When I was a kid, I would look around every so often to spot the people with the cameras. You know, the same people who traipsed across Mayfield all day to film Theodore Cleaver’s interactions with Wally, Eddie, Ward and June. If there were people following the Beav all day, there must be someone doing the same with me.
Okay, clearly I was a weird kid. (Insert weird adult joke here.) Still, there was something that just seemed natural about the camera crews who were memorializing the wacky shenanigans in the Cleaver household and, most certainly, mine.
My kids benefited from this fascination as I recorded pretty much everything they did from birth, both in photos and video. When they were newborns, I even propped them up on a pillow every Sunday and shot five seconds of their faces, creating a lima bean series for each one’s first year. For three years in the 1980s, my daughters were photographed more than the Royal Corgis.
I’ve been thinking about our video memories lately as I play with my grandchildren. All are under five and they won’t remember any of the things we are doing today. At this point, our interactions add to the richness of our lives, but not to memories, because brain development creates a kind of amnesia about early experiences. Most of us can’t remember much, if anything, from our first five or six years. My daughters’ memories from those years come mostly from watching the videos, and my memories are mostly non-existent.
What’s your first memory and how old were you when the experience occurred? Mine is from an event at a home, probably when I was under five, walking up steps into a room filled with adults. There was a stairway to the second floor in front of me, a living room on the left and what I suppose to have been a dining room on the right. There was a woman in a wheel chair that I met, or maybe she was just seated, but I have no idea who she might have been or what the event was. Was I visiting my great grandmother in a nursing home? Was it a house of mourning and my parents couldn’t find a sitter? There’s no way to know, because my camera crew was focused on the Cleaver family that day.
So, what do you want to remember, and how do you want to be remembered? We make sure to record the big events, like that kale salad that was to-die-for, but the everyday activities hold more of a special place for me.
I’d love to replay my dad walking down the street from the bus stop, whistling to us from a block away, or the conversations I had with my mom’s dad, who picked me up from school for lunch every once in a while. I wanted the camera crew following me when we played horse after Hebrew School, although not the time I fell off and cracked my head open, and when we trudged through the snow with our sled to get food at the Jewel after the blizzard of 1967.
I’d love to revisit the time Samantha and I made up our first stories or Morgan’s laughter when I pretended to burn my finger on her plastic egg. I want to replay the time Dylan played a head-bobbing game with a daycare classmate at another table in the restaurant, and I want to savor the first time Hailey reached for me to pick her up. Or, maybe, I want to be sure they can revisit these moments after I am gone.
The challenge with magic moments is that they come and go sporadically, usually without warning. We know when everyone is going to sing Happy Birthday, so the camera is rolling, but we can’t anticipate when Agnes is going to stand up and walk for the first time or the first time Aiden will hug you back.
What I really need is a bodycam that I can turn on when the magic moments happen, but a bodycam will only capture what I see, not me, and I’m already the invisible man in our home movies. What I really, really, need is to convert my whole world into a movie studio with 3-D capability and Dolby sound, but that would be ridiculously expensive.
What I really, really, really need is my own reality TV show. Does anyone know a producer?