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April 28, 2008

Let's Go To the Video

Videotaping We watched home movies over the weekend.  I was so looking forward to seeing my pudgy, sweet bambinos again now that they have grown so tall, lanky and capable.  And I remember so fondly watching home movies with my family when I was a kid – tons of laughs and good memories.  So, sure, great idea – let’s watch home movies.

We snuggle in on the couch after dinner - just the four of us - bowls of vanilla ice cream as our movie night snack.  Roll tape.  I am happily engrossed.  "Oh, look you were so cute."  "Oh, look how funny, you’re chasing the cat."  "So sweet, napping."  Then, like the slow reveal of clues in an old "Law & Order" episode the evidence of my titanic parenting mistakes presents itself.  One innocuous seeming miniDV tape offers digital proof that my children have made it to the “tween” or almost tween years despite me rather than because of me.

First, there’s my son’s one-year-old birthday when his three-year-old sister begins to shriek at the dinner table because the cake, the song, the attention are all for her innocent, smiling brother.  What does mom-of-the-year do?  Does she reprimand, does she scold or at least, please at least ignore the tantrum in order to focus on her second-born for five minutes?  Sadly, no.  Instead, I stop the proceedings to inquire as to the problem.  “What’s the matter, honey?  Do you want to help?”  etc., etc.  It is so painful to recall when I can see now with my more seasoned mother eyes that what she wants is that the birthday party be for her.  I ache to go back and change the whole scenario.  Instead, I am forced to contemplate what exactly I might have been thinking as I watch myself coddle my grumpy, ill-mannered three-year-old at a table with my husband who surely recognized my foolishness and a niece and a nephew who must have thought I was the world’s biggest pushover.  I remember back then I believed that it was necessary to honor a small child’s feelings.  Even if they were only barely able to make sense of them themselves at three years old.  I still believe that – in theory – but with caveats and enormous asterisks of refinement.  It is my new theory that our job is to gently civilize these small creatures.

Later, in that same video, is another crowning moment in my motherhood.  My boy now is about fifteen months old, my daughter 3 ½.  We are going to paint.  I set up the spill mat, get the paints, paper etc. all out on the floor.  Then I get the video camera, you know, to record the great art moment that is about to happen in my house.  When a one of my children becomes a great and famous artist, clips from this very video will be inserted into the documentary of his/her life shot by some young filmmaker for PBS someday. 

So I set the camera up, trained mainly on my boy, with his sister a little behind and to the right of him.  He is quietly exploring what I hand him:  paintbrushes, paper.  Finally, I put a dish of blue paint in front of him.  I’m going to show him how to put the brush in and paint it on the paper.  But first his sister NEEDS PURPLE!!  I stop to squirt a dollop of purple into the small white paint dish.  In that moment, my genius boy has figured out that the paint brush gets dipped into the paint – but then, in full view of the camera with mommy none the wiser, the boy scoops an entire paintbrush full of blue paint into his mouth.  He makes a face, pulls the brush out then smacks his lips like a sous chef tasting the sauce.  Then, lo and behold, super mom swoops in and what does she do? She wipes his mouth, never looks inside or wonders why there might be dribbles of blue paint around his lips and merely says “Put the paint on the paper, honey.”  The whole while the poor boy’s mouth is filled with blue tempera paint.  I can’t now remember if blue ever made an unexplained appearance in his diaper later that day or the next.  But watching that video, I wished I'd at least given my boy a drink of water.

My children, of course, laughed and thought the whole thing hilarious.  They were so fascinated to see themselves when they were young, they never noticed my parenting foibles.  Or maybe they’ve come to expect it of me.  I don’t recall thinking anything about my parents when I watched home movies as a girl.  I just wonder what I might think now if I saw them again.  But my parents are long divorced and the home movies were lost in the battle.

I tried to laugh at myself while we watched, but all I could do was cringe.  What was I thinking??!!  Writing this now I wince.  Do we ever live down our parenting foibles?  Will our kids? 

The most scariest part is, of course, that tape was just one of the plethora of videos we’ve shot in the last nine years.  I haven’t the heart to watch any more!

Original post to NYC Moms Blog post.  Jessica Ciosek is a freelance writer living in New York City.


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