Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Smile Like You Mean It

"Say Cheese"

Last weekend we participated in what most all upper middle class families with young kids engage in shortly after having a new baby.  Newborn pictures.  I sometimes wonder what sort of narcissistic creatures we are creating by giving kids less than two weeks old their very own, usually expensive, photo shoots.  And the fact that often times they are very scantily clad, if not entirely in the buff.  Good thing they typically sleep through the entire process, or cry, which hopefully traumatizes the memory.  Better thing that they don't remember much, if anything, from their first year alive.

Since this was our third newborn photo session experience, we knew what to expect.  Hopefully Guthrie would sleep, but odds are he would cry and need to be consoled (it turned out to be more of the later).  We'd taken newborn photos with older siblings before, so we also knew that our ability to get cooperative siblings is also a mere crapshoot.  Bribes, empty threats.  More bribes, more empty threats.  It's effective parenting at its finest.  Keep in mind the bribes and empty threats don't work with a newborn.  They can't understand the nuances of negotiation.  You also can't withhold the one thing they want, the boob.  It's bad form, and very negligent.  

Taking professional newborn photos, like taking any type of professional photos; wedding, engagement, family, are always exercises in sheer irrationality.  "Just pretend we're not here" is the instruction you get from the photographers.  "Act natural.  Be into each other."  Yes, that makes complete sense because if I was acting natural, I would obviously be lounging on this shag rug with one knee up and my arm draped over it.  It's the position I spend about 80% of my day in - even sometimes when I sleep.

With newborn photos, the cutest poses are what we'll refer to as "naked baby".  This obviously means the subject is not wearing any clothes, not even a diaper (the contract we received from our photographer actually stipulated "no diaper lines").  This means there is a 100% chance that baby is going to void (medical terminology for pooping and peeing) on you or that wrap you purchased specifically for the photoshoot.  When we took Havi's newborn photos, Havi crapped directly into Jess' hand mid-shutter release.  It was actually pretty impressive.   

Ah, but the memories from the created poses are priceless, right?  If you would have described your newborn photo-session as a "relaxed" experience, tell what you were taking.  My wife's a pharmacist and she can maybe get some samples.  The newborn photoshoot experience has brought to mind two reflections/concepts/ruminations/topics of discussion, whatever you want to call it.

1. Your Kid is the Cutest Kid Ever

I used to become mildly annoyed (and still sometimes do) when parents are over the top about how cute their kids are.  Especially when they aren't cute at all.  But then I actually thought about this premise, and realized that this actually makes sense, and I'm actually glad it is this way.  Think about it, your kid is the offspring of you and hopefully your spouse, partner, soul mate, etc.  Their DNA is a replication of your DNA, and I hope that you think you, and hopefully your counterpoint, are the most beautiful people in the world.  In a humble way, of course.  

I really hope that you can look in the mirror and consider yourself beautiful, both inside and out.  If that is not the case, then I think you need to ask yourself why that isn't the case, and what you can do to make that the case.  If you are in a relationship with your children's other parent, at any level, I hope that you can look at them and see the other most beautiful person in the world.  Again, if you can't, ask yourself why not and what you can do, and what they can do, to make that the case.

So that is why I hope you think your kids are cute, because they are you.  But please exercise caution when expressing this to the greater public.  To quote Aloe Blacc, "you can tell the whole world and everybody", but recognize that everyone else hopefully feels the same way you do, but about their own kids.  They might humor you a few times, but don't push your luck.  For the record, I have the cutest kids on the planet, because they are my wife's.   

2. Parent Like No One Is Watching/Parent Like Someone is Always Watching

I'm sure most all of us parent at least a little bit differently in private than we do in public.  I thought about this the other day while I was interacting with my 2 year-old while we were out and about.  I'm guessing anyone reading this does not have the issue of paparazzi precipitously snapping photos of them anytime they go out in public.  People does not publish photos of me engaging in normal day antics, like going to the grocery store with my kids.  Still, when you are out in public, especially if there are other parents and young kids around, you become acutely aware of your behavior.  I do this too.  When I parent in public, I like to speak to my kids in Spanish (or the little I know), so people think my kids are bilingual kid geniuses.  When I parent in private, I let them eat candy and watch excessive amounts of TV so I can hurriedly finish these blogs posts.

There is saying on a plaque somewhere at the dance studio that my 4 year old goes to on Wednesday nights that says "Dance Like No Watch Is Watching" (okay, I've actually never seen it there, but I'm sure it has to be there.  It's a dance studio after all).  The notion of the quote is that when we dance, we shouldn't care what others around think, as long as our hearts are in the right place and the music is moving us.  I do this a lot, to my wife's annoyance.  I thought the same could be applied to parenting.  Love your kids like no one is watching.  Do what your heart feels is right when interacting with your kids.  You should parent for the respect and love of your kids, not the admiration of other parents.

But then I thought about that a little more, and thought maybe we should parent like someone is always watching (I guess you could say the big men upstairs are always watching, God and Santa Claus).  At a certain level, I would say I'm probably a better parent when I parent in public because I'm more actively thinking about parenting.  There is a solid chance that no one is even paying attention to what I'm doing with my kids, but by just having other people around it makes me more conscious of my actions.  I've often quipped that sometimes it's easier to parent without my wife around, because then I don't have to worry about what sort of judgement she might be passing about my parenting methods.  Maybe when it comes to parenting we should be worried about what judgement might be passed, these are the most formative years of their lives after all.

I think the key lies in striking a balance between the two notions.  Strive to be the parent you want to be, so your actions are the same whether no one else is watching or you're on the Jumbotron at a professional sporting event.  And recognize that this will take work, but the more you work at it the more it will become second nature.  Studies have shown that if we engage in what we believe to be ethical behavior just because we think someone is watching, eventually that behavior will become more routine.  Even if you are doing it for show at first, the longer you do it, the more it will become habit.  Personally, I believe the only people I need to justify my parenting decision to are my wife and my kids.  If I can't justify it to them, then I need to "change (my) ways, while (I'm) young".  Or, middle aged.             

Like I said, cutest kids ever.
Photo courtesy of Emily Williams Photography


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