Putting our toddler in charge of the digital camera on our nature walk was my husband’s idea. She’d been playing with her little wooden camera a lot lately. And like all babies, she’d always loved looking at photographs of herself. He wanted to see what would happen if we let her document the morning. On the drive to the mountain, I said to John (out of earshot, I sincerely hope) that there was a one hundred percent chance A was going to drop the camera and break it. I was sure this was true because sixteen years ago, I gave a digital camera to a three year old and he dropped it and broke it. The mistake had been mine. I’d learned my lesson. John didn’t find my evidence very compelling and said he was willing to take that risk. So we tightened the little strap around her wrist and off we went.
We had a blast that morning. A took tons of photos, many of me walking five feet up ahead, as she rode on her dad’s shoulders. She only dropped the camera a tiny distance one time. It’s completely fine! I didn’t give my girl – or my husband – enough credit. I apologized to them already but it feels good to confess it here.
Like many first time parents, John and I take a ridiculous number of photographs. We never ask A to look at the camera, or prompt her to do anything at all. Whatever she’d do would be way more interesting than whatever we’d come up with, anyway. But it seemed – very early on – that she understood what we were doing and didn’t mind at all. Before she could even sit up on her own, she gazed directly into the camera. Once she could walk, her behavior became even more surprising. She’d sometimes change her posture once she knew she was being photographed. Or she’d lean against something nearby. Her comfort in front of the camera made me nervous. I didn’t understand it. But the day she draped her arm over the head of a camel statue she was riding and lowered her chin, staring defiantly into the camera LIKE A BOSS, I realized with a combination of amazement and dread what she was doing: she was modeling.
I cannot overstate that she wasn’t doing this because of my husband or me.
…Not only because we’re not asking her to stand or move a certain way, but also because we adopted her. A’s birth mother, along with her own mother, modeled when she was younger. Seeing A give serious face on the back of that camel challenged my assumptions. I always thought that modeling and posing were learned behaviors. I watched several seasons of America’s Next Top Model and those girls seemed to be working hard. Was A born knowing how to pose for a camera, even though her parents take only candid photographs? If so, that would mean she’d inherited a learned behavior, which was something I thought we didn’t do. Maybe modeling is more of a talent, which can be inherited. Since nobody in my family is a model, I really have no idea.
I spent about a week spinning out about all the implications, risks, concerns, possibilities, and dangers of our daughter growing up to model professionally. Then I decided to knock it off because she’s two and this is not an actual concern in our current lives.
In the meantime, it seems fair that A gets to experience life on both sides of the camera. It didn’t make sense to tempt fate with that digital camera as an ongoing thing. So we compromised and gave her a kids’ shock-proof cased camera for Christmas. At the top of this post are three of my favorites of the images she captured in those first few days:
A shot of her feet and her father’s feet, as he explained how the camera works.
Our neighbor’s front yard candy canes, which she insisted on visiting every day.
And a trippy light display. I’m delighted to say I have no idea when or where she took that one.
I keep waiting for the phase every toddler seems to go through – when they refuse to let you take pictures and cover their face like Greta Garbo or cover the lens like Alec Baldwin. She hasn’t gotten there yet at 2 years 9 months but we’ve got plenty of toddler to go. Sometimes she’s moving so fast that the frenetic energy of toddlerhood registers as a colorful blur. Other times, she’s placid and relaxed. In those moments, I wonder if she might skip the photography refusal phase. Either way, she’ll have already been well chronicled.
Since we started letting A take her own pictures, she’s less interested in looking at photographs of herself. If she sees one, she’ll say “that’s me,” but she doesn’t ask to look at them the way she used to.