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 aloud [sic] to have a phone in my room. Not aloud to get ears pierced. Only get one dollar allounce [sic]. Can’t walk funny. Can’t pee off the back of the boat but my brothers are aloud 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 aloud to wear make-up around the house
Not aloud to get hairspray that works (more expensive)
Can’t hit James
Not aloud to toilet paper a house
Can’t watch beauty contest
Can’t have a whole bunch of pairs of shoes
Not aloud to hang around “Mr. Grosher” [sic]
Not aloud to have boy girl parties
Not aloud to wear unpierced earrings
Not aloud to watch MTV
Not aloud to make C’s without you guys being made [sic]
Have to mow the lawn
Not aloud to call boys
Can’t order TEEN
Can’t use the guest bathroom for my bathroom
Can’t watch soaps
Not aloud to get wallpaper in my room
Not aloud to go over to a guys house
Not aloud to have parties or at least big ones
Not aloud to rip my jeans
Barly[sic] ever aloud to have someone sleep over
Not aloud to wear bikinis or monakinis [sic]
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