Sometimes I hide my phone from myself for an hour, so that I can concentrate on the kids without being distracted. And I have some reasonably strict self-imposed rules about not browsing mindlessly when they’re around. But one major weakness is taking photos – and it’s for that purpose more than any other, that my phone is an extension of my arm when we’re out and about.
I like taking photos for all sorts of reasons – capturing the moment because otherwise I’ll forget, and keeping them to show them when they’re big; proving we really did go out and the sun really did occasionally shine. And there’s the fear – what if there’s a perfect moment and I miss it – how will I know it ever happened at all?
And the kids love looking through old photos. I have at least a dozen albums filled with my own childhood pictures, through into the teenage years (the Debs! the J1!), on into grown-up things like our first apartment and our wedding, then baby pictures and first family holidays.
I have boxes of photographs waiting to be put in albums – something I planned do on my first maternity leave with all that free time. Ha.
So. That’s the justification out of the way. At least here on the internet and in my own head. But it doesn’t quite cut it with the kids it seems, as became apparent recently. We were on holidays, down at the beach one evening, and I started taking photos of the girls in the sea. Then my seven-year-old turned to me and said, “Mum, look at it properly – not just through the camera.”
Point taken, I’d have to keep an eye on this situation, so to speak.
Two days later, she and I were about to set off to the beach again, this time to collect shells. We didn’t need towels or bags or money or even small brothers – we were travelling light, and looking forward to our trip. Just the two of us, a bucket for shells and a phone for photos. As we were about to leave, my husband asked if he could have my phone while we were gone (I had roaming, he didn’t). I hesitated then handed it over. I had enough photos – I didn’t need any more. I would survive.
Down at the beach, I watched my daughter run into the blue waves, sun glinting on her copper curls. I instinctively reached into my pocket for my phone and felt a moment of regret finding nothing there.
But just as quickly, the regret was gone, replaced by a sense of freedom. I couldn’t take photos of her, so there was no pressure to take photos. Instead I’d do what she herself had suggested – look at life properly, not through the screen of my phone.
I remembered a post I’d read about this on My Thoughts on a Page – taking photos with your mind. And that’s what I did. I watched a small, strong girl running, her fiery hair shining, the Adriatic sea glistening blue and white and gold. Every time she turned to look at me, I was looking at her. No phone between us. I joined her in the water, to help gather shells, then we came out to build sandcastles, digging in the sand with our hands.
Every few minutes, she looked up at me, her blue eyes smiling. Then she said, “This is great mum, I love being here just the two of us.” When it was time to go, she got a stick and wrote our names in the sand. She took my hand and told me it was her favourite time at the beach.
I know if I ask her now what her favourite part of the holiday was, she probably won’t remember this at all. Quiet moments fade in small people’s minds, overtaken by noisier memories of scuba diving and pedalos and water slides. But on that day, I know it meant something to her – just the two of us, a bucket of shells, and no interrupting phone.
Obviously, as I have no photos, I can’t prove any of it happened – so I’m writing it down instead.
And though I’d love to tell you that the conversation changed my life and I now go phone-free everywhere, of course that’s not the case. I still bring my phone, I still take too many pictures, and I don’t think I’ll tire of Instagram filters any time soon.
But I’m getting better at putting the phone down once in a while too, and seeing life as it really is – not (always) through a lens.
On another note entirely: voting closes at midnight tonight (August 23rd) for the Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards 2016 – I’m shortlisted in the best parenting blog category, and if you have a minute, I’d love your vote? You can vote very easily via Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, or by registering once you click here or on the image below. Thanks in advance!