Family Picture Day, My Kid's Epic Meltdown, and Not Being Fake

I am a mom and as such I love family pictures. Nothing, okay almost nothing, makes me as happy as a picture of my kids with clean faces and big smiles. 

I’ve been planning family pictures for a few years now. We haven’t had professional photos taken since Eve was a baby, and my goal has been to get some done before London lost a tooth. Lately, watching toothless pictures of her church friends crop up on Facebook, I’ve been motivated to make it happen.

So Wednesday was family picture day. It bore much weight on its imperfect shoulders. [Cue the foreboding music from Inception.]

Here’s how it went:

I woke up, looked in the mirror and thanked my rich genetic heritage for the face-filling  adult onset acne that had bloomed over night.

I took the girls to the YMCA and there Eve ran head first into another child; a welt throbbed in the middle of her forehead.

Next, I got my hair cut and my hair dresser said my hair was green and needed some sort of chemical wash I could administer at home. But I was paying for the blow out she was at that very minute providing (a serious luxury) and was not about to waste it. So, green hair it was.

Later, ironing before the shoot, I discovered London’s pants had a rip in the rump. Also, Eve had lost her bow. 

All day my children were fussy.

An hour and a half before the shoot Eve woke up scream-crying from her nap and Did. Not. Stop. She screamed while I put her clothes on. She cried as I tried to put on her necklace. She screamed while I did her hair. She cried while I applied the red toenail polish she’d been begging for all day.

She cried and screamed and cried.

I ran out of the house ten minutes late carrying my human howler monkey without curling my hair and without my I’m-not-comfortable-with-my-arms arm-covering sweater.

In the car, Eve cried over the loud classical music Justin blared to calm her. She screamed,  ”I… Can’t… Stop… Crying…”

When we arrived on location, Eve was still crying. I tried bargaining with her—Yes, you can have the whole box of Wheat Thins. I tried punishing her—No movies this entire week.

Justin whispered a story in her ear.

And I prayed.

All the while, our photographer took pictures of the non-crying child—the non-crying child on a stool, the non-crying child in the grass, the non-crying child with her parents. I was so thankful for the non-crying child.

Finally, so many minutes later, my youngest snapped out of her demon possession, and, as if some switch had been flipped at the heart of her heart, she suddenly turned delightful.

We only snapped a few pictures of her, but she is definitely smiling in all of them. 

Hallelujah.

I remember suffering through family pictures as a kid. We took the old school kind—inside with a back drop and artificial lights. I hated taking them. I couldn’t understand why mom wanted them so much. I thought they looked corny and fake. We had just argued in the car for the last thirty minutes and now here we were, all together, all smiling as if nothing had ever been wrong. 

Now that I’m a mom, I think I understand why those pictures mattered so much. 

I spend every day taking pictures of my family with my eyes, pictures of smiling faces staring up at me. Pictures of joy and peace and patience. Pictures drenched in love. And I want family pictures—good, professional, light-capturing, joyful pictures—because I want to hold something like the pictures in my head in my hand—all of us happy, all of us together.

Pictures are touchable, cemented blessings.

Few moments in the life of my family are perfect, no question. Some days look like picture day—everyone bruised, everyone fussy, Mom bribing the kids, Dad trying so hard to be patient his knuckles turn white. But I don’t need pictures to remind me of those moments; those are the moments I happily and grace-fully forget.  

I have better days to remember…

Like last Saturday when my kids came home from a week at the grandparents’ and my dad opened the door to his truck and my girls exploded out of it, running into our arms, grabbing us, kissing us and yelling “Family hug! Family hug!”

Or this morning when my daughter asked if she and I could eat identical breakfasts and she sat down beside me and we ate Rice Crispies with milk and she said, “You’re the best mom in the world.”

I think of our family trips and birthday parties and lazy Saturdays and movies on the couch with delivery pizza and bedtime stories about Indian princesses.

Despite the occasional crying and freaking out and eye-rolling, I’m thrilled to belong to my family. And I don’t mind posing for a picture smiling, because while this smile may not be natural, so many undocumented smiles before it have been. 

I looked at my pictures today, my heart full. I didn’t think about Eve crying on the rocks, me begging her to stop. No, I thought about her beautiful eyes and about how much she looks like her father and about how playful she is, like the puppy she’s always pretending to be, and about how excited I am to meet the woman she’ll become. Clicking through that album I felt so exceptionally blessed.

Pictures are like altars. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Lord’s people building them as physical reminders of their best moments with God. Abraham builds one the first time God appears to him.  Joshua builds one after crossing the Jordan on dry land. In Genesis 35, Jacob says, “Come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 

Jacob’s relationship with God wasn’t always great—he was a born swindler and occasional coward—but he belonged to God and together they shared some amazing moments. There was nothing insincere or fake about the altars he built to remember. 

This is my altar. My family picture:

image 

I’ll order a gigantic print of it and frame it and hang it on my wall proudly, not to prove anything or pretend anything but to remember and celebrate and thank God for all the times we’ve felt as happy as we look right here.