I was at my daughter's school recently for a sweet ceremony where each graduating senior presents a rose to an incoming first grader. I sat in my chair, filled with anticipation at seeing my temporarily presentable six-year-old cross the stage and receive her flower, when I began to sense growing tension among the parents around me. Something was happening.
What was causing this commotion? Apparently a teacher was sitting on a chair in one of the aisles, blocking some parents' shot of the big moment. An angry mob wielding iPhones began to gather, until a representative was sent to displace the offending teacher. Indignant, she relocated, mumbling something about "no respect for teachers these days." Within moments, a swarm of parents feverishly jumped into her place, cameras pointed at the stage, ready to capture that rose tradeoff for posterity.
I'd like to say I was above such behaviour. I'd like to - but I can't.
Shortly after this incident, my daughter's class began to gather for their turn on stage. As the kids assembled, I looked around me. Everywhere I saw parents prone, smartphones in hand, fingers ready to pounce. I hesitated. I hadn't planned on taking pictures. We were fairly far from the stage, and I wasn't even sure I could get a shot. But then I started to panic: What if I didn't have a permanent record of this moment? Would I be depriving my family of an important memory? What kind of parent would I be? Still unsure, I whipped out my camera and joined the smartphone-ready masses.
As my daughter crossed the stage, I looked at the screen and started clicking. I got one or two blurry shots of her receiving her rose. But something was wrong. This was a once-in-a-lifetime moment-and I had chosen to watch it through a four-inch screen.
I missed it.
I don't know if my daughter strode confidently across that stage, or if she shuffled quickly with nervous excitement. I don't know if the senior holding out the rose smiled at her. I don't know if her teacher stood on the sidelines, staring into the distance, recalling the many children she'd seen cross that stage. Later my daughter asked me to describe the girl who'd given her the rose. I did my best, but I failed miserably. Because in trying to capture the moment, I'd missed the details that told the story.
And so I've vowed to put my camera away going forward. I'd rather experience my daughter's spring concert than photograph it. I'd rather sing "Happy Birthday" to my son and enjoy the smiles on his classmates' faces as they feast on cupcakes than watch the festivities through a screen. Because every ounce of energy I put into trying to get the "perfect shot" - into trying to zoom the camera just right, or get the best lighting or the right angle - is energy I'm not focusing on the present moment. And as my children grow older, I'm realising these are moments I'll never get back.
We tell ourselves that a picture lasts forever, that nothing is more important than preserving our memories. In reality, a photograph of my daughter's school play may or may not be meaningful to me one day. But being fully immersed in her performance while it's happening will mean something to both of us right now. Otherwise I might miss her hesitation as she steps onto the stage, blushing as she spots Mummy and Daddy in the audience. Or a classmate's admiring eyes on her as he pretends to rake construction-paper leaves. Or my husband's nervous breathing as he anxiously awaits the line they spent all night rehearsing. There's a bigger picture in these moments, and it's not inside my iPhone screen.
Sure, when my daughter dresses up for a ceremony, or my son wears a "scary dragon" for Halloween, that's something worth preserving. But a few photographs before and after the event will suffice - don't need to follow them around like the paparazzi at the expense of their enjoyment and mine. And, frankly, I don't wish to join the wall of parents surrounding the stage, blocking everyone's view in an attempt to get the perfect shot, barking at any hapless bystander who gets in their way. Because at some point, taking photos becomes just another competitive sport in the high-pressure, high-stakes world of parenting. Get closer. Take more. Share faster. Can't we all just sit down and enjoy the show?
And so at the next school function I'll be the parent sitting in my seat, watching my child giggle with a friend, stealing glances at my husband while I admire the intricacies of the set. I'll be taking in every moment, my iPhone nowhere in sight.
Because in life, sometimes the most memorable moments happen off-screen. And I'm done missing them.