I was told that I was an ugly baby. In fact, my nickname was Jiminy Cricket. Thank God I don’t still have a shriveled insect-shaped face.
But I digress… the whole notion of pretty and ugly babies popped up – quite literally – a few weeks ago as I passed by the large, lone saguaro that stands only about 15 feet away from a busy state route highway.
Poised in front of Arizona’s majestic Santa Catalina Mountains, the saguaro is memorable not only because of its stately arms and towering height, but also because of the giant saucer-shaped nest of twigs and branches jutting from among the prickly arms of the saguaro.
On this particular day as I was headed to the airport, I was sure I’d seen two fluffy white heads bobbing about. Or, I thought, maybe it was just wishful thinking since my husband, who drives past this saguaro daily, could not confirm my sighting later that morning. Nor could my subsequent drive bys.
Ever since I noticed the nest last year – and its homeowner, a beautiful great horned owl – I’ve kept vigilant watch. And on Friday, I confirmed that those furry heads were, indeed, babies.
So what can this adorable owlet possibly have to do with ugly babies, you wonder? Fortunately for great horned owls, they are among the more entitled in the birdosphere, as their babies hatch with beautiful downy tuft. They enter the world looking like soft, squeezable, ball-shaped feather dusters (which, of course, will later become fearsome predators).
Other bird brethren, when born, come out looking a bit more like death: completely featherless, bulging eyes sealed shut by thin-membrane eyelids, painfully large beaks, bony legs as delicate as glass toothpicks, veins crisscrossing over translucent tender sheets of skin. Soon, though, like The Ugly Duckling story of our youth, they transform, no longer those ugly babies they once were … more like the great horned owlets that capture our hearts from the start (when we’re privileged enough to see them).
For Writers: Can you recognize when your baby (and by baby, I mean, your WIP) is ugly? Or are the mama blinders on? After all … you did give birth to this thing. You spent lots of time with it. Breathed life into it. Disciplined it. Molded it. Nurtured it.
I obviously was incapable of making this “ugly-beautiful” distinction during my earlier days of fiction writing. One of the readers of my first novel actually said these exact words about my ending chapters: “I’m sorry that you were disappointed by my remarks. No one likes to hear that her baby is not adorable …” Ouch.
When I finished my grousing over her tough-love comments – and once I walked away from the ending chapters for two months – I realized, with horror, that my defensive posturing about my baby was totally unfounded. When I re-read my ending with fresh eyes, it became painfully clear that she was right. My baby was UGLY … uglier than a mud fence, as my mom would say (are mud fences ugly?).
What about you and your baby? Do you want to hear that honest truth, or would you rather have people fuss, ooohhhing and awwing over your baby’s cute face, chubby toes, and adorable smile (while they cross their fingers behind their backs)? How do you find the right amount of objectivity when it comes to your baby?