As our follower count grew into the hundreds of thousands, I found myself wading through even murkier moral waters. Companies started offering to pay me to make Vines, and I said yes. Use a Popsicle as a main character? If you say so! Play the ukulele while the kid wears Gap clothes? Sounds good! Get into Disneyland for free? Only because you’re twisting my arm. Through it all, I vowed to maintain a strong parental standard for what kind of work we’d do, which was “as long as it’s something I’d want to do anyway, I’ll do it.” In hindsight, it was more a creative manifesto than a moral compass, but I was feeling great, because look at all my followers! And now MONEY!
My inflated sense of parental excellence was so high that when Unilever called wanting to know if I’d make a Vine for Klondike, I pitched them an impossible idea: I could have the baby singing and dancing on Broadway, complete with flashing lights and top hats. It didn’t matter that he was getting older, fussier, and harder to bend to my directorial will. I bought some props, blocked out an afternoon, and got to work.
Take 1: baby not looking at camera. Take 2: wardrobe malfunction. Take 3: spit-up. Take 4: not good. Take 5: worse. Take 6: awful. Take 7: Seriously, what is wrong with this baby?! Take 8: Please, smile. Take 9: I mean honestly, babies smile all the time. Take 10: Just smile. Take 11: COME ON!!! Take 12: “I’m not mad anymore, I’m just disappointed.” Take 13: I’m a little mad still.
“We” decided to take a break around Take 14. How could that dumb idiot not be able to sing and dance for a measly six seconds?! Fuming in the kitchen, I realized I couldn’t pretend my Vines were about having fun with my kid anymore. I had become a Skinner rat, refreshing posts every 10 seconds to check for more “likes.” And it didn’t matter if I was making them for myself or for somebody else. I was forcing him to do what I wanted.
I loved how it used to be, rolling around on the rug with my son, playing with toys, and talking to him in funny voices. I loved watching him grow up through funny little videos. What I didn’t love was making him cry, or ruining wonderful fleeting moments to grab my camera, or making him do things that could potentially embarrass him later in life.
Still, I haven’t stopped altogether. I still make personal and advertisement Vines, but I only pitch ideas I know we can do organically, based on what he’s interested in at the time, like recording him seeing the simple beauty of a puddle in the backyard that splashes the palm of his tiny hand on a hot day, or sticking his fingers in power outlets. We’re making another Vine for Klondike right now, playing off his love for toilet paper tube telescopes. In my personal Vines, I still occasionally squeak out a frenetic story, but more and more I’m making slice-of-life pieces, little stolen moments of found babyisms that can’t be forced like I’m playing with G.I. Joes and my dad’s camera.
My toy baby is turning into a little boy. One day he’ll ask to borrow the phone so he can make his own movies, and just like my dad did, I’ll tell him to grab some toys and go for it.
When I look back on all the Vines we’ve made, 18 months later, I sometimes cringe at the ones I made just for me, or for money, or for “likes.” But most of them, the early Vines especially, the ones where we were just having fun together, every single one of them is a window to whatever we were doing on that particular day: his first pterodactyl screeches, his first tummy time without crying, his first spit bubbles, the first time he recognized himself in the mirror, the first time he stood up, the first time he realized he loved sweet potatoes. I have his whole life captured. I guess those videos are also for me, for when I’m older and want to look back on my son’s first year of life, and remember that year of my own. I’m so glad we made them.