Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 28, 2001


Instant replays of life not pretty When our firstborn came into the world, my husband was there for the initial hours of our son’s life. But as soon as the stores opened, mother and baby were left to bond all by ourselves. Dad was out getting the most essential home appliance for modern middle-class people with children – the video recorder. Late in the evening, after the flood of visiting relatives and friends subsided, my jubilant husband burst into the hospital room. Jubilant because he had a baby, and jubilant that he could record him. He hastily unwrapped his new toy and popped in the first of what would become of many tapes of gurgling and drool. More than a decade, two recorders and 100 full videotapes later, I have begun to ask myself a simple recurring question – why do parents choose to view all the major events of their child’s lives through a one-square-inch peephole? Now we have the optional peephole, since technology has offered us a chance to watch a 3-inch screen as we record. In our home we have the state of the art model, but it’s still a screen! My birthday gift last year was a brand new video recorder. I really had to ponder that one. Having lived without that crutch for a year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back. After all, we had actually gone through an entire Christmas season viewing everything with our naked eyes! Such a thing is unthinkable, isn’t it? We had decided that it was, indeed. So we came back into the fold. There I was yesterday, watching my daughter in a camp production, more concerned about steadying the camera than taking that mental picture that will also last forever in my memory. After breaking away to watch it in real life, I returned to the screen version and noticed that my daughter was headless in the reel life. Add that to the many hours of other worthless footage. My husband has sworn off this whole thing, concluding that all videotape is completely unnecessary. It was the “bath series” that pushed him over the edge. When our son was an infant, and well beyond, I forced my husband to tape many hours of the same thing – my giving the child a bath in the sink. Finally, after we had enough tape of this for our own television series, my husband announced that the Family Chronicles would have to be expanded beyond the bathtub, because he had shot his last splash. The fever of recording died down a bit after that, not because bathing was the most interesting thing the children did, but we just couldn’t seem to keep a battery on charge. The kids would do something adorable and we would race for the video recorder. Four seconds later the screen went to black. Another chance to add to future hours of life replays foiled by a lack of preparation. We resolved to reform. After years of such failures, ending with the failure of the machine itself, it was time to change. The heart-wrenching decision to continue watching life through the peephole, once made, required radical new ways. The new video recorder with the screen ushered in a new era of serious taping. We got an extra battery. We had stockpiles of empty, new tiny tapes. We straightened up. After many fine hours of successful taping, we were ready for the big time. Vacation. As we got ready for last winter’s trip to the Big Apple, I snuck it into the suitcase. My husband discovered it in a last check of bags. “Why did you pack this?” he sneered, practically regurgitating. Sheepishly I confessed, like an addict caught in a relapse, “Well, maybe we’d like to use it on the trip.” I did use it, quite a bit, including taping enough footage to make my own documentary of Ellis Island. On the last day of that fabulous family vacation, New York had a 100-year blizzard. We rushed to Columbus Circle, which was absolutely pristine covered in 2 feet of perfect white snow. The children cavorted in pure rapture, my husband obligingly recording it. A scant three minutes later, he quit. “Out of tape!” he shrugged, not even pretending to be sorry. MARY ANN FITZMORRIS writes this column regularly for L’Observateur.