At my oldest daughter’s first ballet recital in 2012, I nervously watched her 3-year-old self tip-toe across the stage. I held my smartphone in front of me from the balcony, trying to get every step on video.
Years later, I don’t remember what the song was that she danced to, or what moves she did. Honestly, I don’t even remember the costume. But I remember the difficulty of trying to capture her image on camera from so far away, and trying to keep my phone steady enough as the little girls danced on stage. I have no clue now where that video is even stored, or if I still have it.
I regret that.
I’m like a lot of moms these days in that I live like my phone is permanently attached to my hand. When my kids aren’t in the room, I’m checking emails, Facebook, looking up design ideas on Pinterest or texting family and friends.
And when I’m with my kids, I’m frequently taking photos of them. My goal is to document their childhood, so later on I can remember these too-short years. I want to remember how cute my youngest was when she had her front tooth missing and her chubby, 4-year-old cheeks. I want to remember that my son really was the same height as his older sister in elementary school. I want to remember that my oldest child, much to her pride, really did look like Hermione from Harry Potter. We take pictures to document family vacations, first bike rides, the first day of school and the last day of school.
But as I was going through old photos at my grandmother’s house recently, I realized something. We take a LOT more photos than previous generations. While cleaning out her house, I realized that my grandmother had an entire lifetime worth of family photos stuffed in a box in her hall closet. A single box.
In contrast, the photos from my oldest child’s first year of life fill a single, 3-inch-thick album. On social media, where I share family photos with relatives and grandparents who live out of town, I have photos stored by the month.
But I’ve noticed that the more I’m living behind my phone, taking photos, the less I’m really in the moment with my children. Last week, my two girls and I took our 12-week-old boxer puppy, Gus, on a walk around the neighborhood for the first time. Gus, with his chubby little belly and a walk that reminds me more of a hopping bunny, was very interested in his new surroundings. My daughters took turns holding his leash and talking to the dog in a baby voice, likely mimicking the way I talk to our dogs.
I had a gut reaction during the walk to take out my phone to take some pictures. But I realized that I had left my phone at home. Pictures weren’t possible.
“Oh well,” I thought. “I’ll get some later.”
And we went on with our walk, just enjoying the time together. The same thing happened days later, when, on another walk, we came across a cute lemonade stand a few streets over.
“Take a picture,” my 10-year-old asked, wanting a photo with her glass of lemonade. But, somehow, I didn’t have my phone on me. No photo. Life went on.
I’ve noticed lately that although my first inclination is to take pictures to document my life, I actually enjoy moments more when I don’t have my phone with me. I want my children to remember me watching them and listening to them, not looking at them through the screen of my phone.
Last month, my youngest child had her first ballet recital. But unlike my other daughter’s first recital six years earlier, I didn’t worry about getting it all on video. I made a point of taking some photos during the recital’s dress rehearsal, when I could get up close to the stage. And then when it came to the recital itself, I just watched, eyes locked on my little girl.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But in today’s world, sometimes it’s better to put the phone down and just be there in the moment instead.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.