Motherhood, Lies and Videotape

“Fred’s box of videotapes is in our room, if you and Max feel like watching them,” my mother reminded us about halfway through our trip. Now, those old videos are something we hadn’t laid eyes on in years.

When Fred was between the ages of 0 and 3 Max and I were obsessive videorecorders. Playing, crying, bathing, diaper changing, eating – nothing Fred did escaped the eyes of our clunky video camera. Every couple of months we’d then transfer the videos onto VHS (yes, how quickly the world has already evolved…) and send them to my parents in the U.S. We averaged a 4-hour tape per month and over time my parents had a collection of Fred’s every point of growth. And then we moved to the U.S., Fred turned 4 (i.e., we got used to having a little kid), our now antiquated video camera began acting up and we had slowed dramatically on the memory recording. My mom’s reminder that she still had our tapes and a working VCR felt like an invitation to a movie premiere.

So night after night we sabotashed our attempts to wean Fred off his summer sleep schedule as the 3 of us stayed up past 11:00 glued to the t.v., oohing and aahing and wiping tears watching little Fred. My gosh, how little he had once been! How big his head was and how wobbly his chubby little legs were! Max and I laughed sympathetically when 8 month old Fred cried at the siren of his new patrol car and we applauded wildly when he took his first steps. We winced at how annoying and relentless we were trying to get Fred to walk or smile for the camera and shushed (present day) 6 year-old Fred when he tried to re-enact his toddler stage in front of the t.v. to get our attention. We were absolutely transfixed, as if we had never met the younger Fred before. We loved, admired and appreciated him all over again, or could it be, we were doing so for the first time?

Aside from these fresh feelings of love, what startled me most from the tapes was seeing me. I couldn’t believe it: I actually seemed together as a mother. Granted, we normally do not pull out the videocamera when we are having a breakdown, but those moments caught on tape must have reflected some truth and reality, I wondered. I watched with proudness at how patiently I sang to and played with Fred. I saw myself cooking in the kitchen while keeping an eye on Fred in the livingroom and recalled those days when I had to hold the fort down 18 hours a day alone. I looked at the livingroom and bedroom on film and was incredulous at how clean everything was. I listened to my conversations with Moto and was amazed at how polite and sweet we were to one another. And I looked at my face and saw how almost always I was smiling, genuinely smiling. Was this really how it was? Why is it that I don’t remember any of this? Why is it that whenever I recall my early years of motherhood I remember mainly the chaos, the trepidations, the tears (both mine and Fred’s), the fights with Max, the insecurities, the guilt, the intense loneliness and the occasional desires to undo everything? I watched the tapes in tears, with the uncomfortable tugging at my heart that longed desperately to dive back into one of those moments – any moment – and relive early motherhood again. I wanted to hold Fred as a baby and as a toddler again and really enjoy and love it this time.

But maybe there is less to redo than I think. Watching ourselves on video, I have to believe that those captured moments were real. They really did happen. I really was a pretty good mother. I really did enjoy my baby. Max and I really did do okay as a couple. And I really, really was happy.

9 thoughts on “Motherhood, Lies and Videotape

  1. Cecilia! I’m sorry I’ve been missing!

    This is fascinating and would make an amazing essay. It’s so interesting how our memories work–what we remember and why.

    I wish I could have joined you and Sarah for a visit!

  2. Wow. This was a beautiful essay and completely reminded me of myself and all my feelings in early motherhood. I totally relate to everything you said and I wish I knew the things I know now back then. It is so hard sometimes to feel the peace in the moment we are living now. I wish I was better at that in my life in general.

  3. Do you know what is a huge blessing and gift that has now dropped into your lap?

    You never have to doubt if you were “enough” for Fred in those beginning days.

    Here is your evidence.

    Sleep well, sweet Ceci.

  4. In my memories the gloomy so easily overwhelms the fun too. It is starker, clearer. I remember my awful mistakes, but not the calm patience that was more common.
    Right now, I am back in the thick of toddlerhood, and it hurts and it joyous. I have less patience, so much less. But I know more.
    Lovely to ‘see’ you again!

  5. It sounds like seeing yourself on tape showed you the mother who is visible to the rest of the world.

    It is so easy to get lost inside our heads and emotions. You may not FEEL patient, but others can’t see your feelings, they can only see your patience.

    It is a wonderful privilege that you have all of those videos to prove to yourself your ability as a mother.

  6. It is very interesting to go back and look at those old clips. I am glad that in doing so you are seeing that not all was black, that there was grey, white and far far more and that there was happiness, joy and true love and devotion to your son. Lovely post.

  7. Oh Cecilia – I’m so glad you got to see yourself on those tapes and realize what you did. It’s interesting what our minds choose to retain isn’t it? The crying, the fighting, the loneliness. It’s like Fox news. Always the bad stuff first. With the aid of technology, we can go back (again and again) and see for ourselves the kernels of truth we sometimes accidentally leave behind. Crystallized moments of genuine pleasure and happiness.

    You may not remember them as vividly but they were there. Max is who he is today BECAUSE of all those things you were to him. Apparently, he remembers those moments, ones that have shaped the boy that he is now. And you should be so very proud because even if you hardly remember it, you did do the best you could, and this happy, well-adjusted little boy here is your evidence.

    Beautiful post – as usual 🙂

  8. I’m the same way. I so often think I’m floundering and then I hear myself on a video or see a picture or have a stranger make a nice comment, and all of a sudden, I think, “I guess I’m not doing too bad after all.” It’s liberating to step back and watch yourself mother … If only the opportunities presented themselves more often!

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