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I Photographed My Children at All the Wrong Times

I photographed my children at all the wrong times. There are moments I want back, moments I would give anything to relive, and they were not staged, not expected and I never saw them coming.

From Lisa at Grown and Flown

We photograph and video the big moments in our children’s lives, the staged spectacles that seem so important at the time. We know that we will want to see weddings and showers, births and birthdays, school performances and graduations again and again.

Recently I was watching the video of a class performance of one of my sons that took place 12 years ago. There he was, his little seven-year old self, sitting among his classmates, singing away at the top of his lungs and glancing over occasionally to see if I was still watching. His smile, to me, was the most beautiful thing on Earth, and the little movements that I know so well yanked hard at my heart.

But in a blinding flash I knew that I had recorded the wrong thing. For although I thought this concert was a big moment, one that I would want to revisit, I now see that I was entirely mistaken. There are moments I want back, moments I would give anything to relive, and they were not staged, not expected and I never saw them coming.

I took pictures of our sleeping children either crashed on the couch, in their car seats or their cribs. But never once did I bring a camera into our bed. If I could do a deal with the devil, I would transport us back to mornings where all three of our kids had climbed into our bed. In turns we had awakened and dozed and I would open my eyes to see arms and legs, wrapped in little boy pajamas draped over my husband and myself. This moment exists only in my mind’s eye and I want it back.

My brothers-in-laws have a house with a hill sloping downward from their back porch. On a hot sunny August day they lined part of the hill with plastic and turned on the garden hose. My young sons and their cousins proceeded to ruin this patch of lawn by sliding down the slippery plastic, oh, I’d say 100 times. Every inch of their little bodies was covered in mud and I don’t know when, before or since, I have ever seen them so happy. I want to be at the side of that bathtub as I tried to scrape the layer of mud from their scalps and they told me again and again how it was the best day of their lives.

I photographed my children on the first day of school every year from nursery to 12. In each photo here is an expectant smile on their faces and they gleam with new haircuts, new backpacks and new clothes. But the moment I want back is a few weeks into one new school year when my eldest, a child who loved school, climbed into my lap one morning and told me he didn’t think he could go anymore and that he was just going to stay with me. It was one day in 14 years of education and as he sobbed in my lap, needing nothing more that my arms around him, I know that I would trade every shiny first day of school moment for a few seconds when my arms were the safest place in the world to him.

Prom pictures, I took conservatively a hundred. Slide a teenage boy into a tux and watch a miraculous transformation from scruffy adolescent to man-child in a matter of moments. I caught it all, and the bigger the event, the more I snapped the shutter. But the moment I want to relive is when my son arrived home late one night, weeks before the formal event, and recounted to me how he had gathered his friends to serenade his date into accepting his prom invitation. He had never really discussed girls with me and at the moment our relationship crossed yet another bridge towards the two adults we will be for so many years. We weren’t there yet, we are not yet there now, but that night we took a big step closer.

I have held my camera at the wrong moments, mistaking the pageantry of my children’s life for the moments I would hold dear. But parenthood never ends and tonight my husband was playing soccer with two of my teenage sons in our backyard. The three of them laughed and joked in the fading summer light and after two decades of being a mother I had the good sense to breathe in the smells of summer, let my heart fill with the joy of watching them together and bring my camera along.

Please visit us at Grown and Flown:Parenting from the Empty Nest

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Lisa Gentes-Hunt (Editor) August 20, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Love this blog post--some great tips for the new parents on capturing the moments!
andrea August 21, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Well, you sure captured this feeling! - one probably shared by so many of us empty-nesters...us, for sure.. thanks. & now with digital photography, capturing ALL the Kodak moments is so much easier!
andrea August 21, 2012 at 01:24 PM
PS something tells me you'd really enjoy reading Ray Bradbury's (RIP, Ray) Dandelion Wine ... all about memories, specifically those related to growing up and Summer! you still have a couple of weeks now, if you haven't already read it! :)
Carol Dyer August 21, 2012 at 02:19 PM
I just have been going through some old photo albums. I have literally taken thousands of photos through the years and i couldn't agree with you more….those shots that were taken not at a "special" posed moment are the ones that bring a smile or a tear. I always had a 35mm but I also had a little point and shoot to just grab and I am so happy that I did. I recommend that to any parent or grandparent. Great post!
Grown and Flown August 21, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Thanks very much - yes, we wish we would have thought of this when our children were babies. Our youngest are now 16! Mary Dell and Lisa www.grownandflown.com
Grown and Flown August 21, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Just the term "Kodak moment" binds us together as boomers. Thanks for the tip on the Ray Bradbury piece - will check it out. Thanks, Lisa and Mary Dell www.grownandflown.com
Grown and Flown August 21, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Sounds like you have been photo-ready throughout your life as a parent. How fortunate that you were so organized to have the pictures in albums, rather than stuck in drawers and shoe boxes around the house. Thanks, Lisa and Mary Dell www.grownandflown.com
Carol Dyer August 21, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Believe me there are many boxes filled with the doubles from back in the day when you could get 2 for the price of 1. Those have turned up on collages, been given to friends and family or just in the box for the kids to take! Mine are grown but not all totally flown!
Heron August 21, 2012 at 05:06 PM
This brings tears to my eyes. We never bought a video camera, and I now wish we had.
Wendy Kelly August 21, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Lovely story.
Grown and Flown August 21, 2012 at 09:15 PM
We can never have a redo of our children's early lives but it is never too late to begin now, maybe???
Grown and Flown August 21, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Thanks so much!

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