Discoveries of Innocence in my iPad

Around nine years ago, when my new iPad appeared on the scene and took on an extra role as a powerful toy for our two oldest grand-kids, they began sneaking into the device and taking photos of themselves when they were alone and untended.

Many photos. Lots of teeth.

Later on I’d come across the silly and interesting faces they made at and for themselves when I went hunting through my ever-growing archive of 22,000 images. Preserved in my device were digital grimaces, expressions of wild abandon, joy, wonder, and a little mischief.

The kids were young enough then to find the iPad’s psychedelic-style distorting filters and fun-house mirror effects endlessly entertaining. Their images represent hours of innocent digital fun-making that must have felt illicit because they were made surreptitiously.

The kids didn’t know they were creating what I’d see nearly a decade later as a form of art.

Now that they’re in high school, their lives no longer revolve as much around their visits with us, though those visits are still very important to us all. When they do come for a few days, they spend more time on their own, exploring both town and woods, soaking in the natural world and feeling free to roam without adults tagging along. This kind of experience is more in keeping with the ebb and flow of my own better days of childhood than with the entirely socially-networked, media-infused, suburban lifestyle they are accustomed to, though their family takes every opportunity to experience wildlife, and their mom maintains a thriving backyard garden in which she grows a substantial amount of their food. Two more siblings have been born since the time when those original selfie images were made, the youngest of whom, not even two, now has his own toddler iPad. I’m not sure, but I think it might be called Alexa.

The teens now have summer jobs in which they hop from farm to farm doing work they love. I know they love it because I’ve witnessed them in their element when as young children they’d go to the farm to pick up their family’s farm share and luxuriate in picking tomatoes, snap peas, and strawberries. Someone at the farm noticed my grand-daughter’s poise and passion and invited her on as an assistant when she was no more than nine or ten. The suburbia they live in may not appeal to me personally, but it’s not too much of a stretch to think that their farm and garden experience, along with their visits to the country, have given them something more than a typical kid’s sense of nature and of their/our place in it. Thankfully, when they spend time here in the very rural Berkshires of western Massachusetts, they are comfortably at home out in the wilds and thrive in it.

My grand-daughter often reminds me how much she enjoys boasting about her grandmother chasing a bear out of the yard a few years back. The young guy basically ignored my efforts to convey the message that visits to my bird feeder came with a very annoying human who would pester him relentlessly until he would perhaps think twice before returning.

I did manage, eventually, to discourage him from making our yard and garden an ursine hangout, but I realize that despite the kudos the whole thing earned me with my grand-daughter, the responsible thing was to reconsider the bird feeder altogether.

We have since moved even further away from town. Our visitors seem to be more stealthy and usually come at night, as the trail camera I’ve strapped to the heavily fortified chicken run attests. My husband calls it Chicken Fort Knox. The fact is, predators of all sorts regularly make their nightly rounds only inches away from the sleeping flock that I’ve battened tightly into their coop.

Turns out there’s quite an active thoroughfare just a few yards away. Of course that is a source of anxiety, but the close-up presence of wildlife provides opportunities to capture animals in moments of being themselves in their world. These are as close to selfies as images of foxes and coyotes are going to get.

But back to the iPad. Those candid images of the much younger versions of our grand-kids that I’ve recently discovered in my archives take on a new meaning now, as I come to terms with these two emerging people stepping closer to adulthood.

Of course they’re experiencing all kinds of challenges tied to adolescence, and there are plenty of new ones on top of those: the deep and hard-to-quantify social, psychological, and educational impacts of the Covid pandemic.

Coming out of a year of unprecedented insecurity and disruption for all of us, I look back on the digital artifacts of their innocent image-making as a marker of a seemingly long-lost time, the memories of which I want to cherish in whatever ways I can.

Somehow we survived the past fifteen months, each of us with our own residual anxieties and apprehensions about the future, our sense of loss, our despair, and a new understanding of the value and fragility of life.

Our memories of the many things we took for granted before. But these two remarkable young people have come out the other side (if it’s safe to say that), having transitioned–despite this often agonizing period of global and personal distress–into beautifully maturing selves.

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