Thursday, September 5, 2013

Childhood Moments Through A Viewfinder

This week, my third daughter got on the bus for kindergarten for the first time, and I missed it.  I was standing right there.  So, it’s not like so many dads and moms who have to miss milestone like this because of work or other duties. 

I missed it because I was more worried about getting the shot than living the moment.   

We were ready, waiting in the front yard: my wife, our daughter, our neighbor, and me.  When the bus rumbled up the block, I assumed the perfect photographer's angle and position, crossing the street in front of my daughter to line up my lens so I could see right up the steps of the bus.  I’d be ready when she turned around and waved.

I stood with the camera to my eye (a digital Rebel SLR – I know, old school).   And through the tiny view finder I watched a tiny version of my little girl cross the street, then round the front of the bus.  She hesitated for a moment as the district-assigned school bus assistant gave her basic bus loading instructions, then she climbed up the steps, turned and disappeared down the aisle.   

I got a few photos, but I missed the shot.  She never turned around on the steps -- the pose so many other parents posted this week on the internet -- and she never gave us a wave.  

Immediately, I was bummed that the shot hadn’t happened.   Dang.  

Then I looked over and saw our neighbor, who has helped babysit our baby girl since she was born, crying.
In this old New Yorker cover, parents are all checking
their email during trick or treating.  In today's version, we'd
all be recording and posting. Which is far better. Right?    
Our neighbor said what made her cry was when our daughter paused, stepped back and looked up with her big, uncertain eyes at that open bus door – the one that, for us parents, represents our vulnerable babies going out into the world (even if it’s just kindergarten).

I didn’t see that happen at all.  I couldn’t see it looking through the back end of a camera, standing where I had to be in order to get the perfect angle for the wave-from-the-steps shot.   The perfect angle?
I realized then I hadn’t just missed the shot.  I’d missed the moment.

And I'd missed the emotion.  I didn’t get that familiar lump in my throat when those growing-up milestones occur before our eyes.  My eyes were blocked by a Canon and my emotion stifled by the frustration I felt that the bus driver or the assistant hadn’t told her to turn around and wave at the family photographer. 

It made me think of all the time I’ve spent filming and photographing their lives, looking through a viewfinder or staring at the back of an Iphone: birthdays, school plays, graduation ceremonies. 
If I didn't have a camera to my eye, I'd feel naked.

When you get the shot and capture that moment, it can be perfect.  Years later, when everyone gathers on the couch to look at old photos, or to watch an old video, it's certainly worth it. 
But how many times have we watched those birthday song videos, which I have dutifully recorded every time at the expense of just soaking it in.

Are all of us so obsessed with recording life that we are missing it?
Because, I can tell you, when you miss the shot and the moment, it kind of sucks.  

This time, for sure, I wish I had a second chance just to live the moment.


Anonymous said...

But, on the other hand, some of those photographs allow you to re-live the "greatest hits" of the experience--an experience that might have had involved a complex mix of emotions, ups and downs. I know that I treasure my husband's vacation photos because they allow me to remember all of the high points of our travels--and the low points are conveniently edited out.
--Reid Sullivan

Cort Ruddy said...

Thanks for reading, Reid. I agree, memory proves an efficient editor, taking out all the emotional stress that can dominate the present. That's why a vacation often doesn't feel like a vacation until we're looking at the photos. Which is why I'll keep taking the pictures.