Thank you for being so mean

I have a consulting job for a test prep company. I assess the practice essays that people write.

I’m not a touchy feely person.  If you ask me whether these pants make your butt look big, I’ll tell you the truth.  And I won’t be all subtle either.  I won’t say, “Well, they look great, but maybe the grey ones would be better.”

Nope. I’ll say, “Well, since you asked, they do make your butt look big.  And see how these fat lumps show through on the side here?  Burn these pants! Go with the grey instead.”  Yeah…people don’t always respond well to that. But at least you won’t walk out of the house with a big ol’ lumpy bubble butt.  (You’re welcome.)

For these essays I assess, it doesn’t do anyone a lick of good for me to say, “The essay was great!  Maybe you could tweak it just a little bit at the end if you feel like it…”  Not helpful. They’ll bomb the test.  I tell them the parts that are good and I tell them the parts that are bad.

One of the test prep students emailed this to me today:

“HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! N THANKS FOR BEING HARD ON ME I PRAY I PASS:)”

Thanks for being hard on her?  What?  I don’t remember being particularly hard on her.  I went back to review what I’d told her.  Oh yeah, now I remember!  I told her that:

“The first two sentences of your paragraph have nothing to do with the rest of the paragraph.  You started writing about economics but then wrote about something entirely unrelated to economics. It’s vital that the opening sentence of a paragraph matches the rest of the paragraph.  Kids learn that in the 3rd grade.  If you don’t follow that rule, the people assessing your essay on the test WILL notice and will deduct.”

Maybe the part about her not knowing something a 3rd grader should know came across as a little harsh.  Eh well.  It’s true.  My 3rd grader does know that.   This woman has a master’s degree.  Eventually someone’s gotta tell her the truth.  That’s what she’s paying me for.

Anyway, I love being thanked for being mean.

Too Cool, Toddlers, and Time Machines

I’ve taken some toddler/preschooler pictures this month.  I do not like taking toddler/preschooler pictures.

The first toddler’s pictures were for a Christmas card.  My cunning plan was to take the pictures in the fall, set the little girl loose in her backyard, then chase after her snapping pictures like a desperate paparazzo.

Yes, the singular of paparazzi is paparazzo.  Thank the heavens above for the internet so I could look it up.

The internet.  We are all just so cool nowadays I can hardly stand it.  We drive around in our cars and speak to the air, “Call Mom!” and the car calls Mom!

And we’re so blasé about it, too.  Aren’t we ridiculous in our blasé-ment?  

What would it be like if we could make a time machine and bring someone like Leonardo da Vinci forward in time?  How would he react to the things we have?  Can you see him startle when you first flick a switch on the wall and the room is blazing with lights?  Can you see the tears in his eyes when you take him on his first airplane ride?  Leonardo wouldn’t be blasé about electric lights and planes.

I saw some show where they took some guy—I think he was an aboriginal guy from the Australian bush—and plopped him down in a big city.  He started off in the airport with those sidewalks that move.  They’re like escalators but instead of steps they’re just a long strip that moves you along so you don’t have to actually put one foot in front of the other and walk.   The man was awed, of course, and when he went back home he tried to explain what he saw, “There were paths that moved for you.  You stood on them and they walked for you.”  His people thought he was nuts.

We are just too cool and we don’t even know it.  

Well that went off track.  Back to my original idea for this blog post: Christmas card pictures with toddler.

I was going to take the toddler outside, follow her around, and get lots of shots until I had a bunch of adorable candid shots to choose from.  But the weather was rainy, the family got sick, and it didn’t work out until cold bleary November.  We had to do shots indoors.  I had to use a flash.  This meant I couldn’t follow her around snapping like crazy.  I had to pose her, hope she didn’t run away, snap, then wait for the flash to power back up and, snap, and wait for the flash…. All that waiting for the flash can really mess up toddler pictures.  They do not hold their poses.

To make her stay in one spot we kept giving her This Is Not A Toy items to play with.

We gave her strands of wrapping paper ribbon…

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…we gave her glass Christmas tree ornaments…

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…and we gave her strings of electric lights—turned on.

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It worked insofar as she stayed in one spot, but the problem was that she was so busy amazing at her good luck in getting to touch all the This Is Not a Toys that she didn’t look up from the things we handed her.  I have a ton of pictures of the top of her head.

Here’s the picture I like best:

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See, people who can’t do their own portraits want a chance to get formal, posed pictures.  They ask their photographer friends or hire a photographer to take their formal, posed Family Portraits.  That’s all well and good and has its place.  I got a bunch of Family Portrait shots that the family loves.  They’re happy, so I’m happy.

But when you are the photographer, those pictures aren’t as much fun.  Yes, they’re necessary.  They can be pleasant, but they’re not fun.

Photographers like to get the pictures that tell a little story.  They like the pictures that make you wonder what happened just before the shot or just after.  Or make you wonder what the person in the picture is thinking.  Or what they’re looking at.

The reason I like the above shot best is because you wonder about it.  Who is handing the girl the lights?  (It was Darling Husband.)  You notice the way she is looking at whoever hands her the lights.  Is she happy about it?  Is she confused?  What’s that little girl going to do with the lights now that she has them?

It tells a tiny story and I like it.

Here are the pictures I like best of the little girl’s older sisters.  I like them because they’re between the formal poses and the girls are moving and relaxed and simply being “kids.”

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That last one was almost formal, except for the way her finger is smooshing her face.  But I love that.  It feels very “real” to me in a way that pictures where your hands are positioned ‘just so’ don’t.  I also like her red nose.  She had a cold and kept blowing her nose.  That’s not what you want in a formal portrait, but it’s what helps make this a fun picture.  It’s a memory.

In the next one, the girl with the finger-smooshed face drew a picture of her sister, pictured below.  It’s hard to tell whether the sister (below) finds the picture flattering or not.  (Kinda reminds me of when Napoleon Dynamite draws that picture of the girl he asks to the dance.)

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And of course:

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Nobody leaves without singing the blues

Sometimes you plan your life and sometimes life plans for you.

Apparently Boy8 is destined to be a blues musician.  A few weeks ago he bought himself a fedora and he wears it everywhere.  See?

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For Christmas he asked for, and received, a pocket watch.  And also for Christmas Gerhard bought him a harmonica.  Turns out Boy8 has been wanting a harmonica for quite some time.

Fedora, pocketwatch, harmonica?  The boy has a destiny, people, and I’m seeing cool blue neon lights in his future.  But we’re a musical family around here.  A few weeks ago I dyed my hair red…

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…for an 80’s Murder Mystery Costume Party.  My character was April O’Neil.

Never heard of her?  Neither had I.  And neither had anyone else at the party.  Apparently she was the reporter on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon.  It took half the party just to explain to everyone who I was supposed to be.  “Oh, look!  There’s Crocodile Dundee!  And Madonna!  And Jessica Rabbit!  And…Dustylizard….um…who are you supposed to be?”

Kevin took pictures of everyone at the party.  The first is of Darling Husband in his Teen Wolf costume.

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See Darling Husband’s chest hair?  Nothing like getting dressed and having your husband holler out, “Where’s my chest hair?  Has anyone seen my chest hair?! I can’t go to the party without my chest hair!”  After the party the itchy chest hair was flung in the back of the van only to be discovered days later by the boys.  “Aaaah!  What in the world is that?!  …Oh, wait.  It’s just Dad’s chest hair.”

Darling Husband was quietly amused that his character was Teen Wolf.  Teen Wolf probably didn’t have grey hair and wear bifocals.

And here I am in my April O’Neil costume wearing some ninja weapons for good measure.

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Anyway, for Christmas this year I asked for, and received, an Irish Tin Whistle.  With my red hair and tin whistle and Boy8 with his fedora and harmonica, I can play some peppy Irish reels and Boy8 can play the blues and we’ll have people totally confused at our expensive sold-out concerts.

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A Christmas picture for you.  This rose bush sits under an overhang outside the local library.  Water drips on it all day and then freezes encasing the buds in ice.

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Is your 8 year old bored? Won’t leave you alone to rest? Read here for The Answer.

So Boy8 gets home today after a lively afternoon of playing with friends and announces a full 50 seconds after walking in the door, that he’s bored. Wow. Don’t tell me kids have short attention spans. 50 seconds, people. That’s a lot of seconds. I’m so proud.

I couldn’t help him. I spent 109 hours yesterday afternoon trying to take family portraits of a good natured dad, sweet mom, happy first daughter, engaged second daughter…and an 18 month old third daughter. If you’ve ever tried to do that then you’ll understand that I’m Wiped Out. My legs are aching from all the running around, squatting, lying down and jumping back up that had to be done. 18 month olds absolutely do NOT want their pictures taken. Ever. Ever, ever. Boy8 and Boy11 even came by later as reinforcements to stand behind me and dance about. She loves them and they always make her laugh.

And yup. They did make her laugh. She was grinning and chortling and having a grand old time…about 4 minutes after I tidied up my lighting gear and camera. Argh!

But bored Boy8 was not about to let his weary old mother rest. While I was busily employed bringing all the fruit to the bottom and clearing out all the jelly Boy8 kept hanging on to me and reminding me that he was still bored.

I spied the glass bunnies that I used to play with when I was a child and told him  in my Storyteller voice, “Way back in the olden days when I was a young girl and everything was in black and white, I used to play for hours and hours with those glass bunnies. Yes, those very same ones you see there! Would you like to play with them? You’re old enough now.”

No.

“Don’t you have any matchbox cars? When I was a little girl, I used to line them all up in a big traffic jam. The first car would move forward an inch. Then the second car would move forward an inch. Then the third car would move forward an inch. I could fill days and days playing Traffic Jam.” Boy8 stared at me incredulously and said, “Did you really play that? Really?” I could hear Darling Husband snorting from the other room. Hey. I was an only child and had a very boring childhood. You gotta do what you gotta do to fill the time. Yes I played Traffic Jam.

Boy8 politely declined playing Traffic Jam.

“You could read a book. I have hundreds of children’s books I’ve collected just for sweet little you.”

No. He claims he hates reading. Oh, just break your mother’s heart in two why don’t you?

He wanted to do something physical he said.

“Make an obstacle course out of couch pillows and whatever else you can find and run through it.” Surely he’ll do this. He loves doing this and it makes a ghastly mess.

No.

Sigh. “Then how about we put this lazy boy chair back and you massage my scalp while I fall asleep.”

And he did. Honestly. He really did. I just woke up about 20 minutes ago.

And that is how you do it people. If your child is bored I’ve just given you The Answer. Don’t give me your silly excuses that it’ll never work with your children. That’s not my problem. I’m busy. I still have all that fruit and jelly to clear out.