Capturing the randomness of a child’s mind

I like to think that my thought processes can be pretty random.  I remember very clearly at the age of 13 my english teacher asking the class to write a ‘stream of consciousness’ right there and then. I can only assume that we were studying Catcher in the Rye at the time.  That particular english teacher was one of those 1980’s cool teachers who wore dangly earrings, had mad mad mad almost mad hatter hair that she was constantly trying to control with her whole hand and a weird, contortion of long leg folding to sit on top of the desk rather than a chair.  You see, streams of consciousness; I like the randomness of them and if you’ve read this or any other paragraph of my writing, you can see I’ve run with it…

But however random I get, it is nothing to the near lunacy of little ones. The nano-second it can take them from ‘I want  a balloon’ to ‘ooh, that’s a corner of a table I’m not actually thinking about whilst searching for a twinkly thing I saw 2 seconds ago, but why does that woman have a… no she’s gone’.  You get what I mean.  And during these weird 10 second trains of thought, we, as parents can only look at them as their faces change; from excited, scared, perplexed and then through all of the expressions possible that will usually lead to a gormless stillness that will leave you, as the parent, wondering if they’ll ever be able to read, or write, or even remember their own name.

Creating the ‘This is my…’ range of books was really an answer to my need to capture that randomness.  To keep hold of memories that come directly from them, those gormless, chubby faces with personalities forming and vehement opinions that can change and be just as forcefully argued in the opposite only minutes later.

And so the “This is my” books were created. Originally accompanied by a 35mm camera, the resultant photos were priceless.  They were simple cameras, a little square window for a child to look through and a button to press to take the photo, followed by a pass to mum to wind on.  My children would often not bother with the looking into the little square and the resultant images were perfect.  A photo of his twin brother’s cheek and a bit of an eye; an image of a foot in a padder, now long gone; an unidentifiable mass of matter on a plastic plate.  And that doesn’t even touch on the number of photos of my bum – what an eye opener that was! (I mean, because that’s all they got to see most of the day!).

The book would guide them through which photos to take – and would have questions for them to answer.  And this is where the randomness would come to the fore.  In their first books, I would have to do the writing, so I would ask them the questions.  And they would answer with that honesty, integrity, seriousness and thoughtfulness that only a three year old can muster when asked ‘what did you like the most about your bed on holiday’.

And there I would sit, keeping a straight face to match theirs as they answered questions in their books.  “What did you like about the bed” – answers would include “It was colourful” (and the photograph to accompany that answer shows the most migraine inducing swirl of psychedelia that I’m surprised I didn’t remember it). The proximity of the bed to a television would also be another excellent reason.

Their ‘favourite bit about the journey’ were invariably the ‘snack’ and the photograph of something that they really “like to eat on holiday” was often the breakfast pastry.  And I love that.

Other questions in other books would induce brutally honest answers – no sensibilities when it came to naming favourite gifts at Christmas or on their birthdays.  It was often the piece of plastic tat bought for them by a childless friend (the piece of plastic tat that I had already earmarked to be sent to the charity shop as soon as their backs were turned).

I love every photo and every answer and I have them all because I got to record it all in the books that I had created for just that purpose.  Their photos were brilliant, their answers completely and utterly random and slightly insane, their funny spelling of words and their awkward less than perfect handwriting when they took over the filling out for themselves.  Because keeping childhood memories alive and doing so effortlessly and with laughter is what they always meant to be.  And I’m rather proud of how well they worked out.

I still look back on them, and those books are here with me, just waiting to be handed around on wedding days….

which will teach them for not consistently name checking my gift as their favourite each year.

 

All of the ‘This is my….’ memory books (including Day as a Bridesmaid, Day as Pageboy and other wedding titles as well as ‘This is my Baby Brother and This is my Baby Sister’ versions for siblings) will soon be available here on memorybooks.co.uk, but until then, they are readily available on our MotherShip site: 2littleboys.co.uk.

This is my Holiday Memory Book for kids

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Children, Patterns and Looking Up

My first ever ‘proper’ camera was for my 18th birthday.  (At this point, I can hear my teenage offspring pipe in with ‘they had CAMERAS when you were 18.’  Still…. moving swiftly on). My 18th birthday present was an SLR camera, it was black, it was heavy and I thought it was an utterly pointless 18th birthday present.

Yes, I have been and still can be an ungrateful bitch.

So on my 18th birthday, I snapped away until the button could no longer be pressed and took the film to Underwoods the Chemist in Victoria. Using a bewitching form of alchemy, they turned the metal canister of film into actual photographs that they then presented to me in a green and yellow envelope, in the process, they charged an exorbitant amount of money (photographs/process… see what I did there?… no… ok).  And so, from henceforth, the camera came out only on special occasions and gathered dust for the rest of the year.

Snap forward, if you will, a few years and I started to go on holidays.  I took photographs of hills, mountains, the sea, rivers, friends and the odd flower or two.  Oh, and my boyfriend; the ubiquitous selfie with camera balancing precariously on a rock, a table stacked with books, magazines, glasses cases to get to the right height or the car roof with a judicious use of the timer.

I’d then have Boots process the film (Underwoods closed down; I just wanted to show off my age and memory for triviality here) and on visits back to my parents’, I’d show them the holiday snaps and my father would flick through very very quickly and declare that there were not nearly enough photos of people.  “Why do I want to see pictures of mountains and lakes, it looks like every other mountain and lake. Take pictures of people”.  He sort of, kind of, had a point.  But still, I stopped showing him the holiday snaps.

And then I had children. And I took photo after photo after photo.  They were the most photogenic babies you’ve ever seen.  Actually, if I’m honest, my newborn daughter had an interesting look going on first thing.  After an extraordinarily difficult labour, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.  Then when the photos came back, I realised that, my God she’d looked Fugly).  Still… her head popped back into ummm, a head shape and she, quite simply, gets more beautiful every day, every week, every month… you get the point.

And I’m managing, once again, to get away from my point.

So, the kids grew older, they stopped spending their days in a thankfully vain attempt to damage themselves beyond repair and they eventually worked out that mum was constantly taking photos of them and that they weren’t too sure that they liked it that much.  But the bug had bitten me. I loved taking photos. Husband bought me a better camera and a zoom lens and I was off.

I took photographs of doorknobs, I took photographs of patterns made by mesh, by doors, by window frames, buildings, paving stones, mosaics, pillars, columns, clouds, flowers.  When you’ve got three kids to keep entertained, it’s important to find order in chaos and I suspect that this was what I was doing.  And I think I was doing it pretty damned well.

And then we found little cameras for the children and we would go on ‘mummy adventures’, grabbing a cab into London and becoming tourists and they would snap away. Because you can never see all of London and you can never capture it all on camera. Columbia Market, Borough Market, Houses of Parliament, Smithfields, SouthBank, Soho, Covent Garden, St Catherine’s Dock, Seven Dials, Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James’ Park, Green Park, Barbican, Tower Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and all between.  I’d tire us all out and there wouldn’t be moment of complaint of sore feet and we’d stop for a frozen yoghurt or a hot chocolate (seasonal choices, but way more random than that if I’m honest).  A Pizza Express pizza, or for a special treat, some dim sum in Soho where you can eat the fluffiest cloud bun ever (also known as a char sui bu).  And after lunch we’d keep going.

I taught them to look for beauty in buildings, and patterns in the everyday.  I told them to look above the gaudy shop fronts, to see their London through the ages – the old shop signs left long after the shop had left the building. The intricate details of stone-carving. Warehouse buildings now cafes and boutique shops.  And how moving your own body to different angles, you can get to see things from different angles that then, in turn photograph interesting angles. And they listened and they would stop in a street and look around and take a photo of something that you hadn’t noticed before and suddenly you’ll see an intricate chimney pot, or a detail on a window sill that could only have been created by a highly skilled craftsman many many years ago.

memories of looking up

These 9 images in a box are just some of the many photographs we took on our adventure days into town.  (Although I think top right is from our weekend away to Manchester). And I know that at least 7 of them were taken by my children when they were about this age….

2littleboystaking photographs

So, if you’re looking for a day out, just grab any old cameras or phones, take the kids and get them to look up…. just so long as they’re not standing in the middle of a road. Because then we’re back to that whole “attempting to damage themselves beyond repair.” and you should be past that stage by the time they’re into this sort of thing.

Or, you can always leave them at home, and take a wander around your home town and get to know it just a little bit better.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed.

 

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