When a friend dropped by with her 2-year-old — clinging, crying, demanding juice and then milk, no, JUICE! — frankly, we found him fascinating. We simply could not remember any time when our own kids, now teens, had ever been that horrid.
The 2-year-old’s parents looked a tad peeved at our amnesia, until my husband, Joe, figured out the source of our self-satisfaction: “We took our videos at all the wrong times.”
Bingo. If you look at the video record of our kids (bring some NoDoz), you will find a twosome so sweet they could actually rot teeth. But you won’t find real life.
Here they are pretending to toboggan through our living room, after a double timeout (not shown).
Here they are dancing to a Beatles song — after a half-hour, untaped, of Joe’s trying to get the CD player working.
And ah, just look at them there, stirring the brownie batter — with the camera expertly snapped off the second one started screaming, “You’re licking too much!”
No, our family looks pretty perfect on video, as must yours, because if there’s one thing we have all learned, it is what constitutes a Kodak moment: It is the moment our life most conforms, however briefly, to the way we’d like it to be. And it is about as reliable a record as a souvenir postcard.
“All families want to be seen as happy, friendly and successful,” says my friend Dan, a freelance photographer. “However, these Kodak moment pictures are a far cry from our daily lives.”
Not only do we instinctively reach for the camera only when our kids are acting like the ones in “The Sound of Music” but also we often wait until far-flung relatives have assembled and the house is clean and the dog isn’t sniffing anywhere embarrassing. In this way, we create our own mythology of a perfect family.
Mythology? Yes, that’s what you’ll find between the covers of most family photo albums. See, in the days before photography and the Industrial Revolution, cultures passed down their myths orally: We are the people of the trees! Our chief is the son of thunder. His mother brings forth corn, etc., etc. People learned the same story about their collective ancestors.
But with the advent of photography, families were suddenly able to record their own individual history: This is our very own grandfather. We descended from him.
And that means now we mythologize our own forebears. So in our pictures, we show ourselves smiling, gracious, bounteous and successful. See? Here’s graduation. A wedding. A 30-inch striped bass.
When something goes wrong — say, a breakup — many are the miffed who will snip the discarded spouse out of the picture. There! That never happened.
Likewise, you won’t find many portraits of loved ones sick in the hospital — or even sitting on the couch while watching infomericals. That’s not the stuff of myth. That’s the stuff of real life.
The stuff that slips away.
Kodak moments may make us feel proud of who we are and where we come from, but they do a disservice to memory. When we don’t have pictures of the toy-strewn house, Mom in her bathrobe or Grandpa dribbling his soup, the life we really lived disappears. By the time we want to remember it, we can’t.
Goodbye, memory. Hello, “moment.”
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids.”