By Lisa Haag Kang
What I love about scrapbooking is its potential as a brainwashing device. Given enough stickers of children cavorting in the surf, it’s possible to make it appear that we had fun, say, on Sanibel Island in 2001. See the picture of my six-year-old son sliding gleefully down a fantastic slide in the shape of a chambered nautilus? You can’t even tell that moments before he hit his sister and then ran up the steps to escape retribution. Then there’s the photo of the baby toddling in the surf. The sea foam curls around his chubby ankles; his eyes dance beneath his white sunhat. There’s no indication that he cried incessantly for five days about the sand in his swim diaper. This is the beauty of scrapbooking.
When we reminisce about the past, I show photos to the children and say, “Look. You adored the children’s museum, especially the water table and the Under the Streets of My City exhibit.” Specific examples lend an authoritative air. Occasionally, one of the children will remark thoughtfully, “wasn’t that after you screamed, ‘you WILL get into this van; you WILL shut up, and you WILL have fun at the children’s museum. That’s why we paid so damn much for this damn vacation!” When this happens, it’s important to look puzzled and suggest they are confused. “No, I think that happened on an episode of Malcolm in the Middle,” you can say.
Failing that, I plan to use the vacation scrapbook for my defense at the therapist’s office. “The problem is that my childrens’ recollections are slightly skewed to the negative. I’m certain you will be able to help with that issue. It runs in my husband’s family. See how much fun they had at the children’s museum? They especially loved the water table and the Under the Streets of My City exhibit,” I will say.
That’s why cropping is such a useful skill. You can preserve your daughter’s enchanting smile and crop out the background where her brother is crying because the incoming tide destroyed his sand castle (and not hers). You can retain the half of the photo showing your daughter triumphantly displaying a large lightning whelk, perhaps mat it with two shades of brown to highlight the seashell’s elegant swirls and the child’s tawny glow. Then, throw out the background image of her brother sneaking up behind her with a dead horseshoe crab.
On a side note, it is possible to crop postcards down to the size of a 4″ x 6″ family photo. Once they are matted with cardstock and ensconced behind the scrapbook page’s protective plastic shield, no one will be able to tell. “Wow! You are a very talented photographer,” people will say. I like to shrug modestly when this happens.
Photos that can’t be strategically cropped can be dealt with in other ways. Keep the arrival photos of the beautiful condo you rented. Discard pictures of the disheveled double bed all six of you slept in night after long, painful night because the children said it was too scary to sleep apart in a strange place. Burn the photos the kids took of you and your spouse in the mornings, especially the one where you are shouting, red-faced. No one will ever know. If this event took place years ago, don’t forget the negatives.
It bolsters your case to include authentic artifacts from the trip, so long as you handle them skillfully. For the page about the children’s museum, I incorporated a full-color brochure. The smiling faces of children on the cover lend credence to my assertion that my sons and daughters enjoyed it immensely. Clearly, children of every race and creed traveled from the ends of the earth to visit that museum and had a lovely time. Why should my kids be any different? Plausibility. That’s the key. If you mat a copy of the room service menu, complete with food stains, maybe add an enthusiastic caption about each child’s favorite food, it will obscure the fact that the children refused to eat anything. Ben absolutely loved the chicken nuggets! They were just like the ones at home, except they cost twelve dollars for four, you can write.
Like any weapon of mass instruction, a scrapbook must be handled carefully, lest it turns its awesome analgesic powers against its creator. One day, I sat paging through the vacation scrapbook. I studied each page with weepy nostalgia. Maybe it was that fourth glass of Merlot. I summoned my husband and said, “Look. The kids were so cute on this vacation. Why don’t we go to Sanibel Island again?” He sat down and studied the scrapbook, a bemused look on his face, and said, “I’ll call the travel agent tomorrow and see what it would cost.”
Lisa Haag Kang is a mother of four who lives in Missouri with her children, three dogs, two birds, and the occasional hamster. Her poetry chapbook, Recombinant Loves, a family history in verse, will be published this summer by Main Street Rag Publishing.