I have a command center in my house: three cameras stationed outside and three patrolling the interior.
One would think I was running some sort of covert operation. To an extent, I am. I have three children and one camera for each of their rooms. If they get up or move an inch in their sleep, I know. Some would call it spying. I call it parenting.
At first, the cameras were a practical necessity. We live in a home with two floors and can’t always hear when our children get up and need our help. They are all under five and still panic when they wake up in the middle of the night and we don’t come within milliseconds of them calling our name.
I soon noticed, however, that I have developed a nervous tick. I click on my nest cameras when there is no reason for it. There is little noise, nothing is happening, I just want to see all my kids safe in their beds. It gives me a sense of calm—my moment of Zen. After they have acted like devils the entire day, I can look at my three little angelic children calmly resting. Following the chaos of yelling at my kids to stop hitting each other and going through the rigmarole of dinner, bath time, stories, teeth brushing and tucking in, it’s peaceful to just stare at them sleeping. Every time I look at the images I can feel the wrinkles in my forehead relaxing. I have even been known to watch my 7-month-old nap when I am at work in the middle of the day. I miss her.
Recently, as the high holidays approached, I started getting concerned about the more sinister side of this hobby.
On Shabbat, the one day a week I do not check cameras, I noticed I got antsy. Like an addict who needs her fix, I find myself starring longingly at my phone at night. There is quiet. I am upstairs in my room and in earshot of all my children. And yet, I want to see those shadowy images of them sleeping. I want to know that they are all right.
Something tells me that this is a bad omen for my future as a parent. As a high school teacher, I see that I will eventually lose control over my children’s lives as they grow older. I look sadly at many helicopter parents that come into my office and want to know everything about their 17-year-old’s homework assignments and test scores. I am even more concerned by the now-nicknamed bulldozer parent, who instead of hovering over their children’s lives and watching their every move, completely control their offspring’s class choices and extracurricular. If you dare get in the way of their plans for their child prodigy, prepare for the wreckage that follows.
And yet, am I on track to becoming just like them? If I cannot sleep without seeing an image of each of my children slumbering, how will I ever build up the stamina to let them go off to summer camp or sleepovers in just a few short years? There will be no cameras in their future dorm rooms and trips with friends.
My parental ambition is to become a space shuttle parent. (Yes, I coined the term.)
I want to inspire my children to be brave, shoot for the moon, go discover unknown worlds, even though I won’t be able to follow them. Maybe when they return from their fact-finding mission they can show me what they found. In this dream, my children will even miss me. Having been given space, they will actually want to come home and share their lives with their old, boring parents. While this is surely some sort of sci-fi fantasy, if this is truly what I want, shouldn’t I stop stalking my children with cameras?
In light of the recent shooting in Las Vegas, my addiction has only gotten worse. Every time I read another article about Stephen Paddock, I find myself looking at my nest cameras for comfort. I am all the more terrified that it will be increasingly difficult for me to protect my children in the world we now live.
Maybe the nest cameras will paradoxically be part of my solution.
Something tells me that I might just be tightening the ropes so that eventually I will be able to let go. All these hours of watching them sleep will possibly stick with me, and when I worry about them in years to come, I’ll remember that they are okay. Those black and white images of them drooling onto their blankets and falling asleep sitting up can comfort me when I don’t know what bed or city they are in.
So I’m going to stock up on my images of my children being angelic. For now, my Shabbat break from technology reminds me what the future will be like, but that doesn’t mean I need to hasten it. While I won’t be able to protect my children forever, that doesn’t mean I can’t cherish the years in which I am still able to watch them.
These years are short, and as the world gets increasingly unpredictable something tells me that when my children leave the nest (and nest cameras) I am going to need these images to give me the confidence that they will be okay.
Na’amit Sturm Nagel is a writer who teaches at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles.