Discussing the Parental Paparazzi

Posted: Sunday, May 10, 2009

I try to be a good parent. I read to my kids and check their homework. I make them wear their bike helmets, eat their vegetables and write thank-you notes to Grandma. Still, I found myself in the Bad Mommy corner the other day, for an omission so shocking that I scarcely dare to put it into words.

It happened on the evening of the awards ceremony. I made sure the family arrived on time-still too late to all sit together, but before the event actually began. I sat down, got the youngest settled with a quiet activity for the duration, and then realized my error. I had left the camera on the kitchen counter at home!

What kind of a parent comes to her daughter's award ceremony empty-handed? I glanced around me furtively. All the other parents were well-armed, with digital cameras and camcorders, or iPhones at the very least.

There I sat, condemned. I had broken the unwritten code of parenthood. The baby's first cry of life inducts the new parent into an elite fellowship: the Parental Paparazzi.

For the next 18 years, if not forever, the parent shadows the child, camera in hand, capturing the smiles and tears and special moments in the young one's life. Plumbers, teachers and fishermen suddenly transform into historians and video documentary directors.

Kids learn from an early age that perfect moment to stop and smile. Mom or Dad holds high the camera, and, like Pavlov's dog, the child responds with a toothy grin. They come to expect it as a natural fact of life: the sun comes up in the morning; it rains in Juneau; Mom and Dad will take my picture.

How could I have so betrayed this sacred trust?

The ceremony began, with congratulations and bursts of light. Snapping and whirring and flashes from the parental paparazzi accompanied the applause from the audience. Each child stepped forward to receive an award and pause for the photo opportunity. Parents crouched in the aisles like contortionists, seeking that perfect camera angle. Flash bulbs popped cheerfully.

I sank low in my seat. What would my daughter think when she stood in triumph to receive her award, and no one exploded a bright light in her face? With clear vision, no spots burned into her retinas, she would retake her seat. Would she care ... or would she secretly breathe a sigh of relief?

Turns out, she didn't even notice. Go figure.

But I do miss that photo not taken. There's nothing in the photo album to highlight that proud day. So I keep a memory album, safe in my mind, filled with photos not taken. Childhood is sweet, and fleeting. Photos, and memories, help to save that moment in time for another day.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring children's author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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