Who are these pictures for anyway?

Taking pictures of our kids for posterity...or something

On Saturday night we went to get tacos at Chilo’s, where the abundance of outdoor picnic tables, rapid ordering, and ability for our kids to liberally run around made it a safe-bet destination for a late-ish dinner on a nice weather Saturday. The kids got limeade and pork tacos and many small cups of pickled onions, and Jacob and I savored our beers, hard-earned by that point in the day. 

While waiting for our food Ada asked if she could “watch videos” on my phone. This is a frequent inquiry and the answer is usually no, but she sensed me wavering and adjusted her ask to whether she could look at photos of herself. Specifically, she wanted me to go into my Albums, go to the albums that are organized by Face ID, find the collection of images about her, then play this as a compilation video with music, while she watched her almost six year old self transform over the years. 

The soundtracks to these compilation albums have names Uplifting, Gentle, Extreme, Epic, Club, and provide associated tracks. Ada chose “Happy” and the “Long” version of the video then remarked aloud that this was a Happy Long Ada video. True, I guess. 

As she was watching she had reactions to the images. There are birthday parties and hikes we took and friends we haven’t seen in a while. There is a soft fleece jacket she used to wear and misses and a cake with rainbow sprinkles she’d like to have a slice of now. Mostly she is waiting for the photos with her grandparents—my parents—and she asks me repeatedly, looking for confirmation, that one day I’ll drop her and Julian off so she can take a vacation with them and not with me. I offer a halfhearted commitment, “that seems like a nice idea,” and, “let’s talk to them about it,” knowing the kids are way too much to handle for this to ever be a real possibility. She’s unsatisfied and asks again, and then a third time, all while the Happy Long Ada video is still going. 

Before the tacos we’d just been to a show our friend had organized at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. He started a community-based dance organization a number of years ago and this day there was to be a series of dance and music performances, a vogue ball, and DJs. 

On the way up from Brooklyn we hoped the kids would nap in the car. Julian fell asleep and Ada put on a pair of yellow heart-shaped sunglasses that’d been unearthed in our move. After five minutes of quiet she seemed to be asleep and Jacob, who could see her in the rear view window, encouraged me to make a picture of her preposterously sweet and smug and cool sleeping self. But she wasn’t asleep so when I took the picture she hissed, one of her new angry expressions, and told me to throw my phone out the window. “NO PICTURES,” she growled,” before emitting some other animalistic noises.

When we got to the park we occupied a row near the back of the amphitheater where the show would take place, knowing our wagon full of snacks and kids could use some breathing room. The music was quite loud and Julian covered his ears while acclimating but Ada immediately began full-body gyrating, dancing, and moving her arms with no audience at all. 

She faced the stage and for 30 or 40 minutes before the performances started she kept going, entirely solo, not looking for anyone to care or validate her movement. She was in her body. I took some pictures of her elation from behind, trying and failing to catch the wild joy coming from her small figure. She turned around to see me taking her picture (again) and momentarily stopped dancing, as though considering whether she hated this documentation or not, but then kept going. It seemed to me better at this point to offer the liberation of not being documented, while also unable to turn my camera away from what felt like the most joyful moment in a long time. 

In a recent Maybe Baby newsletter about watching yourself (that inspired this newsletter to some degree), Haley Nahman mentions the Hawthorne effect, “a type of reactivity in which individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.” It made me think of kids—my kid—coming into her self-awareness, of considering how others see her, of being able to see herself in nearly real time, of being able to consider how she is documented and hate it in the moment but love it when she watches herself two hours later, and ask myself who these pictures were really for. Is it a way to remember? Is it a way to know our kids? Is it a way to know ourselves? Is it a way to project our kids as we’d like to remember them to ourselves? Maybe one day it will all become clear. 


Our refrigerator is broken, our internet barely works at home, and our children lost our iPad, but also… Happy Harvest Moon and Happy Cheusok (Korean Thanksgiving). Hope your week is going well.

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