The picture of horror

Ever since the day I nearly lost him at 33 weeks, I’ve vowed that I’ll never take James for granted. That’s lucky for him, because he’s such a low-maintenance baby that it would be all too easy for him to get lost in the shuffle. This week, in addition to our not-so-low-maintenance toddler, we have Kaija up for a visit. In between having to split my attention between two little girls, each of whom want 100 percent of it, somewhere I have to find time for James.

He doesn’t demand much — unless he’s dirty or hungry or has spent too long staring at his bears or lying in the bouncy seat, James isn’t one to put up a big fuss, so it’d be easy to leave him alone while he’s not screaming and chase after Maddi or play endless games of pretend with Kaija. However, even though he isn’t upset about being neglected, it does upset me. It doesn’t seem fair, because James doesn’t ask for much from me, that I should give him less than I give the girls. So when there are no imminent fires to put out, Maddi-and-Kaija-wise, I’ve been making sure to bounce James, sing “Roly Poly” or make that trilling sound that amuses him so much.

The girls, however, don’t see it this way. Despite the fact that James gets approximately 10 percent of my “face time” — direct, person-to-person playing and talking — to Kaija’s 70 percent and Maddi’s 20 percent, the girls don’t seem to understand why their brother is getting any attention at all. James can be hungry and screaming his face off while I watch Kaija play outside, and when I remind her that I can’t get on the grass and be a dog with her, she will ask me why I can’t put (the loudly wailing and ravenous) James inside in his bassinet. When we’re inside, should I have the audacity to give James one of his toys, Maddi’s radar will go off, and she will climb down from whatever item of furniture she’s scaled and come running up to snatch it from him.

Now, foolish mommy that I am, I decided that I would take all three kids to get a group portrait taken today. A week or two ago, I separated James’ and Maddi’s carseats when I noticed that James’ right eyeball was just within poking reach of Maddi’s seat. (Three guesses how I figured that one out …) But lo and behold, when we tried to install Kaija’s behemoth of a booster seat, it wouldn’t fit in the center. So back to the old configuration we went. I drove off, crossing my fingers that nothing would happen in the 20 minutes I estimated our drive would take.

WELL.

We were but a mere five minutes into our journey when I heard the dreaded singsong words, “Heather, Maddi’s hurting James.” And then the dreaded screaming. And then the most-dreaded words, “James is bleeding.” I pulled the car over, strapped Maddi back in her carseat, and headed onward.

Sure enough, when we reached our destination, I retrieved James from his carseat and his face bore a sizable strip of raw, bleeding fingernail marks. I cleaned the wound as best I could with a Wet One, and then did what any insane lady would do — proceeded to herd three respectively sullen, maniacal and disfigured kids onto a platform to be photographed for the better part of an hour.

For those of you not familiar with Wal-Mart’s photo specials, you can get a pretty decent package of shots at a drastically reduced rate — with the caveat that you cannot choose the best of a variety of poses, but rather must go with the first shot you approve. This probably works great for people who will settle for “good enough,” but for perfectionists it’s probably not the way to go — especially when we’re talking about group shots. The first shot in our case was probably the best, but despite the fact that everyone was smiling, I foolishly thought “We can do better.” After all, Kaija was slumping, Maddi’s grin was crooked and James was looking in entirely the wrong direction. After that, we had a variety of shots where one or two (and sometimes all) children were not smiling, or smiling too fakely, or frowning, or crying, or falling over, or trying to get up and run away, or spitting up, or blinking or looking otherwise stoned, or any number of other photography mishaps.

At last, we got a shot that was probably the same quality as the first. “What are the odds we’re going to get another decent shot?” I asked Chris’ mom. We both knew the answer to that one.

So for our troubles, we will, in three weeks’ time, have a halfway OK group shot of three kids. And for his troubles, James has (yet more) war wounds from his loving sister. I will make sure to bounce him extra and sing him some “Roly Poly” tomorrow, regardless of what the girls think I should be doing.

Coming soon: The group shot that shall live in infamy.

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