Thursday, December 07, 2006

Luxuries

Last night Epu and I were poring over the images from our recent photo shoot, trying to narrow down the cute shots of Nutmeg to the ones we could afford. We felt a little sorry for ourselves for not being able to buy every single picture.

In the middle of that, Epu switched to a photo slideshow on his computer desktop, and said, by the way, have you seen these?

It was the latest batch of pictures from our Beijing friend Chien-min Chung, this time from India. Despite the recent law against child labor in India, his photos showed that kids there are still workin' for the man every night and day. He had images of boys and girls who looked about 10 laboring in cotton factories. In one image, Chien had even gotten a mother with two kids to pose on a backdrop of picked cotton. I wish I could show you the image, but he hasn't posted these on his Web site yet. The effect, though, was that of the very kind of fancy studio portraits we were stressing over here.

Need I say more? I never had so much liberal middle class guilt as I do now that I have a child. Isn't it enough that our daughter gets to play and learn throughout her childhood without knowing what it's like to put in a factory shift? Do we also need to lavish so much time, energy and resources on a luxury like studio portraits?

But now that the photos are taken, letting all of them fall into the limbo of unpurchased images on the studios hard drive is unthinkable. I gotta rescue them, as many as I can.

I think the luckiest break of our lives is not the abundant heat in winter (although we sure like that) nor the lack of malnutrition, disease and child labor per se. It's the luxury of loving our children with almost no restraint. I'm not suggesting that these mothers in India who I saw in the portraits don't love their children -- that would be dehumanizing them. But I think that when you live in a world where the odds are that illness or injury or poverty is likely to take some of them away, you can't allow yourself to love your children quite as much as you want to.

"Better not to get too attached to them," E. Annie Proulx writes in "Accordian Crimes," of early U.S. settlers and their many children.* Getting too attached -- even allowing ourselves the optimism of the prenatal "belly shot" portraits -- is the greatest luxury of our time and place.

* The quote isn't exact because I can't find my copy all of the sudden.

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