"Why are you taking pictures?" Theo was stuck on this question as we hiked through the forest. I tried explaining to him that I think it's fun, that I like the sound of the shutter, or that I like creating pretty pictures, but none my answers seemed to satisfy.
Every time I gave him an answer and he'd purse his lips and furrow his brow as let it sink in. After a moment, and with a look of disapproval, he'd turn to me and state the question once more. "No, Daddy. Why do you take pictures?"
I kept laughing because I could see that he didn't like my answers and was getting frustrated. Finally, I took some time to internalize the question. Why do I take pictures?
His tiny steps on the damp pathway were fast and spontaneous. He couldn't maintain a steady pace. His little legs would burst with speed and then suddenly slow depending on the number of interesting leaves in front of him. As we walked I watched him, admiring his curiosity. He was oblivious to the size of the giant redwood trees surrounding him, yet hyper aware of every tiny forest detail within a 5ft radius. He was fixed on the trail ahead meticulously picking out anything that might seem unusual or out of place.
Two is funny age. Funny. That's not the right word. Two is hard. It's hard for him and it's hard for us. For the first time in 32 months of life he's experiencing a wide range of desires and emotions that are all completely foreign. Along with all these waves of feelings also comes a lack of ability to express any of it. This pent up struggle makes for a wild ride. He'll range from being the happiest child you can imagine to suddenly becoming Godzilla. Simple things like noodle that is too crunchy or a friend not sharing a toy can set off an emotional chain reaction that is frightful. So no, I suppose two is not funny at all.
I can see that he's getting tired on the trail so I pick him up and place him into the carrier backpack that I'm wearing. I now feel like I have a little monkey on my back. He rests his chin on my shoulder and as we walk and I can feel his little fingers gripping my jacket near my armpits.
He carries a certain smell that is warm and inviting. Delicious? Can I say that? Instinct and evolution clearly play a role in parenthood because his smell is unlike anything else to me. When he gets close I feel compelled to scoop him up in my arms and squeeze his tiny rib cage with my big hands. I want to hold him close and bury my face in his soft wavy hair. Science probably has a good explanation for what's going on, but I'll just call it love.
It's been that way ever since I got my first toy camera as a kid. I'd quickly snap through the 36 exposures on the roll of film and then spend the next several months begging my mom to get them developed. I've always sought to capture the world around me in any medium I can, but a camera has always been home base.
I like taking pictures because of a deep yearning to express myself. How's that for an answer, Theo? I don't even bother offering that one to him.
Two is also a beautiful age. I've watched him become a little person and start to develop his own opinions and personality. Two is when he's learned to play imaginative games. We've jumped from pillow to pillow across the floor, and come just inches away from being swallowed whole by sharks swimming in lava. Two is when he's started to mimic me. He asks to ride my skateboard and tells me that he's almost big enough to go surfing. He puts his hat on backwards, and comes out of his room with a huge grin—waiting for me to notice his intentional mimicry. Lately he's been finishing every sentence with "daddy" and ask and endless amount of "why" questions. It's such a strange and deep feeling having a little person adore you. Thank you two, for that wonderful feeling.
By this time we are almost back at the car.
I hold the camera out in front and snap a selfie of us—me standing in the forest with a little blonde monkey on my back.
"I take pictures because I don't want to forget," I say. "Someday you are going to grow up and be big. Taking pictures helps me remember you while you are little. I don't want to forget just how great you are."
He pauses for a moment, thinking. He looks at me, at the camera, and then back at me again.
After some time he thoughtfully replies, "You can take pictures, Daddy. I don't want you to forget me either."