“I don’t want that picture posted,” my daughter remarked as she flipped through the images on my iPhone. I glanced over casually and laughed out loud, for the umpteenth time, at a picture of my five year old daughter squatting and ‘shaking her booty’ as she mocked the prissy walk of one of our cats. “I think it is hilarious. Your aunts will love it,” I chuckled.
“Mom! No!” she exclaimed. And since she had the phone in hand, she hit delete and the debate was over. No goofy daughter picture to post to Facebook. The conversation made me pause to ponder, however, about my ability to embarrass my children. Something parents have been doing for years, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.
When I was younger, I had amazingly long, thick hair which fell half-way down my back. Around age nine or so, I was amusing myself by swinging it around with abandon. My mother, with her life-long short hair, was amazed at how my hair would fan out and she snapped a few pictures on her 35mm camera. Today, those old pictures still make me cringe for some reason with my sometimes vapid, sometimes goofy expression, with my wild hair going out in all directions. I’ve never thrown the pictures away, but I always just glance at them and then shove them back into the picture box, way in the bottom. I mean, I’m a professional woman, with letters after my name, with a full-time job, a mom of two, and a wife, and when I see those pictures, I am suddenly a gawky nine year old again. Maybe it’s not a bad thing, but at least I can deal with it and any related insecurities while I sit by myself on my closet floor, soothing the inner child with a large glass of Merlot. We’ve all been there, right? With an eerie sense of still being a child or even worse, still being teenagers in a stage of half-child, half-woman and all the weirdness which comes with it.
With digital cameras and cell phones, the amount of pictures taken of either of my daughters far exceeds the number of pictures taken of me in my entire life and they are both younger than six. Family members who live across the country have watched my daughters grow up, by following us on Facebook. Anyone who scrolls through these pictures of our lives would never see anything ‘wrong’ with any of them. They are all pictures of a happy, growing family, living in the country with a variety of pets and beautiful landscapes. There are no nudes, not even a suggestive bathing suit. There are no obscene gestures, no suggestions of innuendo, or even anything of political bent. It’s a portrait of a family, which seems wholesome (glasses of Merlot excepted) and if you don’t know us, probably a little boring. On the surface, you might think there is nothing of concern about these pictures.
Now, ask any mother, or maybe I should say, ask any good mother, and she’d say she does not approve of posting or texting of any nudity or even anything sexually suggestive of any child. But catch one of the girls screeching like a monkey, and we’re there with our grins and iPhones to capture the moment and to post it to the internet, where it will be on display forever.
These constant photo ops have affected how my children react to me. Catch either one of them on a good day, hold up my phone, and they immediately roll their eyes and stick out their tongue. It’s easier to make a funny face than to smile prettily for the camera. Put the phone away and they go back to what I call acting normally which includes talking constantly, playing loudly, and staying in constant motion. Pull out the phone, and again they stop and pose.
Catch either one of them on a bad day and they’ll turn their backs to you and mumble, “No, mommy.” Only when I’ve shoved the phone back into a pocket or a purse will they turn back and share any interaction. Bad moods, sadness, or just tired and cranky, are things they hide from the camera. The days I forget my phone, or deliberately leave it tucked away, are the days they live expressively, asking questions, sharing, teasing, and even fighting. This is my observation in the isolation of my own home, where we try to focus on books, art, music, science and exploring. I’ve started to wonder though, what happens when the cameras are always there? When we are not at home and the world awaits? Will my girls always feel the need to act out on a good day, and to hide out on a bad day? I’m not worried about Big Brother watching (okay maybe a little). But how do you live in a world when everyone is watching, and then replaying over and over, and sometimes laughing at you?
I have a picture I recently took of one of my older cousins. He’s sitting on the front porch of his parent’s farmhouse, a gorgeous Australian shepherd sitting at attention at his feet. My cousin is leaning back in his chair, hands folded neatly in his lap, wearing his neatly pressed overalls, and a wide-brimmed hat. I snapped the picture just as he looks over at me with beautiful blue eyes in his weather beaten face. Beyond him is the slightly blurred background of the yard fence, the chicken house, and a smattering of grazing chickens. One of the reasons I love this picture is because of how much the image of my cousin reminds me of his dad, who was always one of my favorite people on earth. I see this picture and I can instantly smell fresh hay, gardens, and my uncle’s occasional whiff of Wild Turkey bourbon. Note, I said only on the surface do we look like a wholesome family.
As soon as I left the farm that day and had a chance to grab a cell signal, I posted the picture to Facebook, thinking of how one of his sisters will love to see it. And she did. Her response was “Oh, how I love and miss that face.” Affirmation for me. Then, another of his sisters (he has six) sent me a message explaining, very kindly, how my cousin does not like his picture being posted to the internet.
His face, his choice, his privacy.
His face. Wow, with one phrase, I felt suddenly transformed from a loving family member into grubby paparazzi snapping pics on the sly of a celebrity and then selling to a tabloid.
At a later visit, my charming cousin brushed aside my apology for the posting. He has no interest in my apology and focuses his attention on my daughters who are currently trying to catch one of the chickens. He’s interested to see if they can do it and what will happen when the hen retaliates with her sharp little beak. He stands with his hands in his pockets, leaning forward slightly as if urging one of them (chicken or girls?) to succeed. I stand beside him, enjoying the breeze, and watching the events unfold before us of the scrambling chickens, the giggling girls, and the making of a memory. Against my fingers in my pocket, I can feel the sleek metallic edge of my phone. I jam it further into my pocket. It is time to just watch. I don’t know yet how to protect them out there or even if it is always needed.
But today, their faces, their choices, their privacy.