Fine restaurants pay as much attention to the way the food looks on the plate as they do to how it tastes. When you’re charging a lot for a meal, every aspect matters. At home, while I don’t glop food onto a plate in an unsightly mess, neither do I spend time creating radish spirals or decorating our supper plates with blackberry coulis. We will be quite happy if the taste is fantastic.
On the other hand, you know those pictures of food in magazines that make you drool? The sight of melted chocolate dripping down the side of the cake tickles your salivary glands and the spoon caressing the whipped cream makes you want to dig right in? When it comes to food photography, you actually don’t want to taste the product. That frothy cappuccino may actually be composed of foaming hand soap and the rich syrup on those pancakes might be made from motor oil. What you see isn’t what you want.
That lesson is incredibly relevant to parenting. Surprisingly often, we have to choose between a meaningful experience versus one that looks great but lacks substance. As a preschool teacher, my friend Hannah’s students’ projects never looked as good as those of other classes. That’s because her four-year-olds actually did the work themselves. She didn’t guide their hands as they glued and she didn’t touch up their drawings. If the owl’s beak ended up where its eye was intended to go, so be it. The finished projects meant for parents’ refrigerators may not have won awards, but the kids in her class loved being there and by the end of the year they had acquired important skills.
As we all have cameras and video machines readily available in our phones, school performances have lost much of their charm. Little children looking at the rows of parents perched at the back of the room don’t see their proud mothers’ smiles or their fathers’ loving gazes. Instead their parents’ faces are covered by machinery. And those machines are largely focused on them, sending the incorrect message that the other children with whom they’ve been practicing are unimportant and irrelevant. The fun of presenting the show is diminished for the sake of being able to show how wonderful it was.
Sometimes, we just have to choose between creating real memories or building contrived remembrances. The picture snapped of the child we forced into what we thought was an adorable outfit even though he hated wearing it (yes, I have one of those pictures), the smile that came out only because we bribed our daughter with a candy if she pretended to be having fun, the precious moments we missed as we focused on freezing them for eternity may all look wonderful but in actuality be a breathtaking looking but completely inedible feast.