Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Vanity Project

This past Saturday, on the day that we were expecting a few people over to celebrate Alexander's first birthday, I had an errand to run at the Mountain Plaza Mall, which is just around the corner. Well, wouldn't you know it, but they were running their "most beautiful baby" contest that day, and the winner received a $75 gift certificate to be used at any store in the mall. Francine and I thought that we might as well exploit Alexander's cute charm for money (after all, doesn't every parent think that their baby is the most beautiful one?) and so I planned on entering him in the contest when we got there.

As we approached the area of the mall where the contest was being held, I was suprised to see a rather large line up. Then it struck me -- of course, every parent thinks that their baby is the most beautiful (though they're wrong, of course, because our baby happens to be the most beautiful). So it made sense there were a lot of people here.

Finding the end of the line proved to be rather challenging. It snaked down to the end of one entire "wing" of the mall, then looped back almost to the beginning. As Alexander and I got in line (finally), a baby held in the arms of a daddy in front of me made googly eyes at me and flashed a rather charming smile. My vanity wavered a bit. Wait a second, this kid smiling at me was rather cute.

I started looking around at the other kids. After all -- and this may sound mean -- in my travels I've seen plenty of not so attractive looking kids. Not necessarily kids whose pictures you'd put in the attic to scare away mice, but kids whose looks weren't all that pleasing on the eye. But most of the little people in the vicinity were quite cute, charming, some were even delightful and beautiful. And even the children who didn't knock you over with striking conventional good looks still warmed my heart. Just looking at a child, I discovered, any child, was a marvel in and of itself. There was no such thing as a child or baby that wasn't beautiful. Every single smile I saw, every single yawn or even cry, was the unfettered, untarnished splendour of the innocent child. Wow. This might change my view -- perhaps my baby wasn't the world's most beautiful after all. Perhaps that's just a vain parent's perception. All babies are beautiful creatures. I was suddenly free from my previous narrow viewpoint. Wow.

The line moved slowly. After about 15 minutes, we'd moved about ten feet. Should I stick this out? Alexander's afternoon nap was looming and since we'd be having company for his birthday party, we thought it'd be a good idea that he actually got some rest. I called Fran. She reminded me about the deadlines we had and told me to use my judgement. After another five minutes, when Alexander started rubbing his eyes (one of his more obvious signs that he's getting tired), I decided to skip out.

It was a liberating feeling. Suddenly, I could see this line for what it truly was. An exercise in parental vanity. (Sour grapes works like that, no?) All these poor parents, trapped in the belief that their child was the most pleasing on the eye. We strolled past the line, heads high, smiling at each other, both of us drooling a little, (he from his teething, me, thinking about grabbing a bite to eat at McDonalds) and then I suddenly lost my moment of clarity, because here's what I said to Alexander:

"We're dropping out so we can let some other baby win." And in the back of my mind I was already thinking of other ways to exploit my son's looks. Surely, as the mirror at home would confirm for us when we asked it, he was the "fairest of them all." Maybe we count enter him in a "Canadian Baby Idol" reality TV show or something like that . . .

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