The Moment I Missed My Son’s Graduation - Because I was Too Busy Recording It

Larissa Dann Blog post 6th May, 2016

Do you find yourself whipping out your phone or camera at every opportunity, ready to record those myriad of unique events in your child’s life?  I did. Now my child is a young adult, I look back and reflect. I love the memories that my photos evoke. At the same time, I am reminded of what I missed.

I have recorded the minutiae of my son’s life from the second he was son born (literally).  In still photographs, in video, in verse, in (irregular) diary entries, on the old tape-recorder, I have sought to capture moments of love, of achievement, of hilarity, and of simply being. 

On our fridge lived a clip magnet from which sheets of lined paper hung, with a pen lying precariously along the clip, teetering each time the door was opened or closed.  This pen and paper existed to record words and sentences of my growing child.  As he wobbled out the word “Orberry” for “strawberry”, or “douser” for “trouser”, I would race to the fridge to scribe his new word. Soon sentences tripped from his lips. “Pick nose up!” as he innocently picks his nose. “Did you talk to the girl in the money box?” as I order a drive-through takeaway.

Memories on paper.  Memories on video tape.  Memories on a tape recorder.

Before baby, I had worked days and nights in a job with expectations, concrete outcomes, and daily interactions with workmates and friends. At the end of each day, I could point to an achievement.  An article written, a client visited, a goal reached, a joke shared in the coffee room.

Post baby, my days stretched ahead, melding into oneness, 24 hours becoming 48 hours becoming a week, with no tangible event to mark the passage of that time. 

Make no mistake.  I was in love, totally besotted, by this tiny being populating our home. I vividly recall my shock the day I heard a noise – a gentle gurgle, from my son laying warm in the sunshine. I realised that I had brought another person into the world, that he lived in this house with us, and that I would be helping guide his positive contribution to our society.

My parents lived hundreds of miles away from their first grandchild. There was no Skype in those days, no instant messaging or Facebook posts.  So I began videoing.  Recording hours and hours of my son lying on his back, discovering his hands, his feet, the texture of the carpet.  There he is, propped up in the cushions, gurgling and dribbling.  Now he is commando crawling, aching to find his way to the toy just out of his reach.  And there he is again, hauling himself up on the chair, steadying himself on legs as sturdy and bandy as those of his horse-riding great-grandfather’s.

Why did I spend so much time recording my son’s young life? I told myself that this was for the future, so my son and I could watch his growing up together, or for his grandparents to enjoy their grandchild from a distance. 

Perhaps, though, my unconscious was also trying to emulate my paid workdays, by making my mothering days concrete, tangible.  At the end of a day, I could say to myself “I recorded this”, or “I wrote that”.

I see now that as I recorded for the future, I often missed living in the present.

I set myself a pattern, a habit for life. 

As my son grew, I dutifully chronicled his life events.  First day at kindergarten. First assembly speech.  First tentative cradling of his new sibling.  Every piano concert, every band concert, every play, every award, every Christmas, every birthday, many play-dates.

One day when he was around eight years old, my enlightened son showed wisdom beyond his years. As we packed to go to another performance, he turned to me. “Mum, make sure you WATCH me.  When you video me, you aren’t watching me, you aren’t seeing me”. 

Technology has moved on.  Where is my video recorder? I transfer some tapes to a DVD.  Even as I shift to another media, I discover that DVDs are redundant.  These memories – how will I ensure they can be accessed for all time? 

Now, after more than 20 years, how often have I actually set aside the hours to replay, or even play, those hours of recordings? Once, or not at all. As my children grew older, their interest in their younger selves was not as I imagined.  They preferred anecdotes, the verbal stories of early family life remembered across the dinner table, to the recorded memory. 

When I find the time, I love looking back at photos of my children, and reading words that evoke remembered incidents. I wonder, though - are these are a record of my children's lives, or of my journey as a parent? Perhaps as my children get older, they may enjoy this record of their lives - similar to my anticipation of a family 'slide night', where I will look back at my father's recording of our life together.

For my son’s twenty-first birthday, I gathered hundreds of his photos into a photo book, and bound together all that I had written. My present to him was my record of his life.  Was this his memory of the important events of his life?

Many of my memories are sifted through the viewing glass of a video recorder, a camera, an iPhone. My recollections are often reliant on the prompts of those photos, those written words.

What I do remember, with clarity, are moments when I did not have the camera ready.  When my son received an unexpected award or accolade from school, when the citation was read, and my eyes teared up for his recognition. Or his whole-bodied, open-armed joy when he opened the front door, to unexpectedly find a beloved relative standing there.

Mindful of my son's exhortation to 'watch', I tried hard to balance my passion for recording events, with experiencing those events.  I tried to record what I thought would be important to us in the future. Photos of time with special people, relatives and friends now grown older or deceased. Photos of times when we'd travelled, that holiday of a life-time. I took photos for the future, to look back to the past.

However.

Recently my son graduated, with first class honours, from his University of choice. After four years of dedicated effort, he walked up to the Chancellor to receive his degree.

This was the culmination of years of passion, of drive, and of balancing academia with life.

My memory of this moment?  Well, it’s lost. As I lifted my iPhone to view the scene, I was distracted by the quality of the picture, and so missed this point in our history.  I did not see him doff his hat.  I did not see him walk to the dais.  I did not see him receive his award, or shake the hand of the Chancellor.

What should have been a clear memory of a lifetime, is simply an opaque recollection.  The photos, of course, are of poor quality, filtered, like my memory. 

With my obsession of recording for the future, I missed my one opportunity to experience the present.

Further reading:

'What's Lost When We Photograph Life Instead of Experiencing It? ' Rebecca Macmillan. The Conversation, 2016.

'There's a time to put down the smart phone, seriously.'   Brett Hutchins.  The Conversation, 2016

© Larissa Dann. 2016.  All rights reserved

Comments

I think that all parents are guilty of the "proud parent" syndrome - I definitely am.

Its a little bit like being a tourist where the recording/photo etc is only ever a part of the story as its impossible to reproduce how you felt and the nuances of your experience in time and place.

Thanks for the post, Larissa, I am definitely going to challenge myself to try to no longer record but, rather, just enjoy watching and being present.

Thank you, Erin. It is hard to capture the context and atmosphere surrounding an event, although a photo can prompt some memories. Sometimes I try to experience an event, and record it, by setting the view finder below the level of my eyes. But even then, I'm often concentrating more on setting up the record, rather than participating in the event.

Same happened to me yesterday. I am so sad and angry with myself. I only just got a new phone, otherwise my gaze would have been on the moment. I ordered the graduation DVD straight after. I am consoling myself with the thought I can watch my son's moment over and over to make up for my stupid inattention. He wasn't bothered at my idiocy and there were so many special moments of the day I DID have my full attention on. A hard lesson to learn though.

I feel your pain! I am sorry I did not order the DVD - so much else happening on the day. Thank you for sharing.

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