By Laura Moore

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I curbed my addiction.

Unfortunately, that curbing was literal and not figurative.

It would have been much more productive, and far less expensive, had I gotten myself to the point where I actually put away the $800 piece of technology when I wasn't using it. 

Instead, I set it on the top of our stroller while I was talking on my husband's phone. When he returned from a cart parked along one of the Downtown Disney paths and reached to pull the shade over our son, that carelessly placed phone went smashing into the curb, meeting its untimely demise. 

My sister-in-law was voicing her thoughts about when and where we should meet for our next day departure to the beach, and I hardly heard anything that came out of her mouth. My hubby reached down to get the phone as she shared very important information about when we could check in and what there was to do for kids under four, but it sounded like white noise in my ears. When he flipped over my beloved hunk-of-instant-connection, I saw shards of glass shimmering in the waning ribbons of dusk.

It was only five months old. 

And we were on vacation without our camera.

This was devastating.

And yet it wasn't. 

Sure, I might not have sent as many updates to family members or taken as many pictures, but I was present for a whole heck of a lot more moments. I wasn't passing time by checking for emails or text messages. I wasn't trolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds looking at other people's vacations, graduations or parties, or linking to articles they found fascinating. I wasn't looking up the answers to questions scrolling through my over-stimulated, ADD brain.

I was watching my little Z laugh and reach out to touch every single person within his tiny arm's reach. I was watching him stir up the crowd with his giggles and grins, his open-mouth, tongue-resting-across-his-two-bottom-teeth smile. I was watching him soak in the sites: the life-sized Lego Loch Ness Monster cresting the water, the ice cream cups dripping from the sides, the kids tugging on their parent's shirts, the dinosaurs roaring inside restaurants, the performers galloping across the stage. I was peeking around the shade more often to look at him, to smile at him, to "beep" his nose and tickle his toes, and ask him what he thinks.

See, a strange thing happens when you have to decide whether or not a phone call, a text message or a social media search is worth a sharp slice across your cheek or a sliver in the pad of your finger. Non-urgent interactions suddenly seem less important, and the urge to snap-out-of-the-present-in-an-effort-to-preserve-a-moment suddenly feel far less enticing. 

Instead, you choose to live. To laugh. To feel experiences from beginning to end. You no longer feel the nagging need to interrupt them.

You assume emergencies will funnel over to your companion. 

You look up and engage with the world. 

Following the death of my phone screen, I lived free and clear of hand-held distraction for five days, turning it on occasionally to check messages and then turning it off again to avoid losing pieces of glass. I used my husband's phone for fewer than a handful of correspondences with my sister-in-law when little Z was napping and she was trying to figure out if we could meet. 

But other than that, I just lived. And though I have few pictures to show for it, I have a fuller heart.

Now that I'm back, hopefully, I'll be able to get it fixed, as communicating is rather important. But I hope even more that I'll remember to leave it on the table when I'm playing with my son. And leave it in my purse when I am driving. And leave it out of arm's reach when I'm eating dinner with my husband. I hope I'll start people watching again, that I'll return to my habit of striking up conversations with strangers and giggling at awkward bends of time. I hope I'll once again find myself noticing the obscurities and the joys and the humor that is always unfolding around me if I'd only look up.

In short, I hope that once I get all of the pieces smoothed out and all of the jagged lines smoothed away, I will be able to see as clearly as my screen can.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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"This is a ball, and it is blue," I told Z conclusively, before realizing, seconds later, it was a lighter blue than the other one several balls away. 

"Oh! This one is also blue, but it's dark blue," I added, trying to figure out why the toy company had to use the same color on a toy that only needed five total options. 

"Darker means it has more pigment. So this is a dark blue because they put more blue color in it, and this is a light blue because they put less color in it. Does that make sense?"

Our nine month old just kept babbling and grabbing at objects. Of course it didn't make sense. He can say three words and he doesn't know what any of them mean. 

"And, well, ummm," I started again, thinking about where I wanted to take this, "we should call this a bead and not a ball. It has a hole in the center and it's moving on a wire bar, whereas an actual ball bounces and rolls. Mommy should not have called it a ball. I'm sorry if that confused you. It's a bead, a dark blue bead, and this one is orange, this one is yellow, this one is red, and this one is light blue..."

Shoot, maybe we should call the blues their actual colors so he doesn't get confused.

I promptly Googled shades of blue and held my computer close to the bead/balls.

"Okay, buddy. This bead is sapphire and this bead is baby blue."

But what about the cup? We've been telling him the cup is blue. Should we figure out its shade or should we just keep calling it blue? Which is more confusing? Will they have to know shades in preschool?

Mid-thought, Z decided to abandon the beads, and his fingers began caressing a panel of doors.

"Look at this buddy," I said rotating one them on its hinges.

"Open, shut, open, shut, open, shut."

He reached for the knob and began to swivel it on his own. 

"Open, shut, open, shut, open, shut," I continued, and after six swings of the door, he finally decided to stop and hold it open.

"Look inside," I told him, pointing to the image staring up from wood. "There's a zebra, and here is the word zebra. Zebra-Zebra. I know it's confusing, but this word says what this picture shows," I explained moving my finger back and forth between the image and the word.  "They both symbolize a real zebra."

He looked up at me and then reached for the knob.

"Hold on a minute," I told him, pressing my finger against the door. "Let's talk about colors too. This is black and this is white," I said, pointing to the stripes, but Z pushed away my hand, reached up, grabbed the wire bars, and dove head first into the side of the wood. 

Bam. Whahh. 

I couldn't blame him.

Mommy went totally and completely overboard. 

"I'm so sorry buddy," I said kissing his head and squeezing him tight. "I know it is so hard. Is it a zebra or is it black and white? Is it a frog or is it green? Is it a bead or a ball? Is it dark blue or sapphire? Oh my gosh. I have totally confused you." 

I tried to keep comforting him, but after seven seconds of cuddling, Z squirmed away, totally healed.

"Mommy will make it clearer next time," I promised, and then I bowed on my knees and worshiped the ground upon which early childhood educators walked. As a high school English teacher, I teach kids how to write literary analyses, how to create believable characters, and how to convincingly make a point, but as tough as that is sometimes, at least my kiddos have some words.  

Z had none. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

He had so much ground to gain. And the distance felt overwhelming. I wondered how anyone acquired words when they started with nothing. When they had to listen to language and collect it like marbles, when they had to ascribe meaning to sounds and string those sounds together to form thoughts. When they had to move next to the page, where letters represented noises that combined to capture ideas, and brains had to follow the curve and bend of a pen as it rose and fell and dotted its i's, spewing out scribbles that melded together like the sounds did, scribbles that formed words and sentences and paragraphs that captured the essence of something real. 

Life suddenly felt so heavy as I looked at him standing there, leaning against activity cube. As I thought about how much there was for him to learn, and how challenging it would be to figure out what was most important. But I had to start somewhere. I had to give him language so he could engage in the world.

Nouns and verbs, I thought, start there. The adjectives can come later. 

"Okay buddy, let's look at the animals," I started to say, but in a sudden swoop, Z reached forward, tightened his fingers around the wires and darted upward with his legs. He screamed at the top of his lungs and started laughing uncontrollably. Glee leaked from every corner of his skin. Standing on his tippy toes, he stretched out his tongue, and he gurgled, and drooled, and giggled like a maniac.

And in a flash--just like that--none of my previous concerns about language seemed important. In a flash, I dismissed all thoughts of zebras and frogs and colors and shapes and actions. And I squashed any remaining urge to explain to him that he was now standing. 

Instead, I scooted around beside him. 

"Happy," I said, grinning from ear to ear. "You're happy." 

I nuzzled my face up close so he could touch my cheeks and gaze into my eyes. 

"And Mommy's happy," I said, turning him around so I could kiss his cheeks.

"Happy," I said once more for good measure, and he waved his hands and squealed. Then he reached back and took hold of the wires, held himself up on his own two feet.

And as I watched him look up at me--standing proudly on his own--I realized I wasn't saying "happy" so he could hear the sound and test it out on his tongue. I didn't say it because the parenting guides listed it as appropriate, or because one of the characters looked happy on the page.

I was saying it because that's what his father and I want him to be. I was saying it because in that moment, it felt far more important than zebras and frogs and colors and wires and beads. I was saying it because I wanted him to remember how it felt to bask in the essence of joy, to laugh and celebrate, to cuddle, and kiss and dream. 

 
 

By Laura Moore

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"Do you want me to take the picture for you?" I asked a girl and her parents standing at the edge of the New Haven Green.

"Oh yes. That would be wonderful," the mother replied with a British tilt to her words and a smile that bespoke relief. She handed me the camera and joined her husband and daughter, as the three of them basket wove their arms across one another's back.

I snapped four photographs and then directed them away from the street, so they'd have the green behind them. I took several more pictures and then handed the camera back to the grinning father. 

"Thank you so much," he said, bowing his head a little. "Your life will be blessed." 

The three of them turned and strolled diagonally down the limestone walkway; I stood and smiled, wishing J could have seen the interaction. My husband frequently laughs at my unremitting offers to take photographs of families and couples, and though he never intervenes, I am fully aware that he finds it a bit odd that I often run up to strangers when I perceive angst, gathering folks together so I can take symmetrical pictures of individuals I have never met before in my life. No matter where we go, how big of a rush we are in, or how inconvenient or disruptive my offer to take a picture happens to be for the people I am with, each time I see someone in need, I approach, I offer and I click.

I'm not sure why I feel so compelled to offer my services, but I do it no matter where we are. Perhaps deep down it makes me feel better when I find myself in position to ask others to take a picture of me, or it could be that I love to imagine future moments when the picture surfaces and stories unfold, allowing noteworthy characters to etch their imprint on the scroll of human existence. Or even more than all of that, perhaps it is quite simply because I love how excited at least one person in the group is when I reach for the camera and solve the who-will-be-left-out-of-the-picture dilemma for them.  

See, there is something magical about capturing moments, whether they are images or stories or disparate thoughts scribbled on scrap slips of paper.  Most of life is spent rushing and reveling in responsibility; very little time is spent in a space where we record details and revelations, wonders and dreams.  And so when I see the chance to offer my assistance, to help someone grab hold of a fleeting flash of life, I can't help but step forward and help them in their endeavor. 

Most people just say thank you, reclaim their device and analyze the image in private. Others laugh instantly at facial expressions, coaching one another to smile or look up or keep their eyes open when the next picture opportunity arises. And occasionally someone will decide to reposition the group and ask if I wouldn't mind taking another shot. I always comply. In fact, the more experience I gain behind other people's lenses, the more I tend to coach the group myself. Doing my best to help them produce the best possible shot, I turn them, try to make them laugh, move up or down or side to side until I can secure the proper angle that seems to produce the most aesthetically pleasing souvenir.  

Since the entire effort is focused on capturing memories for others, most of my interactions are not too memorable for me. Neither of us share personal details or inside jokes, and we don't ask questions or interweave our lives within the trappings of time. When I offer to take a picture, I suspend my life, hold time still for someone else, and once I trap the image, I pass the looking glass back to its owner and walk away. 

This past Saturday, however, the British father on the other side of the lens made the interaction more than a simple exchange. In issuing a very genuine blessing for my life, he stopped me cold in my tracks. He was the one who walked away, reconnecting with his family, sauntering down a footpath, sharing simple joys with people he loves. I stood still, watching them depart, overflowing with an inexplicable gurgle of delight over the a tiny collection of words that he would most likely never recall. 

His words weren't particularly novel, so it wasn't what he said that touched me. It was the sincerity of how he said it. And as I stood there watching him escape the moment, I realized how rarely strangers pause and truly connect. Most people say thank you, but then they rush off to secure the next activity, or to pursue the next endeavor. Rarely do we lock eyes in innocent sincerity. Rarely do we slice through formalities and issue a thank you that carries the weight of true appreciation. 

Following that photograph, I walked away with a lighter, exceedingly more positive disposition, and during the hour and a half I had to kill until my husband returned from a run with his former teammates, I enjoyed every minute of my jaunt around Yale's campus alone. Poised to be blessed, all around me, I felt the presence of the past: the pulse of lost hearts, the echoes of brilliance, the remains of old ambitions. And I watched new moments unfold in young minds as they bounded within the borders of an intellectual utopia.

Making my way through campus, a blanket of human ingenuity warmed me, the pages of stories lulled me to dream, and the promise of possibility invigorated me to act. Gratitude filled me as I pondered freedom, love, family, good health, and time to think and learn and create and explore. I felt the power of  history holding me up, the joy of memories filling me to the brim, and the fire of dreams pressing me to climb marble walls. 

Mid-jaunt, my phone vibrated in my pocket, and I saw that my husband made it back to the hotel. Before I returned to join him--before I drew the curtain on my journey--I reached for the camera and paused time. I pointed toward the tunnel leading me away from Old Campus Yard, and I caught the light piercing an open gate, inviting me to cross the threshold.

 
 

By Laura Moore

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It didn't happen right away.

Inspiration didn't swoon down from the gods. The tiny opening in the trees didn't issue an invitation to enter its domain. My fingers didn't feel an irresistible urge to pull out a pen and scribble on the notepad I tucked into the cup holder tray on my stroller.

Of course, those were the things I was hoping would happen when I packed up my baby and ambled down the sidewalk. With a thousand ideas curling around the margins in my jot pad and a million more pin balling around in my brain, I took a walk to find direction, clarity, focus. I took a walk so I could breathe, so I could observe, so I could grant my brain an opportunity to sort through ideas and give the more important ones a chance to clench my throat, climb up my esophagus and demand to be heard.

Of course none of this happened right away.  Inspiration tends to be a tricky, little shape shifter. He rarely appears in predictable garb; she rarely arrives when you summon her. I knew this.  And so I waited.  Aiming to be present in the moment, I spoke to my baby in silly voices, giving him a tour of his neighborhood park, and I made him giggle by venturing into the bumpy domain of grass.

I also turned my iPhone to picture mode, frequently pausing to look around. Scanning the same scenery my husband and I pass on our evening walks, I looked for anomalies in the landscape. I investigated a low hanging leaf, burdened by the weight of raindrops clinging like climbers on the edge of a cliff. I indulged my curiosity, squatting to capture tarry footprints freshly imbedded in concrete. And I drew myself to gaps in the brush lining the creek, spotting a smattering of white wildflowers bursting like pinwheels against the lush vegetation.

I took note of jagged barriers in the grass, where portions had been cut, prepared for picnicking or play, and portions had been preserved, a matted labyrinth presumably left for nature. I relished my encounter with forked paths, marked trees and skittish squirrels. And I pondered the necessity of a 50 foot split rail fence that seemed to begin and end in a spot that appeared more appropriate for trees.

Somewhere along the way, my feet clipped the edge of a puddle sitting alone on a briefly barren stretch of asphalt. The unexpected jolt of wetness startled me, and I hopped backwards, pulling myself from the rainwater tickling my toes. I locked the wheels on my stroller, and turned to face the water which sparsely coated three thin feet of bike path. Leaning forward, I saw my shadow gaze back at me, dark and hazy, stirring back and forth across minuscule ripples, failing to settle into any state of stillness the entire time I looked.

I snapped a photograph of the faceless woman peering up at me, and then I continued further into the wooded area, where I encountered a deeper, larger pool, at least ten feet wide and six inches deep. I leaned over again, this time, hoping my reflection would be clearer.  No matter how far I leaned though, my face did not appear. Leaves, caked in mud, lay matted along the bed, while trees climbed and cuddled above me. I switched positions, attempting to catch the sun at different angles. I crouched low to the ground and balanced my foot on a fallen branch bridging the water.  Still, I could not see my face. I could not even see the shadow of my face. I saw nothing but clear water gazing back up at me.

In the absence of my reflection--in the caked leaves, the pooled water, the over-saturated sticks stretching from one space to another--a dull buzz of disappointment rose within me. When I saw the long, deep puddle, my creativity surged, and with all of the urgency of a person in pursuit of something terribly important, I wanted to see my face: clearer than hazy ripples, lighter than dark shadows. I wanted to capture my reflection in a prettier pool than the shallow asphalt one I encountered earlier. I wanted to snap what I perceived--in that moment--to be the inspiration I set out to find, the perfect image, the muse I needed to begin my latest project.

But I failed to manufacture such a shot. I failed to insert my face into a moment that wasn't meant to hold it. I failed to cast my reflection upon a collection of water already decorated with slivers of life. And I failed, because I didn't fit. I failed because my place was not in the pool of water, or in the symbolic mirroring I aimed to capture. My face wasn't meant to compete with the reflection of sunlight descending through the cracks in the canopy above me, or in the mosaic of muddy leaves layered like plush feathers in the clay. My face wasn't meant to cross over water-logged sticks or mingle with the grass.

My face was meant to observe, to listen, to breathe. 

I walked away that morning without my prized shot, but as I pondered its absence during my journey home, I realized something far more important. We don't have to be part of everything in order for everything to be perfect. We don't have to have a place in the center of a landscape in order for us to belong. Our plans don't need to unravel cleanly in order for us to succeed. Sometimes our inspiration is less about what we see and more about what we imagine, less about what we want and more about what we get.  Perhaps sometimes life doesn't intend for us to jump in; it just means for us to open our hearts and be moved.