When my in-laws came this spring to meet Penrose, they brought with them a DVD containing several months worth of baby videos of my husband. They were taken in 1981, when household-use video cameras were new on the market. His grandparents and aunts feature prominently, as does his mother, and of course, my husband, baby Bill. His father is behind the camera, being directed by his grandfather. The videos capture the family sitting around, happy together, and there’s lots of loving footage of tiny Bill, who looks so much like Penrose it’s uncanny.
Although there’s a substantial amount of footage, it’s always taken somewhat deliberately, as in, “here we are all together, so let’s document the moment.” VHS tapes weren’t cheap, the camera weighed a ton, and the only way to share the footage was to get everyone together again to watch it, or tediously copy the tapes and mail them around.
How things have changed! With smartphones and tablets so readily available, and video and photos quickly transmittable through the Internet, via text, email or social media, documenting a new baby is a cinch. And with that ease is a drastic change in expectations. Where relatives might have been excited to receive a video around the holidays, now we get family members clamoring for more, more, more: more photos, more video, more Facetime.
In my completely unbiased opinion, Penrose is magnificently, perfectly adorable, so I understand why the family can’t get enough of her face. And she is an extremely well-documented baby, both by me in words and by my husband, who takes both gorgeous portraits and extremely well-timed, hilarious selfies with her. But when I’m asked for more photos, more video, I balk. Except in rare instances, I feel uncomfortable watching my baby through a camera lens, even if it’s just attached to the iPad. When I look at her through it, I’m not really seeing her. I see the space around her, framing her head, which I’m trying to keep in the frame even as she squiggles around on the rug. I can’t look her in the eyes, I can’t interact with her except to wiggle fingers or make a sound to keep her looking at the camera. I know it’s just for a few seconds, but odds are I’m trying to capture something somewhat important, a vigorous tummy time, rolling over, or blowing a raspberry. At those times I don’t want to be an observer, I want to be a participant.
And then there are the moments that we choose not to document, those that are neither over-the-top gross or funny nor super cute, nor developmentally important. For example, I got a text from my mother the other day asking for a good morning video. But between receiving the text and Penrose finally going down for a nap in her car seat in the bathroom (hey, whatever works!) the morning consisted of nursing, spitting up in my bra, and yelling in the swing instead of napping. Nothing crazy, but nothing film-worthy, either. Much of parenting is repetitive, mundane, and unaesthetic. Does my selective documentation mean that I’m “Fakebooking”? When I have my journalist hat on, I work with editors to determine what’s newsworthy and what’s not, and this feels like the same thing. (Although maybe, like an A-List celebrity, everything Penrose does is newsworthy to the grandparents.)
When Penrose is older, I hope she gets a kick out of looking at the photos and videos that have accumulated despite my reluctance. But I hope even more that she becomes aware of the times when neither she nor her parents have a device held up to their face, and all three of us are present, in the moment, making memories too precious for documentation.