There is a shoebox that makes me cringe. My brother and I, since we were little kids, dreaded its appearance, emerging from my parents' and — in later years — my mother's room, when we had "company" over at our home. The shoebox moved along with my mother from house to apartment and now house again. Through the years, the pictures inside the shoebox have changed; there are some additions, while some disappeared mysteriously and unceremoniously when no one was looking. The photographs are a record of our upbringing, not limited to my awkwardness, my graduations, holidays, poor wardrobe choices, and unfortunate hair trends. Like all things of the past, they bring up memories both pleasant and otherwise. No one would question the validity, although futility, of the eye-rolls my brother and I imposed when my mother would bellow, like a sportscaster eager to see a controversial play again, "Let's look at the photos!"
Today the opportunities to commemorate family life, as well as embarrass family members, are so prevalent, they can be accidental. I was preparing to post a picture I had just taken on my phone of my oldest daughter recently, outside, doing nothing more than walking back from getting coffee; I paused and stared at my phone, opening apps, swiping, about to "share," when she said, "NO! Please don't put that on Facebook!"
My oldest daughter is eight years old. She doesn't have a phone, or any social media accounts. She knows about social media, however, from friends, from Disney shows, and from watching me on my laptop and smartphone. She is aware that her image and those of her friends' are on the Internet for many people to see and "like" or not. She tells me to post "selfies" with her once in a while; and she is clear about pictures she doesn't want shared.
She reminded me recently of a time when I did not respect her wishes. My three kids were having a song and dance party in the living room, which is not unusual, especially just about the time I am telling them to get ready for bed. I was in a better mood than I am most nights at bedtime, appreciating the energy of the dancing, the belting out tunes barely familiar to me. Surprised by their extensive show of popular lyrics and moves, I realized I was watching little children on the verge of becoming big kids. They have a bank of knowledge and experience completely separate from me now. I started taking pictures with my phone, capturing what, in a few years, will be something more sophisticated than "adorable."
And I put a picture up on Facebook that my oldest didn't like and didn't want me to share. The way she tells it, I didn't care that she didn't want the photo on social media. It must have been a non-thought for me at the time, because I don't remember this. I hope I deleted it once she strongly objected; I went through my social media pictures, and I can't find the one about which she was upset. But truly, that was just the beginning of the end of posting freely for me. Now that my kids are aware of their image being used on social media, that they are old enough to have opinions on this, I ask.
We are connected as parents through our pictures, our shares, our posts, all our stories that resonate with each other. We are a community nodding with joy and frustration and sorrow with each other. I will continue to document childhood online; the timeframe during which I can do this is likely shorter than I realize. But now there will be discussion before I do.
Unlike the shoebox residing still, inconspicuous, in my mother's house, the Internet is wide and forever, and unpredictable, like the open seas. The discomfort and embarrassment of shared photos doesn't end when company puts down their drinks, grabs their coats, and says goodnight.