Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Digital Revolution?

Ok, today's the day. It's got to be today. If not today, then when? Because one of these days the whole system is going to crash and then it will too late. Everything will be lost and we'll be left with nothing. Do you hear me, digital camera? Because I'm talking to you. And today is the day I will finally do whatever is necessary to get the pictures out of your silver-plated claws and into my hands.

I'm tired of seeing the highlights of my life on your 3-inch LCD screen. I've had it with memories frozen inside your steely interior. I'm even annoyed when I hear that little fake chirping sound when I push the "On" button. You mock me with your little tweet tweet.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the amazing technological advance that is the digital camera. But it's hardly a perfect system, and sometimes it's the biggest steps forward that leave us yearning for the past.

I don't think my parents ever owned a camera of their own, but if they did, they certainly didn't get much use out of it. As a result, their basement contains a few drawers stuffed with a very odd assortment of old photos. It's a place where my first birthday party mingles with a visit from the Pope, and my brother is standing next to a stuffed giraffe. We don't have baby books, family photo albums or scrapbooks that document the past in any sort of an organized fashion. Just some tattered pictures, many now smeared with fingerprints and frayed around the edges. I used to spend hours combing through those random treasures, staring at the faces from decades past, making up my own stories to go along with them. There's my mom with her Jackie O. hairdo, watching my brother bat at a pinata on his birthday. The photo is a little blurry as she's never been able to stand still and focus on a camera. "Mom in Motion," the caption might read. And then there's my dad in his bright yellow "Maid of the Mist" raincoat at Niagara Falls. He's so serious, not smiling at all, but in my mind I knew he was thinking "It hasn't been easy but it's worth it. We left our home country behind, but look at what we get to show our family. What other wonders await?"

Sadly, I don't think either of these pictures would have made the cut in today's digital world. Back in the days of film we'd take our shot, capture the moment the best we could, then move on to enjoy it. Days, or even weeks later our photos would return from the lab and we'd relive the experience all over again, warts and all. The results weren't always perfect; sometimes eyes were closed, sometimes hair was out of place, sometimes heads were cut out. But the moment was there, and it was honest.

Today, we have instant gratification. Just point, click, and bing! There's your memory. Don't like it? Just erase it and try again. It's a luxury that's sure to improve the radiance of our smiles, but don't we risk editing too much out of our lives? No experience is perfect, no matter how many times we reshoot it. So why not capture it the first time, be happy with what appears and get back to actually experiencing the moment?

Our digital cameras allow us to instantly send our memories all around the world with just one click, but then what? I doubt my children will one day flip longingly through my Mobile Upload folder on Facebook, or spend a rainy day sorting through old Twitter updates. Yes, the digital photo frame on the coffee table is lovely and my son giggles with delight as it flips through its magic slide show. But it's still no substitute for flipping through the pages of an actual album, holding those memories in human hands, running fingers over the faces and the places tucked inside.

So here we go, digital camera. You and I have a date today, one that's long overdue. I'm taking back what belongs to me- you don't get to hold my memories any more. And I'm taking my finger off the "delete" button, because I want to remember life as it is, even if it isn't always picture perfect.

Monday, September 21, 2009

From the Mouths of Babies

My 3-month-old baby girl laughed for the first time this week. It was a delicious gurgle of a giggle that started somewhere deep in her belly, worked its way through all 23 of her inches, and made its way out those sweet little pink lips. It's the latest in a string of amazing sounds she makes, one that began with "ahh-goo," will eventually progress to "Mama" and one day lead to the lyrics of High School Musical 24. But despite all these wonderful noises she makes on her own, my husband and I feel compelled to do that really annoying parent thing where we put words in her mouth.

"Hey Dad- I'm flying!" I'll say in a high-pitched voice, holding Cecilia's tiny arms out wide. "Wheee! Look at meeeeee! I'm Super Baby!"

But I'm quite certain my sweet angel would never say anything so ridiculous. Though you can't tell from the above exchange, she does in fact come from a pretty decent gene pool.

So that got me thinking, what exactly would she say if opportunity and vocabulary were to present themselves? What secrets is she hiding under that thick head of dark hair? I looked deep into her sparkling grey-blue eyes, listened carefully to every gurgle and compiled the following list of the Top 10 Things My Baby Might Say (Or Things I Just Really Need To Hear).

10. We can do this. I know the whole Mother-Daughter has you a bit freaked out, but I promise Mom, we're going to be fine. Better than fine. We're going to be happy. When you get scared, just reach for me. I'll wrap my whole hand around your index finger and squeeze; it will be our secret signal that everything is OK. And if we're apart, just close your eyes and think about the way my head fits perfectly in the crook of your neck when you hold me tight. We were made for each other.

9. If you insist on having that Thai takeout on Friday nights, any chance you could ask for "mild"?

8. Sorry about the whole not sleeping through the night thing. I'm doing the best I can. One day I promise you'll look back on this time fondly. Did you ever consider that maybe I just miss you, and this is the only time of day I can have you all to myself? Why do you think I flash you those big, gummy grins at 4am? Besides, this is excellent practice for when I'm a teenager and you will have to stay up all night worrying about me.

7. What's up with all the guilt? You feel guilty when you're working, guilty about not working when you're home, guilty about not spending enough time with me when you're playing with my brother, guilty about neglecting him when you're with me... it never ends, and we're not even Catholic! You are doing the best you can. And it's more than enough.

6. I don't need to hear about your "flabby belly" or your "jiggly thighs." I'm young and highly susceptible, and I'd much rather inherit your sense of humor than your body image issues. Everyone says I'm adorable, and clearly I didn't get all this cuteness from Dad (no offense). And don't forget, I came out of that belly which you have to admit makes it pretty darn amazing.

5. That last diaper was really gross. Better you than me on the changing end.

4. I appreciate everything you do for me. You'll probably never hear this come out of my mouth, because that's unfortunately kind of the way things go between kids and parents.

3. Where's your confidence when you need it, Mom? How is it you can stand in front of a camera and report live without batting an eye, grill politicians and police at press conferences, and yet certain words like "High School Reunion" make you break out in a cold sweat? You're not that geeky, awkward girl with the frizzy hair and bad glasses anymore. Look at what you've accomplished, myself included. Again, pretty amazing stuff.

2. I know that if you could, you would shield me from every future heartbreak, every ounce of pain and take them on yourself. Don't think I didn't see you crying when you packed away my "newborn" size clothes. I have to grow up, but the good news is I'll always be your baby girl.

1. Wheeeee! Look at meeeeee, I'm Super Baby! It's no fun to be so serious all the time, Mom. You taught me that. Oh, and I love you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What time is it?

I found my watch this morning. It was right where I left it 3 or 4 days ago: on my nightstand, underneath a burp cloth and partially obscured by a yellow rubber duck with sunglasses. This is significant for a few reasons. First, it illustrates that I officially suffer from Mommy Brain (a nice way of saying I'm no longer playing with a full mental deck), because the nightstand is where I have put my watch every night for approximately the last two decades, and yet it didn't occur to me to look there until this morning. What's more disturbing is that I didn't really miss it, proof positive of just how much life has changed since the period B.C. (Before Children).
In the TV news world where I lived until very recently, the clock is king. Everything is timed and executed to the second. The 6:00 news will not be delayed until 6:02, regardless of how badly you need to use the potty. It's a place where a deadline is always looming, stories must be filed, video must be edited, scripts must approved before the clock ticks down. I would never have survived a day without constantly checking my watch, the clock on my computer, or the one on my cell phone. OK, both cell phones.

But now that I'm home with the little ones more than not, I'm finding that life moves at a very different pace, watches and clocks be darned. Simple tasks I used to accomplish in minutes (like leaving the house) can take upwards of an hour. And certain parts of life over which I once lingered now must be accomplished in a flash. Get in, get it done, get out is a mantra applied to showers, meals in restaurants, and most unfortunately, sleep. Time, it sometimes seems, is not on my side.

There are the days, hours, even minutes that seem to drag. The ones where I think if I have to play with one more toy, wipe one more nose, or change one more diaper I will lose whatever is left of my mind. And then there are the moments I want to stretch into years, the ones time steals far before I'm ready to let them go. The clumsy cuddles of a toddler boy as he drifts off to sleep. How could two years have passed so quickly? As I watch his eyelids flutter I find myself begging time to leave us alone. And my baby girl, the one who saves her best gummy grins and delicious gurgles for me and me alone in the middle of the night. When I look into her eyes I'm sure time is playing some sort of a joke- how is it possible she's just 12 weeks old? Surely we've known each other forever. Was there really a time without her?

Last night my exhausted little boy tried his usual pre-bedtime pleading, fighting off sleep even as it forced his eyelids to droop. "Mama, don't go!" he begged.
"Sleep tight my love, and I'll see you in your dreams," I told him as I tip-toed out of the room. Just let me throw away this watch and I'll be right there. I promise, we'll have all the time in the world.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Q and A, Toddler Style

Who? What? Where? When? As a news reporter, these are questions I'm used to asking. But as the mother of a very curious 2-year-old, the tables have turned and now I'm the one doing the
answering. All. Day. Long.
Noah started talking early, and by 9 months he already had dozens of words. "Light!" "Mama!" "Ball!" he'd point out excitedly, as we applauded and cheered the identification of every object. Then his first birthday rolled around and he started putting words together. "Hat off!" he'd tell me as I struggled to keep the UV rays away. "More grapes!" he'd say after wolfing down an entire bowl. How cute (and yet slightly bossy) I thought, as he commanded his way through the day.
With the passing months his phrases grew more complex, as he searched for meaning in those blocks of words, taking pronouns, adjectives verbs out for test drives. "Where is them?" he'd ask when his beloved toy trains were out of sight. "What name is that doggie name?" he wondered about the puppy we encountered on our walk. But hands down, his favorite question is just three words long, uttered at least 100 times per day. "What's that, Mama?"
At first the answers came easy. What's that you ask (over and over and over)? "That's a bumblebee, my love." Or, "That's a garbage truck." Bring on the questions, I thought, donning my Super Mom cape. I have all the answers!
Not so fast, caped crusader. The cuteness of the constant questioning soon began to wear on my nerves. Before long our days and nights rivaled an episode of Jeopardy; everything was phrased in the form of a question. The grocery store (a place that is daunting enough with a 2-year-old and an infant in tow) was now a place that held as many questions as brands of orange juice.
"What's that, Mama?"
"That's a can of peaches, my love."
"Can I have that pea-sis?"
And then there is our nightly story time, which slowly morphed into something more closely resembling a press conference.
"Corduroy is a bear who lived in the..."
"What's that Mama???" he interrupted, pointing to a stuffed giraffe on page one.
"That's a giraffe, my love. Ahem. Corduroy is a bear who lived in the toy..."
"What's he doing, Mama?"
"Umm... he's just sitting. Now then: Corduroy is a bear who lived in the toy department...."
"But what's that, Mama? What's that on the giraffe arm?"
"That's a spot, my love. Giraffes have spots."
"Do I have a spot, Mama?"
"No, you don't have spots. Corduroy is a bear who lived in the toy department of...."
"Can I have spots too, Mama?"
It's moments like that when I'm torn between laughter and tears. While it's hard to begrudge a child's growing curiosity about the world, I have to admit there's a side of me that screams "Why can't we just READ this *&^% book? There's laundry to do, there's a baby who needs to be fed, and a mom who's desperate for some down time!" I'm well aware that under that sweet head of inexplicably straight, sandy blond hair (rather odd for a child who is after all 1/2 Egyptian) lurks a sponge of a brain, with a scream of its own- one that cries out "Feed me!" But I couldn't help but wonder, is there something wrong with my child? He can't seem to pay attention to ANYTHING!"
Then yesterday it hit me. We were walking to the park, another task that used to be straight-forward back in the day when Noah was content to just sit in his stroller and ride. Now, it's about as direct as roller coaster, and takes roughly as long as the wait for Space Mountain on a summer Saturday.
"What's that, Mama?" he said, pointing to few blades of grass scattered on the curb by a neighbor's lawnmower. But before I could even answer, he pointed skyward and gasped with delight, "Look, Mama- a hey-yo-copter! Just like Harold the Hey-yo-copter on Thomas! And just like an airplane!"
That's when I got it: it's not that he can't pay attention to anything, it's that he's paying attention to EVERYTHING. Every rock, every tree, every blade of grass, every ant on the ground. To a toddler, there are great discoveries everywhere they look, connections to make and yes, questions to ask about every chapter of daily life, especially the pages we as adults no longer bother to turn.
So I sucked up my sarcasm, tucked my frustrations away and did my best to answer his questions.
"What's that, Mama?" he queried, pointing to the remains of a woodland creature's lunch.
"Those are acorns, my love. They're for the squirrels to eat."
That's when he looked up at me with those sweet blue eyes and asked, "Why, Mama?"