When I think back to the hallways of my childhood home, I remember the pictures my mom and dad had hung on the wall: a portrait of me, in second grade, posed in front of some sort of autumn farm scene… a family portrait that was taken at Sears where we are all smiling ear-to-ear… a picture of my dad with his arm around me standing in front of MGM Studios in Disney World when I was a teenager. Every picture was posed, every picture was staged, every picture looks happy. Just a frozen happy moment in time.
I remember taking that class picture. I cried all morning because I hated my shirt. I remember being very fidgety waiting in line to sit down in front of that garish backdrop… just me… in a weird velour striped crewneck shirt, chillin’ in front of a picture perfect New England barn. So weird, so artificial. But the end result was a picture of a happy little girl with a crazy cowlick and a big toothless smile looking at the camera happily. The picture in Disney? Yeah, my dad was yelling at me about two minutes before the picture was taken because I was 14 and hated the world (as all 14 year olds do), so I was rolling my eyes and sighing heavy sighs ruining the goddamned trip to the happiest goddamn place on earth. My mom had just gotten this really high-end 35mm camera and was itching to use it so I remember her saying something to the effect of, “GODDAMN IT, THE TWO OF YOU STOP IT. STAND THERE AND SMILE!” And my dad and I stopped what we were doing for just a moment to take the picture. About two seconds later he was back to threatening to get us on the next flight to CT and I was back to pouting. I don’t really remember the events surrounding the family portraits at Sears, but I imagine at one point my dad probably said that my mom was taking too long to get ready and my mom probably told my dad that he was driving too fast and at some point, she probably told me to stand up straight because I was always slouching and my dad probably rubbed the back of his neck anxiously, the way he did when he was getting impatient because the photographer was taking too long. But I don’t really remember those details because all I have left of the day is an image of me, in a stiff purple dress with that cowlick waving in the wind, sitting between my gorgeous twenty-something parents, smiling the biggest smiles.
But, that’s the way it was, back before we could snap 350 selfies a day on a mobile device. Taking photographs of events or people was a process. Buy film, load the film into the camera, make sure lighting was right, point, click and then wait until you finished the entire roll of film to take it to the Fotomat to be developed. There were no do-overs. You took the picture and hoped for the best. I remember the excitement of taking a roll film to the photo developing booth and waiting for those pictures to be developed. You chucked the blurry ones, framed the especially beautiful ones, and then put the rest into a photo album to be admired for generations to come. Mom and Dad didn’t take 25 shots of you petting the dog or eating your spaghetti. No one wasted time taking duck-lipped selfies. Times have changed, though. On any given lazy Saturday, I will take a hundred pictures of my daughter doing the most mundane things you can think of… helping my husband load the dishwasher, cuddling with the cat, laying on the couch. My daughter is only 3 1/2 years old and I have already taken upwards of 15,000 pictures of her and have probably posted 4,000 of them to Facebook. I don’t usually spend a ton of time considering what to upload to social media. I think it’s cute, I share it.
Last weekend was Father’s Day and my husband and I decided that miniature golf might be a fun thing to do. I dressed my daughter in this really cute Hello Kitty outfit and made sure my phone was charged for what I thought would certainly be photo-op-palooza. The minute we got there, she didn’t like the color of her putter. She wanted to go right to the 5th hole because there was a waterfall there. My husband hit the ball, she grabbed the ball and tossed it back to him. We told her to be patient, she cried. She wanted apple juice. She wanted pizza. She didn’t want apple juice or pizza. It was a nightmare that we abruptly ended somewhere around the 8th hole and the 350th, “WILL YOU STOP IT ALREADY!?” But somehow in the midst of the chaos, I snapped this picture of my husband showing her how to hit the ball:
Later, I sort of mindlessly posted the picture to Facebook, no caption, no funny quip about what a disaster it was, and I started to feel like a total imposter. I felt like I needed to go back and edit the picture with an explanation or some little self-deprecating qualifier that the whole outing was an ordeal. I felt like a phony and that somewhere, someone on my friends list was thinking, “there she goes again, trying to make life look perfect.” I’m not sure why it mattered to me what my old coworker from TGI Friday’s who I haven’t seen since I was 23 or my husband’s great aunt might think I might be trying to portray.
So I got to thinking… why do we feel guilty about NOT letting people in on the good, the bad, the ugly of parenting? Sometimes, I take a picture of my kid in the living room and strategically crop out the pile of toys in the corner. Sometimes I add a black & white filter if my carpet looks dingy. And, sometimes I post pictures of my kid covered in toilet paper or the massive mess she’s made of laundry I just folded or my dog covered in Mickey Mouse bandaids. Just because I let the people on my friends list in on the good and the funny, doesn’t mean I always want to chronicle the dirty and the disgusting and the less than happy moments. I doubt friends of my mom and dad ever came to our house and whispered to each other, “Look at those happy pictures. What phonies, trying to portray themselves as the perfect family! tsk tsk.” That’s all anyone put out for the world to see- edited, sanitized snapshots of a moment in time.
So, why do we expect that sharing on social media is all or nothing? I posed the question to one of my parenting groups, and it turns out we all edit on some level.
And I was reminded that there’s no harm in posting that picture of my family without qualifying first. It was a cute Kodak moment that I will look back on in 15 years and see it for what it was– a moment. By then, maybe I’ll forget how much she whined or how we stormed out of there as quickly as we could, barely taking a moment to make sure we returned the golf balls and putters to the right place. And, chances are, my daughter will look at it years from now and see it as this sweet picture of her and her dad on when she was a toddler.
And, there’s nothing wrong with telling the whole story either… some of us like to share tales of potty accidents and doggy haircuts when you were in the bathroom and permanent marker scribbles on the new couch. These moments are real, they are often funny and they offer a minor reminder– to others, and to our future selves– that parenting isn’t always neat and pretty.
I think my friend Scott said it best:
We share and we overshare. We get pissed off at a co-worker and fire off a vague status update about “some” people being lazy. We are sitting in the doctor’s office and post a 10 line complaint about how inconsiderate it is to have a 2:45 appointment and at 3:15 we are STILL waiting. We make an arugula salad and take a picture of it, add a filter, crop out the pile of mail in the corner of the kitchen and slap it up on Instagram. And the thing is… a lot of what we share is not for others. Social media is just one big huge photo album/diary hybrid… an ongoing chronicle of our lives that we add to on an ongoing basis. So, Girl Who I Went to Grad School With and Second Cousin Once Removed and Person Who I Friended like 8 Years Ago but Don’t Remember Where We Actually Met, if you’re side-eyeing because I’m only showing you the sanitized version of my life, too bad. You won’t look back on these pictures and posts 6 years from now… but I will. And I want to remember the good and the funny and occasionally the icky and the messy and the sad. It’s my story to tell.
But I do have to fess up: sometimes, I look at what others post and I side-eye. “I’ve been to their house… they totally cropped out that huge hole in the wall…” or “Look at that couple smiling in that picture at so-and-so’s wedding… I was there and I know they spent like 45 minutes outside arguing”, and “oooh, girl, how many filters are on that selfie? Cause I know what you actually look like!” And strangely enough, I find that those thoughts seem to creep in the most when I’m feeling frustrated or angry or dissatisfied at something in my own world… that’s when pictures of others’ kids in crisp and clean white dresses or frolicking on the beach annoy me. It’s the times when I can’t relate and I wish someone was feeling as down in the dumps as I am at that moment. Our telling of our reality is very personal… but it also connects us to others and makes us feel not so alone in our trials and tribulations and potty accidents and piles of toys in the corner and temper tantrums at the Mini Golf place.
So… how do you decide what you share on Facebook for all to see? Do you purposely “edit”? And, do you look at other people’s posts and critique the “realness” of the story they’re telling? Tell us in the comments below!