To My Son: What I Found On Your Flickr Page

You posed the question after a sleep over with an old friend who has one. “Mom, can I open a Flickr account?”

Knowing Snap, Instagram and the like were out of the question, you settled on a place to store and show off your photographs.

My instinct was to say, “No.” I can’t help it but my brain works as such – Education first. Activities second. Apps later.

School wasn’t back in session a week, and I’d already joked with Dad about moving out until June. To confess, I’d been stewing and strategizing about how to help this year’s middle school experience be a good one since about mid-summer. The thought of you changing classes, managing assignments from multiple teachers, racing the bell, schlepping materials, decoding directions, and staying organized, focused and moderately positive for 180 days straight had me stressed out.

Dead set on prioritizing real experience over the virtual, we settled, Dad and me with enthusiasm and you with a grunt on a new plan to limit device use to the weekend. This wasn’t because we were trying to make you hate us, but rather to encourage you to find escapes other than Minecraft, keep life simple and not have electronics compete with other stuff. Text, email and music were still on the table, just not YouTube and video games.

So when you first inquired about Flickr, the last thing I wanted was to stoke the coals with even the most benign of social media. I was afraid if I let the string out, even a smidge, you’d unravel; sneak the iPad, choose Flickr over after school clubs, resent homework more and avoid opportunities to hang out with real people.

My mind was pretty much made up.

Then I quizzed you on your foreign language flashcards. As I read off the word and waited to hear the translation, you starred at the wall, fiddled with a bracelet, smiled, but said nothing. I observed the nothingness. As you well know, this was unusual. In the past, I would’ve said your name a thousand times. Not this time. I’m sure I was too tired to bother.

After 45 seconds you turned to me. “Huh?”

“I said the word,” I replied.

“You did? Sorry I was thinking about something.”

Dreaming. Fantasizing. Creating. I wondered, What goes on in that brain of yours?

Before going to bed, I stopped to charge your iPad and peeked at the camera’s photo album. I thought about your love of art, my tendency to hover and two speeches we heard when our neighbor’s son became a Bar Mitzvah a few months back.

During the service, the boy’s mom stood on the bimah and spoke to her son about the decision to stop forcing sports down his throat and let him pursue his interest in computers and video production even though she felt hesitant at first. “I had to trust you,” she told him.

The mom was followed by an aunt, a rabbi. She shared wisdom from ancient Jewish mystics, explaining how they believed a parent’s job was to help their children grow into who they were meant to be.

Trust.

Grow into who you were meant to be.

The mother’s and rabbi’s advice probably seems so simple to you. But believe me, it’s hard. At least for me, anyway. To heed their advice means I need to peel back my anxiety and let go of my parental instinct to protect, smother and steer.

The next day, as expected, you persisted about the Flickr. This time, I set up an account.

Right off, you and the iPad disappeared into the neighborhood shooting the landscape, buildings, everyday objects and our cat. I know very little about photography, but I knew one thing. This new freedom turned your wheels and left you charged up, focused and happy.

My proud moment didn’t last. Unfortunately, your mom was programmed to err on the side of control and mistrust long ago. I soon fell back into a familiar frame of mind after wrangling with you at the end of a long day of classes, first day religious school, a couple hours of homework and a late lights out.

Given the level of angst in our house after just one busy day, I figured there was no chance either one of us would be able to handle you having any amount of social media. To prove myself right, I logged onto Flickr to see what you posted, who followed your page, read comments and re-check safety features.

But all was quiet in photography land. I saw there were a few views, a couple of follows and even a “Like.” As I sifted through the slideshow, I also noticed something else in the pictures; something in hindsight, I should have known would be there.

You always find the light.

Discover inspiration in overlooked places.

And capture images from your heart.

“Sky during 9/11. May their spirit always be with us.”

Your Flickr page was filled with hope, perspective and love.

We’ve reached a new stage, you and I. You’re finding your way. I’m learning to let you go. You’re beginning to trust yourself. I’m practicing how to trust in you.

Over the next several months, no doubt you’ll complain, I’ll nag, you’ll forget and I’ll worry. I’ll hear my voice on repeat, you’ll lose your mind.

So let’s make a deal.

When work gets hard, the hallway’s too noisy, friends disappoint and the days are long. When I scream, pontificate or feel like we’re stuck, I say we make a date with Flickr. You can delve into your art. I’ll delight in your discoveries. And together, we’ll enjoy a welcomed escape.

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On Becoming an iPhone Addict

photo credit: Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun

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Mac and the boys mix a seaweed soup off the distant jetty.  I gaze into a misty horizon, body limp; Yingling nestled in the sand.  The rhythm of the waves at low tide aim to sooth.

Poing.  A hand twitches.

Ding.  Temples throb.

Whoooop.

The allure of mommy solitude is not enough for me to ignore the sound.  I reach for the iPhone.

Whose texting me? 

Who shared my post?

How many friends “liked” my status? 

Did a literary agent send an offer email at long last?

It’s the final evening of our family vacation.  It shouldn’t matter.  And yet my brain sizzles with curiosity.

Outsiders observe.  An intervention ensues.

Crash.  The waves argue their case.

Ring.  The ice cream vendor shakes his bell with disgust.

Whistle.  Even the diving kite overhead has something to say.

Nature’s hum is no match for the cocaine colored Otterbox clutched in my palm as I tap and swipe and stare.

Bubbe is wise to my growing affliction.  “Mom, you’re always on the phone.  Didn’t you say no electronics at the beach?  We are on vacation, you know.”

“You’re right,” I nod, tweet discreetly, and drum up an excuse.  “I only use it to take pictures.”

Skootch is convinced the world’s problems can be solved and the universe’s questions answered with a search engine or app.  “Why did my bucket float away?  Where did the wave take it?  When is it coming back?  Mom?  Mom?  Mom?”  He lifts my chin.  “Type it in.”

Many of my peers seem in control.  A walk on the beach with a childhood friend revealed her reasoning behind a quiet Facebook presence.  Upon stowing her iPhone in my fanny pack she shared, “Years ago, I found myself sifting through a wedding album of a friend of a friend and thought, what am I doing?  It was then that I made a conscious decision to stop.”

Tongue tied and stupefied, I rationalized a half-assed reason why, as a writer building a platform and in search of representation I needed to be savvy with social media.

There was a time when I sneered at the mother who looked at a smartphone in lieu of my face during a conversation at a preschool birthday party and rolled my eyes at the texting parent who barked orders from the playground bench.  Now I am that mommy.

And I know better.  I follow Hands Free Mama’s Facebook page.  I Pinterest technology articles.  I even held onto my Blackberry and a flip phone before that until recently because I prefer not to be plugged in.

I teach my children moderation.  Bubbe survived an electronic free sleep away camp, Deletion Day, and is painfully aware that a phone in his immediate future is unlikely.  Skootch doesn’t ask for technology at restaurants, in the car, or on vacation.  Both follow usage rules at home.

But my do as I say not as I do approach will not last much longer.

The sun is setting.

Skootch giggles up the dune chased by Bubbe who lizards across the sand.  Mac brings up the rear.  I stash the phone in the pocket of the Tommy Bahama lounger, pretend to scribble in my journal, and mindfully confess – I am an iPhone addict.

Quick.

Someone point me in the direction of rehab.