Tucked between two goat stables, a local bluegrass trio provides background music on a warm autumn day at a bustling apple orchard.
In appreciation of the tunes, a group of kids, including my 6-year-old daughter, Lexi, dance an interpretative-irish-step-ballet-hip-hop number.
My view of this Disney-coated mosh-pit is mostly blocked as I sit at a nearby picnic table. Not because of towering apple trees or piles of pumpkins in front of me, but because there is a crowd of photographers working the grassy area over yonder.
“Do that dance move again!” “Now clap your hands.”
I start to wonder if the band is shooting a music video in rural Maine.
Then I realize most of the paparazzi look strikingly similar to the pint-sized dancers they are trying to capture in their frame.
Behold the “perfect” shot.
Looking around, I notice the entire orchard could be mistaken as a Hollywood set. Parents directing their children on where to stand while feeding the animals, inserting quarter after quarter into the grain machine, retaking shots until the “right” smile or head tilt is achieved.
While uploading, texting or admiring this image on screen, one Mom misses her child giving the last of her oats to a smaller little girl who doesn’t have a coin stash.
This exchange, where kindness is explicit even in the facial expression, is one no camera can ever capture and no memory will ever forget.
For a long time, I fell victim to the perfect shot. I staged Lexi, making sure the sun hit her big blue eyes just so, telling her when to show her teeth or take a more serious approach.
I enjoy photography and used that to justify, not only the Mom-appointed poses, but taking 17 pictures where you have to really squint to see any difference at all.
So why’d I stop trying to photograph every moment spent with Lexi? Because I actually wanted to spend those moments with her. As they happened. In real time.
In the near future, there will be things that infringe upon the time we spend together. School activities, friends, sports, etc. I don’t need to be sticking another filter between us right now.
My iPhone was becoming that third-wheel you don’t really want around but try to entertain just the same. Lexi would ask “Are you going to take my picture?” And not because we were standing on a mountaintop after conquering its rigorous trail or jumping into the lake without a lifejacket. She’d ask for a photo with her crazy-haired Barbie or standing in the middle of the mall or holding up a bright pink highlighter.
The request was certainly part habit of having her photo taken but also, my phone was always within reach. She was used to me clicking. Typing. Posting.
The blue lowercase f was an app I, somehow, didn’t realize she’d observed me mindlessly scrolling through.
“Are you going to put that on Facebook?”
Those eight words made me tuck away technology and think about the photos I was taking. When was the last time I actually printed and framed these pictures? I couldn’t recall. Did I really want to record the moment or just show 700 people that I was having a super fun time with my super cute daughter?
I needed a digital detox. This past summer we lived as screen free as possible. In fact, I was so detached that I abandoned my “Screen Free Summer” blog because during our outdoor adventures, I felt myself distracted, thinking about what I’d write about when I sat at my laptop later in the evening.
So instead, I centered my thoughts around joy. I wanted to re-learn what it was like to be excited about everything. I wanted to approach each day with carefree childlike joy, just as Lexi does. Beyond that, I wanted to figure out when and why it stops.
The answer has yet to come, but often times we blame “life” and growing up. Responsibilities and obligations. Being too “busy” is society’s favorite mantra.
To quote Roald Dahl “…it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself.”
Actually, if you want to portray a twinkle, there’s an app for that. But for the twinkle to be engrained into our lives, we must remove the “busy” filter between ourselves and joy.
We can tell our kids we admire their delight, we can show them how many likes their photo gets …. but to prove that their relentless enthusiasm is the chosen way to live (whether 5 or 50), we must “whip/nae nae” right alongside them, inching our way out from behind the camera, becoming a model. Then, we can habit ourselves to dance like nobody is watching … knowing, the only reason nobody is watching, is because they caught your contagious twinkle.
With iPhone’s now stuffed in pocket, fellow orchard-goers stand nearby, slowly nodding their heads to the folk music until they feel comfortable dancing their own jig; moving their bodies to the beautiful rhythm of life.
Clap. Slide. Tap.
Talk about the perfect shot.