It’s easier than you’d think.
Opal has a plastic toy camera that has come in and out of style over the course of her almost-four years. It doesn’t take real pictures. The viewfinder has a perpetual image of a cartoon doggy smiling in the sun, clutching a bundle of flowers.
He is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and waving. In the background, there is a butterfly, a sailboat and a sunshine, the typical stuff of vacation photographs. The camera is battery powered and when you push the purple button on top, a woman’s voice says, “SMILE,” followed by the faux-click of an old-fashioned instamatic.
Over the last few months, Opal would intermittently shoot a fake-photo here and there with her camera. She would then hold up the camera for me to see what she took, though it was still just the image of a cartoon dog (that looked increasingly psychedelic upon examination). She would then confirm the moment by saying something like, “Look how well the bunny stayed still for the picture, heh?”
Her grandma and grandpa bought her an actual camera for her birthday last fall, a lovely little hardy digital thing, that is about as basic and kid-fabulous as they come. The gift came from my recommendation—I thought since she was so into fake photography that she would be just as into real photography.
Continuously, when given the option, she chooses her fake camera. It’s been going on like this, and I didn’t give it much thought, assuming she’d grow into the real camera eventually.
A few days ago, the notion of her fake photography and the fake camera totally impressed me.
We took a walk with Elvis to the duck pond. It was a gorgeous day, not as oppressively hot as it has been, a slight breeze, plenty of shade to blanket our path. Opal was in a documenting mood. She brought along her fake camera and was on high alert for photo-worthy subjects.
“Stop the stroller, mommy! I need to take a picture of this!” The yellow nub of a dandelion had squished onto the sidewalk. Click.
We continued. “Stop, mommy, look at those!” The field to our right was shrouded in tiny deep-purple flowers. Click.
She held the camera up to show me both times.
“Look, honey,” I said and pointed at another white wildflower that grew on a vine-like stem along the sidewalk.
“No, mommy. I already have enough pictures of the white ones.”
And the morning went on like this. Opal took fake-photos of the cottonwood grove by the bridge, of Elvis walking right next to her stroller; ears flopped back in a state of contentment. She took a fake-photo of the bunny that ran across our path and sent Elvis into a colossal tizzy. She took a fake-photo of me picking up an especially goopy pile of dog poop in a plastic bag. She took a fake-photo of the empty duck pond and of the dense moss that seemingly swallowed the ducks. She squealed with glee when she saw a white feather floating in the dense, green tangle. Click.
Keep in mind this was a walk she and I have been on dozens, if not hundreds, of times over the course of her life. But on this particular morning, Opal decided that our stroll was an egg worth cracking open.
I took one real photo that morning—of Opal and her toy camera—mostly to accompany these words. But even now, days later, I have the perfect image in my mind of nearly all the things we stopped to admire through the lens of her toy camera.
As I was leaving for work later that day, doing my normal exiting rounds, I found myself thinking click as I scanned to make sure all the red lights on the stove were off. Click as I dog-proofed by shutting the doors and putting all the food away.
And as I was pulling out of my driveway, I was not plagued with the need to stop the car and run back in to re-check that the stove was off, that I hadn’t left a bar of chocolate on the counter, as I often do when my initial house-check is done with half a brain.
Who’d have thought? Toy camera: a tool for mindfulness.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise