11/21/2014 04:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How a $5 Photo Booth Made Me a Better Mom

Last week the kiddo and I spent an afternoon at the local shopping mall. Old man winter was just starting to rear his ugly head and I had the realization that my typical uniform of tank tops and TOMs shoes was just not going to cut it any longer. Not to mention cabin fever was already settling in since our easy going afternoon park dates were quickly becoming a distant early autumn memory.


The problem with the mall and any 4-year-old however, is how quickly the big box shops and open walkways can turn into an indoor playground.

If she wasn't hiding in the clothing racks or running amok down the shoe aisles then my dear daughter was asking me to buy every single kid related item we passed.

"Mommy, can I get a new toy?"

"Mommy, can I get a snack?"

"Mommy, can I get pajamas?"

"Mommy, can I get some books?"

Exasperated in under an hour, with no sweaters, boots, winter wear to show for it, I decided to leave, telling myself that this trip was obviously a waste of an afternoon.

(Note to self: next time don't bring your preschooler on your shopping spree.)

On our way out, my internal panic meter reached an all time high when I spotted a kid area with rides, and games, and play structures that I knew would provide a new level of distraction and desire in my child that I didn't have the energy left to conquer. I was ready to pack it in, admit defeat, and go straight home.

To my surprise her eyes settled instead on an old fashioned photo booth nearby.

My daughter's love of forts, tents, and tiny play nooks must have diverted her attention to the curtained box like a moth to a flame. I begrudgingly followed her and took pause as she crawled in and out, asking a laundry list of questions along the way.

She was curious about about the contraption, and what it's purpose could possibly be. Her young mind couldn't quite comprehend the fact that this machine would not only take pictures, but then deliver them on paper as an added bonus.

I admittedly have been quite terrible at printing her photos over the years and could easily count on my fingers the number of photographs in frames, on the walls, or in albums at our house.
The digital age has unfortunately taught her that photos (and lots of them) live on mommy's phone, camera, or computer screen.

Of course, once she knew what the photo booth was capable of, she wanted to see it in action.

"Mommy can we get pictures?"

Feeling rushed to get home and cook dinner, exhausted from chasing her though the mall, worn thin from answering her bajillion questions, and discouraged about the waste of a shopping trip; I was annoyed that a $5 photo gimmick was attempting to "steal" my money.

Especially when I could totally snap a few selfies on my iPhone and call it a day.

The digital age has taught me that life is a rush of activity, photos are an infinite commodity, and the more I snap the more stressful it becomes figuring out what to do with them all.

We certainly didn't NEED these photos and the words "not today" had just escaped my lips for what felt like the thousandth time that afternoon when I noticed a sincere look of disappointment welling up in her eyes.

As if her baby blue orbs were a secret time vessel to my past, I was transported back to the moment my own mother said "YES" to a photo booth during our annual beach vacation and how my 9-year-old self was giddy about the experience.


My thoughts wandered to the worn and well-loved childhood albums we leaf through every time we're visiting my parents.

Then they meandered to the overflowing shoeboxes of high school and college images reminding me of that awkward, rebellious, expressive, coming of age time in my life.

I realized how badly I want for my daughter to understand that photos are much more than a moment that conveniently gets tucked away into the confines of disorganized digital folders.

I wanted to show my daughter that photos (contrary to my belief) are in fact NOT an infinite commodity. They are pieces of our selves that become so much more when they are printed objects you can hold in your hands and cherish together.

In that instant I changed my mind, because I knew this $5 "money stealing machine" was about to teach my daughter an invaluable lesson about connection, family, and the importance of printing pictures.

The images we took in the booth that afternoon were far from perfect, and yes I could've taken them myself.


But my daughter and I had a magical moment tucked away in that little nook. Giggling, laughing, being silly, and sharing the intense love and bond between mother and daughter that can only be described as perfectly imperfect.

The imperfection in those photos served as a metaphor for our mall date and life in general. It was just the reminder and gentle nudge I needed to realize that all of our moments -- especially the imperfect ones, deserve our attention and need to be preserved.

As my daughter walked out of the mall clutching her strip of printed photos like they were pure gold, I knew that $5 purchase was worth so much more. It was an investment in our lifelong relationship and an invaluable memory of who we both are during this slice of our life.

She learned the true value of photography and what it can offer our soul.

I noticed our mood can be lifted in an instant if we invest our heart in what truly matters most.

And, we both realized that perfect pictures are quite simply printed ones.

This post first appeared on Beryl Ayn Young's personal blog where she inspires moms to love their photos and their life.