An Afternoon with the Kids

An Afternoon with the Kids

I enjoyed a great afternoon with my kids this last Sunday. Since I’ve been in a new photo-sig at work, and since I started this blog a month ago, I thought I’d take my wife’s little 3-megapixel camera with me. Sure, it’s not an SLR, but why be a snob—especially when the images are free?  

We got a late start and didn’t head out for McDonald’s Playland until very late, and by the time we got down the road—I mean, all of about 15 minutes—Elisabeth had passed out. You can see here that she’s pretty groggy, and that was after she and AJ had slept in the van for about two hours.

Yes, you read that right. I’m a horrible parent. I made my kids sleep in an air-conditioned van. :: sigh :: Oh well. Once Elisabeth starts sawing logs, you don’t want to wake her up. She won’t go back to sleep, and we’ll all have battles on our hands until bed-time. So, I got to McD’s and ordered a cheeseburger for AJ (yes, more parental cruelty), and we headed off for a nice park with a shady tree where we all got to kick back in the van for a while, and I got to catch up on the latest Dean Koontz thriller.

After naptime we headed back home with a quick stop to pick up a salad for Jennifer, and then we were off to McD’s again. I’d promised AJ he could play at the Playland, and Jen needed some time off from taking care of the chirren for a while, so I was game to watch AJ knock himself senseless against the labyrinthine plasticity of Ronald’s House of Horrors…with fries. But I’d just picked up the camera when I dropped off the salad (nice trade, eh?), so I convinced AJ to let me stop by the park to shoot some pictures. It was the golden hour (see the colors?) and I didn’t want to waste it indoors. He agreed, so we stopped. The picture you see here is AJ and Elisabeth trying—and failing—to feel the joy in sitting on a bench mere yards away from the real excitement while daddy plays with zoom and flash settings.

I know. Dads have all the fun.

After a couple fruitless attempts at candid portraiture, I set the ankle-biters free to move about the playground. AJ decided he didn’t need to play in the McDonald’s spaceship after all, and he was quite happy to crash around the playground. After all, there’s wood chips here, and those are so much more edible than Ronald’s fries. Right? Elisabeth agrees.

Elisabeth was more than willing to try a little static-cling slide action herself. So, I had my hands full, what with watching her, keeping track of AJ (impossible under the best and least distracting of circumstances) and fiddling with the ever fidgetable digicam. But I did manage to point the camera and hit the button now and then. The impossible part is timing the shot with a 0.5–to-2–second delay (digital camera joy) so that I can actually catch an expression and not get backs of heads or blurred arm-waving. Both kids are so “active” (the p.c. term for “ants in their pants”), that unless we feed them valium, they are always showing up in our cameras as a multi-colored blur. (Note to law-enforcement: I don’t feed my kids valium. Not yet, anyway.) A more superstitious person might suspect we were harboring ghosts, not children.

I have an adage for candid photography and candid portraiture to remind me that timing is everything: “If you can see the shot, you’ve missed it.” You have to anticipate the moment, you have to set up things in such a way that the candid moments happen, and you have to know when they’re going to happen, and be prepared. If you can see it, it’s too late. And that’s never more true than with slow-responding digital cameras and chaotic quantum states like toddlers and pre-adolescent boys.

They didn’t teach me that in high school photography. All the books Edward Weston and Ansel Adams wrote said nothing about prescience beng a prerequesite for good photography. I guess, if you normally shoot sunsets, still-life, and old folks, you can take your time. But with kids? You can’t be “in the moment.” You have to be “before the moment.”

Fortunately, the day was still a little warm, and there was that once-in-a-weekend second or two where AJ actually stops and takes a breather. We’d recently watched a TLC program on “Parkour,” or “free-running,” titled “Jump|Britain,” and ever since then AJ has been a virtual whirling dervish, spinning around from one hard object to the next, looking for the next thing he can climb on or—usually—crash into and spin out of control off of. He thinks it’s great. My wife and I think it’s the funniest thing since drunken cats on stage. Neighbors are not impressed. But it keeps him active, he’s having fun, and it wears him out: and that’s all good.

Eventually, the light failed me, and all the shots I took were blurred images with a lot of camera shake and subject motion. So, I gave up and took some macro photos of things that didn’t move while I still had some twilight left. Those were some okay shots. Maybe they’ll turn up here later. Meanwhile, as AJ put some finishing touches on some new moves I helped choreograph (like that makes any sense, a 300 lb. behemoth with bad knees giving parkour pointers to a four-year old? Oh, the arrogance of fatherhood!) I managed to sneak one last shot of Elisabeth stumbling around the park bench near a very orangey–colored lamppost. What I intended to shoot didn’t happen, of course, but I still like the resulting image. The thumbnail makes no sense at all, you’ll need to see the full image. Even then, it may take a few moments. Look for the ears and poney-tail scrunchy.

Then AJ found a discarded toy basketball and asked me to throw it to him. When he handed it to me, I asked him to stop for a moment, and I actually got another “still” photo of the freerunning wunderkind. Of course, there’s still camera shake—even the fill flash didn’t save me there. You can see more ears on him here than he has genetic rights to. But, I am very taken by the image. He’s sweaty, disheveld, a little tired, but unable to own up to it, and he still wants to play. A few balls tossed, then, and it was time to go. The kids were fading fast, the sun was long gone, everybody had had their fun, and it was time to get some grub and get to bed. 

Unfortunately, as soon as we got everybody loaded up, the joy of the day evaporated in a cauldron of tears.

Who can explain this? Daddy can’t.

Praise the Lord for fast food, disposable diapers, and comfy beds.


[tags]BlogRodent, photography, kids, parkour, children, play, AJ, Elisabeth[/tags]

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