Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Malia's Camera

During the pre-inauguration festivities, I saw something that caught my eye. Malia Obama was sitting on the dais next to the stage with her soon-to-be President father, her soon to be First Lady mother, her little sister and the rest of a very distinguished group. They were there as the honored guests of a major performance, and all eyes were on them.

Barack had his normal placid but happy expression, Michelle had a slightly more serious looking expression that was certainly appropriate for being the honored guest. Sasha seemed to be having a good time, but was having some difficulty sitting still. Malia was staring intently into her digital camera, apparently filming the scene.

Initially, I thought this was sorta funny. I mean she is not going to need a camera for the next 8 (we hope) years to document the public aspects of her life. There will be photographs, official and unofficial, aplenty to do that for her. And it seemed a little odd, perhaps even inappropriate for the circumstances. But she's a kid, so I figured that it was just a little amusing.

Then today at the inauguration, I saw the same thing. Malia with her camera, seeming serious, and peering frequently into the little electronic box. So now I have a different theory: Malia is using her camera to avoid being overwhelmed by the whole experience. It's sort of like how you see people partially covering their eyes when they go to a scary movie. They still see the movie, but the act of blocking out some of the additional visuals helps them control the experience a bit.

Now I can imagine that many parents in Michelle and Barack's circumstances (or even circumstance way less formal and important) would tell their 10 year daughter old that it would not look right if she were up on the dais taking pictures. That it would be undignified, or even silly. I can imagine parents not knowing why they want to say no, but saying it anyway, and being quite rigid about it.

But Barack and Michelle, in the midst of this most important day for themselves and for our country, made the right decision to let Malia do what she needed to do to be OK.

Maybe this had been the subject of a long and difficult conversation, one of those dragged out conflicts we parents can get into with our kids as they struggle to become the adults they want to be. Maybe the Obamas have been searching for a way to give Malia some space while living in the crazy world that they are living in. Perhaps a professional therapist suggested this to the Obamas and they took the advice.

Of course, it's completely possible that I'm reading the situation all wrong. That Malia is doing this for her school project, or is really just interested in photography, or who knows.

Or just maybe, Malia said she wanted to bring her camera, and her parents had the right mix of instinct and knowledge to understand that she needed to take a little more control of her environment, and quietly just said yes.


  1. i'm fascinated by this interpretation, and i wouldn't be at all surprised if you are right. but i really do hope that she is an asipring photographer and that we someday get to see what she saw.

  2. Karen - I'd like that too. But if she's self aware enough to know how to protect herself, and her parents are aware enough to encourage that, well that's good too. And it's a good example for us of us parents on how to listen to what our kids need, not what we want them to need or even what they say they need.

  3. Malia is so cute with her camera....I saw she had it at the "We are the Future" concert as well. It seems to be with her all the time.

  4. interesting. i would venture to say she is documenting this whole thing from her own perspective to share with family, friends, perhaps even post online or publish in the future. there have been instances where she asked others to snap a picture for her when she was unable, e.g. at the inauguration, she passed her camera to joe biden so that he could get a better shot for her.