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The inexact science of merchandising your children

Paraded down the tarmac after a transatlantic flight, three-year old Prince George was in no mood for high fives, low fives or handshakes of any kind. Unable to negotiate basic contact, Canada's telegenic prime minister, for once, found himself on the wrong side of the photo op. When pint-sized media darlings go rogue, anything can happen.

Having dabbled in the dark art of ‘family travel journalism’, I am all too familiar with the complications of using children as a plot device. Every time I read an account of travelling with youngsters that suggests an inexhaustible supply of good cheer fuelled by an insatiable interest in local culture, unfamiliar foods and petting zoos, all I can think is: okay…now tell us what really happened.

Years ago, when I was on assignment for The National Post, Quebec Tourism pulled out all the stops to arrange a dream itinerary for our young family. It involved black bears in their natural habitat, picturesque calèche rides, and a slow boat down the river of a national park. At one point, we had an entire museum to ourselves. The main attraction was a pirate exhibit, where we were greeted by an elaborately costumed guide who swept us into a perfect replica of a 17th century ship. “Arrrr…do ye like pirates, me boy?” the swashbuckler thundered at our seven year old.

“They’re fine,” was the un-quoteworthy reply.

Ditto when the Fairmont Richelieu’s in-house astronomer retracted the roof of the hotel’s hilltop observatory to reveal a dazzling midnight sky. Do you like constellations and the infinite mysteries of the universe? Meh.

Our child’s greatest joy came from fishing the lint and nickels out of his pockets to ‘tip’ the VP tourism after she took us on an early morning tour of Old Quebec. “Good job. Here’s a little something extra,” he beamed, pressing the gratuity into her palm before you could say faux pas.

Of course none of these incriminating anecdotes made it into the actual article, but years later, they are the ones we chuckle about and cherish most.

Which is why whenever I catch myself ‘moment making’ – coaxing an adorable pose or clever performance out of an unsuspecting child - I curb the urge. With kids, the magic isn’t in the script or the art direction. It’s in the outtakes.

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