When Photos Lie

A blustery and cold November Sunday stretches before us. My mental to-do list includes things like: stay in pajamas, drink tea, watch a movie, maybe clean up the playroom. My husband decides we need to go fly kites. I can’t muster enthusiasm for the idea, but it is happening, so I just keep my mouth shut and dress in layers.

We head out. The wind buffets our car on the drive to the playground. “We’re the only ones here!” the kids exclaim as we park. “Of course we are,” I can’t help but say.

As I take photos of my family, the disconnect between reality and the images is readily apparent. The images paint a picture of an ideal family outing, of happy children enjoying a windy day in maybe the most classically sweet way. Father Son Fly Kite

We look like a catalogue family.Family Outing Kite Flying

I see a potential Facebook spread, the kind my newsfeed is full of. And it’s tempting. If I upload them right away, my friends would know that while they’ve hunkered down in their houses, I have been out in the weather, with my intrepid family doing fun, active, wholesome stuff.

Paired with just the right status update – maybe “Perfect day to fly a kite!” – my photos would imply that I am winning, that I am the better mom, and that I have the better family. People would see my husband and children, faces flushed and smiling, while their own husband naps and their own children bicker or complain of boredom. Comparisons would be made, and my family would win.Girl Flying Kite

When we post our selective moments of familial happiness and togetherness we send a message: This is our life. We are happy, active, and spend time together as a family. We vacation and go to pumpkin patches; we have ice cream cones and visit the aquarium; we spend windy Autumn days flying kites.

Boy Flying Kite

No one’s life is just pumpkin patches and happy outings, but there’s no mention of the mediocrity- the exasperated expression we give our spouse when we’re stressed and tired and he forgot to do the one thing we asked of him, the countless children’s fights broken up, complaints whined, the orders shouted. We don’t post status updates about our kids’ failures or struggles, only trophies and achievements. We don’t post about the times we don’t get to the gym, don’t prepare a Pinterest-worthy dinner, don’t feel up for a family outing.

We fail to mention that we snapped at the kids in the pumpkin patch because all we wanted was one good picture and that shouldn’t be too much to ask for; that we spent most of the time at the aquarium in a desperate search for a bathroom, first for one kid and then the other because she didn’t think she had to go when we were just in there; or that shortly before we went out for ice cream cones our kids asked if we are getting divorced because they overheard us arguing.

I’m not suggesting that we all must either stop posting happy photos or start posting about some of our lesser moments. Of course we want to share the cute apple picking shots and our trip to Disney. But, as we rely more and more on platforms like Facebook to maintain our friendships, and less and less on phone calls and actual get-togethers, we are only seeing a narrow view of our friends’ lives. Without ever seeing the full picture, soon we wonder: everyone else is so happy all the time, why aren’t I? What am I doing wrong?

Posting my photos to Facebook with a caption like “Perfect day to fly a kite!” would be lying. Not only was it definitely not a perfect day to fly a kite, but the pictures do not capture anything like the real story.

The truth: It was too windy for the kids’ crappy kites. In fact, 3 kites broke. The kids were easily frustrated and too cold for patience. Since I never wanted to go in the first place, I just hung back with my camera (and bad attitude) and let my husband deal with all the kite/kid problems. With the exception of about 5 minutes of one kite’s success, kite flying was a complete bust.Monkey Bars Playground ClimbingSo we moved onto the playground. In this photo, it looks like Sally is happily climbing, but she was already starting to cry and I had to “rescue” her off of the climbing structure moments after taking it. As I selfishly trained my camera on her, determined to capture a moment that simply didn’t exist, she began shrieking that her hands hurt, and refused to move from that spot.

The constant, whipping wind made my ears ache so I hid in the relative shelter behind a climbing wall, completely checked out from my family outing, until I eventually decided to sit in the warm car instead. My husband and the kids did have some genuine fun as he ran around chasing them for a while. When it was time to go Luke threw a fit and told us that he hates us. Perfect ending.

Oh well, we at least tried, right? Certain that we had killed a large portion of the freezing, miserable day, we weren’t at all happy to see that it was only 10:45 AM as we drove home from the park. So.much.more.day.ahead.of.us.

I did post my pictures to Facebook, but not with the implied message of superiority. I described the actual outing. And I’m posting it here. Just doing my part to let you know that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows or beaches and birthdays in anyone’s household. And if you ever get that nagging feeling that it is, and that you’re somehow missing out, call your friend instead of checking in online. Over the phone you’ll hear her tired voice, her toddler screaming, and her story about how her husband is on yet another business trip leaving her to deal with the homefront alone.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but no one said anything about those words being true.



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Trick-or-treat, except no tricks please because my kids are stupid

My kids are still working on becoming funny. At least I hope they’re working on it, and that where they sit right now on the funny spectrum is not where they’ll remain. Funny is important to me. The fact that it’s lost on my children leaves them not getting 62% of what comes out of my mouth. Since the remaining 38% is made up of directives they’re ignoring, we have a major communication problem over here.

When my then 5-year-old son shouted back to me from the door of a stranger’s house on Halloween night, “Mom, she doesn’t have any chocolate, is it OK if I pick something else?” I realized that my kids are too earnest for my tastes.

See, I (jokingly (totally not jokingly)) told my son to make sure he gets lots of chocolate. The for me was implied. He did not pick up on the implication. He took it as a rule or mission of Halloween. He took it as advice from his mother who looks out for him and knows more about Halloween and the world at large than he does.

And nothing I said for the rest of the night could change his mind.

“Honey, I was just joking. Get whatever candy you like,” I said.

“But you said to get as much chocolate as I can. I’ll get chocolate,” he said.

“You are evil. You better blog about this,” husband said.

Every house was the same. My kid shouted back to me, “This one has more than one kind of chocolate, does it matter which I get?” and “This one has chocolate and Skittles. I really like Skittles. Is it OK if I pick the Skittles?” Once he even said to the kind stranger holding the candy bowl, “My mom wants me to get chocolate. Do you have any chocolate, maybe in your pantry?”

He had no idea that I was planning on stealing any candy from him. It would never occur to him that I’d want candy or play such a trick.

I seem to never learn the lesson that my kids don’t pick up on subtlety, irony, sarcasm, and jokes meant for the adults in the room. I made my daughter cry once when she saw me handing out ice cream sandwiches to her brother and to each of the 3 neighbor’s kids and asked “Can I have one too?” I said, “No. I’m giving ice cream sandwiches to all the other children but I’m going to give you onions for dessert.” Even though I assured her I was joking and quickly handed over the ice cream, she cried again a few days later when she asked for dessert and I said, “Onions for dessert!” Kid cannot take a joke.

While other parents anxiously await their children to achieve milestones like tying shoes and learning to read, I’m waiting with baited breath for my kids to grasp sarcasm, trickery, and actually funny jokes.

trick or treat

Genetic Roulette and Books and Candy

When my babies arrived, it was clear that I had no genetic input to their physical appearance. Neither were blue-eyed and pink. Luke looked like a photo of his dad come to life, and Sally looked exactly like Luke. This hasn’t changed. Tim and Luke look alike down to their toes. They inhabit their identical-but-32-years-apart bodies the same way, crossing their legs in the same manner, moving effortlessly the same in their skins. It’s weird. And Sally? She looks like Luke. Her face is his face, just slightly smaller.

Each time a couple gets together to make a baby they take a gamble on the roulette wheel of genetics. In the universe’s infinite randomness, or infinite wisdom depending on your religious persuasions, the resulting baby is a little bit of this and a little bit of that, basically a mess of traits gleaned from parents and ancestors long forgotten.

So what did they get from me in our game of genetic roulette? A couple of unfortunate intangibles: for Luke it’s mostly my quick temper and general disdain for authority. This is absolutely not ideal, but probably exactly what I deserve. To Sally I passed down a flair for drama – this is a euphemism for OH MY GOD THE GIRL IS SO FREAKING DRAMATIC – and a natural disposition to getting hurt in unlikely situations. These, also, are not ideal, nor are they my best qualities.

This weekend I discovered a couple more subtle roulette outcomes in my children.

Dressed in our cozy pajamas, the kids and I piled on the couch on Sunday morning for me to read to them from James and the Giant Peach. This is an epically great book. I loved it when I was a kid and I couldn’t wait to share it with Luke and Sally. The writing is wonderfully descriptive, easily painting the scenes in a reader’s mind. The characters, each fleshed out in all their glorious weirdness, lend themselves to reading aloud, if you enjoy adapting different voices and affectations to help capture your audience’s imagination, which I do. (See inherited “flair for drama” above.)

So I read, enjoying it so much I could have read the entire book in one sitting. To my left, sat a captivated Sally, carefully studying each of the few pictures I showed her. In her I saw a younger me, comparing her imagination’s picture with the book’s illustrations, adjusting her mind’s account accordingly, seeing everything as clearly as if it were a scene right in front of her eyes.

To my right, Luke sat bored and squirmy. The book didn’t have enough pictures; the action was slow to arrive due to far too much background information, too much about the mean aunts and James’ despondency. He begged me to stop. Sally begged me to continue. When I did stop, Luke bounded away from us gratefully, needing to stretch and move. Sally curled into me and asked if I would read more later and if we could do this every Sunday morning. She took a few minutes to mentally transition, saving her mind’s image for next time.

At last! One of my children is like me, and in a way I actually like! Luke’s aversion to reading, and even hearing stories, worries and upsets me a little. I’m sure he’ll be fine and normal and all that, but not loving to read? Ack! It’s like a personal affront. Is this strange boy-person really my child? He’s so unlike me in every way.

Later that day I was still feeling entirely unrelated to Luke, when he inadvertently proved that he is mine after all. At a local Halloween event the kids got to collect some candy shortly before we were set to leave. “OK, kids, it’s time to go, but you can eat some of your candy in the car.” (A good exit strategy is always key.) Sally: “Yay!” Luke: “But I finished all my candy already.”

WHAT? In the few minutes that we watched the end of a costume contest, Luke had absent-mindedly eaten all of his candy. I’m sure he didn’t notice half of it. Sigh, shit. Who would think that this could be an inherited trait? A bag of candy is about as safe with me as a bag of brains is safe with zombies. I would absolutely mindlessly eat it all my candy immediately.

Can’t this kid inherit a single good quality from me? Meanwhile, Sally ate a little candy in the car on the way home, still has some left over today, and chances are she will forget all about it. This she inherits from her father, under whose watch a package of cookies can actually go stale. (WTF?)

The problem with genetic roulette is what you learn about yourself. Nothing compares to seeing your flaws and weaknesses playing out in your children. Hopefully Luke’s physicality and inability to be still will counterbalance his absent-minded candy consumption better than my love for sitting still and reading does mine! Flaws or not, it is comforting to see yourself in your children. It helps reinforce the biologic component to parenting, which is important and helps keep us going when quitting seems like a decent option, like each night around bed time.

Genetic Roulette