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When my husband was growing up, he would often express his desire to be a police officer, to which his mother would respond that that was not for him.  It was “for some other mother’s son”.  My mother-in-law was not being a snob; she was simply stating that it was fine for other mother’s children to risk their lives protecting the peace and enforcing laws.  Hers would have to find employment in some other, safer discipline.  Fine for others; not for hers.

Last night, I was staring up at the bulletin board above my crafting area, a sort of proto-Pinterest where I pin magazine clippings, googly eyes, bias tape, a target from our trip to the shooting range, a Gilbert & Sullivan parody Mr. Apron wrote me for my birthday last year, the wedding announcement I placed in my alumni journal, the prototype of the card we used to announce our impending twin-parenthood:

and vestiges of our Valentine’s Day cards. I spied our first photo card:

The felt reindeer from 2011’s highly successful Christmas letter parody:

And this year’s card:

We didn’t get a chance to photograph our babies a la Anne Geddes when they were in their slug stage, when we could pose them just so, and they would sleep through the entire experience.  I hadn’t done any research into the cost or the logistics or the props for such arrangements, but I wanted these images for posterity, for baby books, for Facebook.  I wanted to be able to smile at the cherubs years later, and forget all the insanity of the first few weeks.

Unfortunately, with twins, the insanity of the first few weeks overtook us, and we never made it to the portrait studio, and the photographer never made it to us.  We couldn’t remember to eat, let alone coordinate baby photo shoots.  We were at the doctor for weight checks, the hospital for blood draws, and working so hard on establishing successful breastfeeding – round the clock – that it just never happened.

The only professional photo of my family sits of my mantle.  It was part of a fundraiser for my family’s synagogue, and it probably dates from 1989.  My hair has not been brushed in weeks, my father looks ever slightly stunned, my brother’s eyes dilate as if  stoned, and my baby sister, primped like a real-life doll, has her lips pursed, sucking on an M&M.  It was the only way to shut her up.  My mother looks pretty good, actually.  I think she’s the only one who wanted the photo taken.  My family of origin was not meant for photo studio shots, that much is clear.

But my children?  How awkward could some newborn photos be?  All I wanted was to scour Etsy for some coordinating hats and to capture something like this:

Is that so wrong?

Okay, so maybe posing them like they’re humping each other is less than ideal:

And this is a little creepy:

But still, is it so wrong to want this?

But we missed that opportunity.  A kind friend listened to me lamenting as I bemoaned missing the window for “slug-phase” photos, and she suggested we do it now.  They took their son for many photo shoots in his first year, and have a veritable catalogue of beautiful memories.  It’s not like my six-month-olds aren’t cute.  They’re still years from their awkward phase.

But as I sat staring up at this year’s Valentine, I was reminded of the tremendous feat it took to pull off the photo shoot on our couch.  We took forever to birth a concept, then had to scour and create props, “design” make-up, and call in a dear friend (who fortunately understands we’re not quite right in the heads) to take the pictures.  Doing some quick figuring, I reasoned that if Valentine’s Day is mid-February, we had managed to take the pictures perhaps mid-January, when our slugs were about a month old.

Staring up at the bulletin board last night — that was when I realized that our White Trash Valentine (or Married…with Children, or North Country, or Trailer Trash) was our newborn photo shoot.  Our little slugs — clothed only in their diapers, cuddled up against a mother wearing too much mascara, a father puffing on a fake cigarette, and surrounded by cheez doodles, a TV dinner, and fake cans of Budweiser — had had their moment.  We made a decision to shoot that Valentine against all odds.  In spite of not knowing which day it was, which feeding we were on, and which end of the baby was more volatile at any given moment, we managed to coordinate our annual Valentine, and mail it out to 100 of our closest friends.  That we didn’t do the same for an Anne Geddes-style session speaks to our true nature.

Those photos are for some other mother’s twins.

It’s easy to feel superior to a babysitter, nanny, or grandmother, when you’re the only one who can comfort your crying child.  It’s easy to be self-congratulatory when your husband leaves the house exasperated because the kid. will. not. go. to. sleep. and you go into the nursery, hold the pacifier in his mouth for 30 seconds, and leave a peacefully sleeping child behind.  It’s easy to feel great when you’re staring at endless open highway ahead, yet the other side is backed up for miles.  You beam internally when you find one more box of your husband’s favorite granola bars, squirreled away in the pantry.  You knew what to do.  You picked the right route.  You – and only you – could fix the problem, comfort the child, find the matching Tupperware lid.

Yet when so much self-worth is wrapped up in the incredible highs of awesomeness, the lows that accompany moments of humanity – “failures”, in your mind – deal equally damaging blows.  If you can’t comfort the child or find the Tupperware lid, and you drop the apple (repeatedly) in the garbage can while you’re peeling it, the waves of exasperation are overwhelming.  You find yourself gently willing the cranky, over-tired child to sleep, cooing softly in its ear, “I’m sorry I’m inadequate.  I’m sorry I fucked up.  Your mother is inadequate.  I’m sorry.”  Because it’s your fault the child won’t go to bed.  Obviously.  And that fault points to a deeper character flaw, not just some fluke in the Baby Laws of the Universe, or a soggy diaper.

Superiority, on the other hand, feels so good.  It’s so easy, so gratifying.  Choices others make immediately speak of their flawed character, their lack of taste, leadership, common sense, etc.  That fiberglass fence my sister-in-law picked out?  Hideous.  The overweight, tattooed couple at the mall wearing matching dishwater-grey wifebeaters and carrying matching half-gallons of Wawa iced tea?  Just trashy.  Really funny, too.  Funny enough for a surreptitious cell-phone picture shared with husband and sister.  Funny enough for us all to feel superior.  Heaven forbid anyone with a cell phone camera at the same mall yesterday saw me with my shorts hanging off my hips, so loose they literally did fall down as I was carrying a baby up the stairs.  My own wardrobe malfunctions might point to my own inability to dress for my body type, my age, or to adjust to my changing body after childbirth.  Not merely that clothes are clothes.  And, with twins at home and a full-time job and a decaying dog and visiting relatives  I haven’t had time to buy a new wardrobe.

When my daughter cries, does it reflect negatively on me?  If I choose to let her cry herself to sleep, do I feel like I have somehow failed her because I couldn’t figure out any better method?  Or am I just like everyone else out there, navigating a world that came with no instruction manual?  If I give up the self-deprecation that accompanies my failures (or human flaws), do I also have to give up the superiority that goes so nicely with my successes?  I don’t want to; it makes me feel pretty good.  But this begs the question: why is my self-worth so wrapped up in feeling better than others by my choices, my accomplishments, even my SAT scores?

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July 2012