I’m a talking about a camera. We want to capture each one of our children’s amazing, stumbling firsts, from smiles to steps to best friends. We want to remember the beauty and the grace that comes from watching a child develop into a personality. We want every snaggle-tooth smile and gapped up hair cut. As they grow, there are Terrific Kid assemblies and award ceremonies. Through it all, you’re there with your camera, snapping away to ensure each moment is accurately documented.
But if your child is like mine — who has ADHD and is sensory avoidant — then being his “mamarazzi” turns into a struggle for power between a mother who wants her child’s achievements recorded for all time and a child whose anxiety shoots through the roof when the camera comes out.
My side: I don’t have any photos from my childhood. They were lost in the shuffle of too many moves and too many children, a single parent struggling to make ends meet, and an extreme lack of organization. You can’t take pictures when no one can remember to bring a camera. I yearn for glimpses of me as a child, for proof that I did cool things, for some evidence of the girl who turned into the woman I am.
His side: The biggest picture-taking moments all fall into the same category. Everyone’s looking at him already. He’s on the spot. He’s [often] in uncomfortable clothes that he has to wear because other people want him to. It’s loud. It’s bright. He doesn’t know anyone. And now his mother is making a scene by having him stand and smile in some prominent location that disallows him from fading into the woodwork. He does not enjoy being in the spotlight because that’s where the eyes are.
The energy between us becomes fraught and tense. I’m whispering harsh threats through clenched teeth. I’m bargaining and begging. He takes on the look of a caged animal. He gets angry and then upset. He storms away or snarls at the camera.
We both lose the ability to enjoy whatever milestone moment we’re supposed to be celebrating. The negative interaction leaves no room for joy and encouragement. No room for growth. There’s only anger, bitterness, and resentment.
And so. Something has to give. For this mamarazzi, it’s the camera.
I’ve spent my last awards ceremony as the shrew who pushes her son into anxious tears and stomach cramps because she fears he’ll one day feel unimportant because there’s no picture of his biggest moments. We’ve fought through him winning a slew of awards, including his school’s science fair and our state’s writing competition. But rather than remembering the butterfly-tummy of seeing my child acknowledged, I remember feeling resentful and angry and guilty guilty guilty.
Our new rule is: He decides. I have the camera and he decides if I get to use it. It’s his body, his likeness, his accomplishment. As his mother, I’ll be there ready to capture it for some future nostalgia. But if he doesn’t ask for it, he won’t get it. And that’s that. (Of course, I told him to take up with his therapist if he decides I was horribly wrong 20 years from now.)
What have you abandoned in favor of happier, calmer moments with your child?