New Smile

Out of the blog posts that have upset my wife — we’re probably in the low teens at this point — the one that really set her off was unkind to our engagement pictures, among other concepts. I’ve come a long way in 3.75 years and now think of such staged photo shoots as more lighthearted-silly than aggravating-stupid.

They’re also much more tolerable when an effusive friend is taking them for free without time pressure, versus $700 for two hours. We did our first non-iPhone pictures with the baby at 13 weeks old and exactly two weeks after an expedition to the pumpkin patch, where we ridiculed the young toolbags wearing flannel in 80 degrees so their girlfriends could orchestrate Instagram pics.

And of course, I had to wear flannel. People in Southern California need to acknowledge fall might not start until February, if at all, and stop trying to force it.

Our game plan was communicated to me vaguely, and intentionally so. I was even allowed to nap through the first part at home.

My wife said we were going to start with pics in the nursery and then take some at the park. It sounded casual enough. We live within a few miles of a thousand parks. This is Orange County; there are more parks than black people.

In a savagely deceptive move that only could originate in marriage, my wife fed me Google Maps directions step by step while distracting with conversation. Every time I made a remark about how far it seemed we were going, she denied it.

We went all the way to the 57 and headed north toward the mountains. I thought I was going to Vegas with three chicks and a baby, which would be the dreadfully wrong support system I need there.

Carbon Canyon Regional Park ended up being the destination, about a 50-mile round trip. My wife clearly had discovered this place in Insta-land, as we walked past a mom breastfeeding in tall wild grass for her camera crew and an adult woman dressed like a Frozen princess for her boyfriend photographer who no doubt draws inspiration from Humans of New York.

I was in weak position to judge while gingerly navigating our $1200 stroller through jarring terrain for 20 minutes with my son dressed in a Bill Cosby sweater, fittingly without his consent.

Gnats or mosquitos or somethings kept buzzing all around my head. Perspiration started to compromise the hold of my Equate styling fiber, Walmart’s generic brand of American Crew that cost only six bucks. My pants were too tight because I’m fat right now due to some eating triggers and enabling circumstances, but I still take responsibility.

Earlier my wife changed the baby’s diaper and breastfed him in the backseat, while I searched for a sink to wash my hands after disposing of said diaper. Every outfit change looked like a pit crew at work. Fading daylight created time pressure after all.

At the end of the day, it was a bit of a circus just to get a few smiling pictures of our nascent family. Six hundred pictures were snapped in pursuit of three simultaneous smiles.

Photo credit: Dr. Weave

The baby actually smiles all the time, but he can’t do it on command. He doesn’t understand English or Chinese, and like my best friend Piper the dog, he refuses to pander to the camera.

It really did feel like trying to get a dog to smile, a situation in which one wonders which creature looks dumber, the one that can’t understand or the one deploying increasingly desperate antics to make it happen.

Someone had the idea of using a pink rabbit hand puppet as a prop to draw a smile, even though the baby had never interacted with it before. My sister-in-law gamely took on the role of puppeteer behind the camera.

The puppet reminded me of the masks in horror movies and played a garbled sound when the mouth opened. After hearing it about 40 times, the adults started laughing hysterically at the absurdity. The baby unfortunately didn’t perceive the humor, and the puppet had more of a stupefying effect.

Photo credit: Dr. Weave

We still landed a handful of triple smiles though. These rare shots almost seemed candid because of the low success rate. Typically I only find spontaneous, goofy, real pictures interesting.

But in this case, the buffoonery and effort to make this indifferent baby smile were cause enough for me to smile.

Photo credit: Dr. Weave

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