Thought Catalog
December 15, 2013

The Valuable Life Lesson I Learned In First Grade

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When I was in first grade my teacher asked us to write a sentence stating what we want to be when we grow up. Unlike most children at my age, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Presumptuously I wrote “I want to be a photographer.” Just a week earlier we had taken school pictures, and some part of me wanted to be a photographer who went around to the different schools , say something funny to make the students smile and capture the moment for them to have and cherish forever. The photographers at my school that week seemed like they had the best job ever; they got to travel, make strange kids happy and give them a concrete memory to hold.

I went home that evening and asked my parents for a camera. I would marvel at my dads camera that he would often take candid pictures with and get them developed at the local supermarket (back in the day when we had to wait a day or so to see the pictures one has taken on the cameras, let alone having to buy the extra film or purchase multiple disposable cameras).

At first, nobody took me seriously. Quite frankly I was only five years old, telling them what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wasn’t allowed to touch my dad’s Canon camera since I was too young and irresponsible. I didn’t even know if I had any sort of talent in photography, nor did I even know what the word talent even meant. But I knew that I could act like I knew how it all worked and eventually I would figure it out. I’m the type of person that if you told me it was possible to fly, I’d figure out how and fly. So I’d seen pictures being taken many times before, how hard could it be?

I just knew one day the school photographers would take me in as their prodigy and they would teach me their techniques and I would get to travel with them to schools around the state, making kids smile.

That Christmas, to my wonderful surprise, my parents got me my first camera: a blue Fischer Price children’s camera that actually took real pictures when it had film and batteries in it. Although I wanted something more professional, I was excited and complacent with this new piece of equipment that could make others, as well as myself, smile.

My first camera opened my eyes to many things, yet one concept that I couldn’t immediately grasp was that one is not required to smile when taking a picture. Besides consumption, I thought the word ‘cheese’ was created to make people smile. I had never seen a picture of someone not smiling before. Magazines, advertisements, newspapers, school photos, etc, everyone was smiling. I guess you could say I always looked for the good in life.

I didn’t realize every picture wasn’t a happy picture until after I encountered an issue of taking a picture of my brother. For some reason all memories about my brother in our childhood are of him being angry, upset, competitive, or stubborn… never smiling.

I tried to take a picture of him while in our kitchen. I only had nine available shots left on this film roll so the picture had to be perfect. There were literally no re-do’s allowed. I told him to smile. He refused. We proceeded to argue until he showed me a picture in his Sports Illustrated magazine of several examples of athletes not smiling in pictures. He won that argument. I was perplexed as my happy; bubble of a world view was slowly diminishing. I couldn’t imagine not smiling in pictures. I couldn’t even imagine why one would not want to smile in a picture. “Doesn’t everyone want happy memories?” I thought.  I didn’t take another picture, let alone finish out that roll of nine pictures left of that film for another month or so. There was so much about the world I realized I had to learn. TC Mark