My sixth birthday party was high tea with fancy dresses, white gloves and plastic tea cups. I remember my few girlfriends sipping sweet tea with our pinkies extended. I remember placing pink candles into silver holders and eating white cake.
Or do I?
Do I remember the actual party, or have I created a memory from seeing the photographs and hearing my mother tell the story?
Does it matter?
I was tickling my two boys the other day, and they were laughing so hard that I wished someone could have been there to take a picture. Their laughter — either because I am inherently evil or because I had recently seen the movie Inception — made this mischievous little idea pop into my head: Could I use photographs to purposely manipulate my children’s memories?
You see, one of my sons seems to be innately pessimistic. (Guess who gave him that?) Pessimists can take the most benign of childhoods and turn them into abusive dramas that will give them decades of writing material.
Case in point: I have a list of 95 grievances I wrote to my parents when I was 9. (I hope they were tickled by how inspirational I found the teachings of Martin Luther.) In my list, I railed against the middle class injustices committed against me. Here are some actual examples:
“Not allowed to have a phone in my room. Not allowed to get ears pierced. Only get one dollar allowance. Can’t walk funny. Can’t pee off the back of the boat but my brothers are allowed to. Can’t spend the night at Kelly’s house even though the jury found her father not guilty.”
I could go on ... 90 more times.
So there I was on the couch wondering if I should retouch my kids’ childhood photographs a smidge to show them they had the Most Amazing Happy Childhood EVER!
When I was getting married, my father had this “genius” plan for creating the perfect wedding. “What we could do,” he explained, “is replace a real wedding with a PhotoShopped wedding album. That way we could put any guest you could ever desire into the pictures.”
He tried to sell me on the economy and the brag-ability of being able to invite both Elvis Costello and Elvis to sing for my guests of honor — The Pope, Janis Joplin and Queen Elizabeth — while wearing a $10,000 couture dress. (Sometimes my father likes to wear couture.)
“Weddings are stressful and expensive and never as great as you think,” my father rationalized. “This way you get everything you ever wanted for a fraction of the price.”
I opted for the expensive real kind (and the real photos suck, if you’re interested.)
Now I hate to agree with my father, but maybe it is better to manipulate reality. What could be the harm in staging some beautiful, happy photographs showing how much we love and adore our boys? Pictures of them laughing, pictures of them being kissed and hugged.
What would be the damage from having some extra special photos done? Look boys, here is your whole family smothering you with kisses. Here you are eating a 30-scoop ice cream cone. Here you are on top of your pet zebra. Images to give them no doubt that their childhood was the best.
How old (and how mad) will they be when they figure it all out?
Come on boys, don’t you remember owning a pony and a bear cub? Remember we gave them to a needy family in Burma? (Which is a country that doesn’t exist anymore so you can’t check your facts.) And yes, we lived on the moon, and we had a chocolate fountain.
The truth is, I already lie to my son. His birthday conveniently falls in the same week that Dunedin has the festival. It is the perfect event for little boys. There are more than 300 trucks, tanks, buses and cranes. You can climb on them all and honk the horns. They even land a helicopter right in front of you. I fib (Santa Claus-style) that we hold Touch-A-Truck just for him, and we invite the whole city to celebrate his birthday.
When he grows out of wanting to sit in a Mack truck, will he wonder why his mother — who used to plan a city-wide bash — now hates to throw parties and limits him to inviting one friend? (Oops, that includes family. Sorry, your brother is your plus one.)
What I am getting at here is: Is a happy childhood half smoke and mirrors?
In any event, I should probably burn my photo collection of the kids crying (I've been keeping it as evidence of them torturing me).
Not allowed to wear make-up around the house
Not allowed to get hairspray that works (more expensive)
Can’t hit James
Not allowed to toilet paper a house
Can’t watch beauty contest
Can’t have a whole bunch of pairs of shoes
Not allowed to hang around “Mr. Grosher” [sic]
Not allowed to have boy girl parties
Not allowed to wear unpierced earrings
Not allowed to watch MTV
Not allowed to make C’s without you guys being made [sic]
Have to mow the lawn
Not allowed to call boys
Can’t order TEEN
Can’t use the guest bathroom for my bathroom
Can’t watch soaps
Not allowed to get wallpaper in my room
Not allowed to go over to a guys house
Not allowed to have parties or at least big ones
Not allowed to rip my jeans
Barely ever allowed to have someone sleep over
Not allowed to wear bikinis or monakinis
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