year. I loved hearing the stories that went along with the pictures, and I still love taking some quiet time to look through those albums now and then when I visit my parents.
I went into hyper-drive when I had my own kids. I loved capturing every little moment, looking back at pictures to see how much my babies had changed in such a short time period, and elevating the mundane moments of our life by sharing a perfectly timed snapshot.
At some point, though, my picture taking crossed over from capturing the moment to trying to create a moment. I’d stop my kids from running off to the big swings to first snap a picture of them smiling at the playground entrance. I’d ask them to stop swinging from the tree long enough for me to catch their blur-free smiles. I’d tell them to stand closer to “pretend you love each other” instead of snapping that moment where a big brother thinks his little sister has cooties. I realized my desire to capture the moment was actually making us all miss out on the real moments.
So, I decided to go picture-free on our first camping trip of the season. I left my SLR at home. I snapped one picture (well, really a quick series of about 30 pictures in rapid fire succession) as we arrived at our cabin. And then I put my smart phone in a zippered bag. I didn’t ask my kids to stand close or sit still or smile like they were having fun. I actually let them have fun. And instead of standing on the sidelines to capture the moment, I joined in on the act.
I didn’t take a picture of them scrambling on the rocks behind our campsite, reaching out a hand to help their little sister keep up.
I didn’t take a picture of them trudging through the woods searching for the perfect s’more roasting stick.
I took no pictures during the hours they spent jumping on the campground bouncing pillow, my tiny 3-year-old laughing hysterically as she was launched high into the air.
I didn’t take pictures of the toads we spotted in the koi pond.
Or of our first family gaga ball game that drew a group of 20 kids to participate.
I didn’t capture a picture of my husband starting our first campfire with three little assistants proudly adding the kindling they’d gathered.
I didn’t take pictures of my three little people, covered in dirt from a day of play, roasting s’mores, blowing out a flaming marshmallow, or covered from cheek to cheek with smears of melted chocolate and bits of graham cracker.
No picture of my oldest son triumphant as king of the mountain on top of the highest boulder.
Or of my daughter, in her superman dress, sitting in a field of dandelions, or wearing her crown of daisy chained dandelions that showed she’s the perfect combination of super hero and princess.
I didn’t take a picture of my two boys holding hands as they walked off on their first adventure, alone but together. Or of the tear in my husband’s eyes as he watched his two little guys head off to explore.
I didn’t pass the camera off to a stranger to catch a picture of my middle son sitting on my lap as we raced pedal cars around a track. Or to catch me jumping like a fool on the jumping pillow while my kids laughed so hard they couldn’t stand up.
I soaked in every moment as I slow danced to “Piano Man” with my baby girl, and choked back tears when my curmudgeonly son put his little Spiderman shoes on top of my shoes to be my dance partner. But I didn’t pause for the flash to memorialize the dances.
I didn’t take any of those pictures. Instead of capturing the moment, I lived in the moment. I wasn’t on the sidelines snapping pictures to capture memories. Instead, I was right there, being a part of the experience. And I’ll always remember these moments. At least…I hope so.