It doesn't matter how much I plan ahead. It doesn't matter how much I clear my schedule. It doesn't matter how effectively I (sort of) lower my expectations, Christmas card pictures never go well in this family.
Two years ago there was the Great Goose Poop Incident of 2006, a story best left to the annals of my personal blog rather than recounting here.
Last year, by a blessed Christmas miracle, I managed to have a family vacation photo that was worthy of re-using as our yearly photo, with no painful photo session required.
But this year, I reasoned that everyone is maturing and growing, and surely we are ready try again. My daughter is past the age of needing to have naps perfectly timed, and my pre-teen boys are surely old enough to gear up for a session of Happy Family Togetherness.
I picked them up at school last week, on a day when the afternoon sunlight was just perfect for picture-taking. I told them we'd head home to change clothes (solid colors, but nothing outrageous like – oh, the torture – a shirt with a collar. Look at me, lowering expectations!), then we'd head to a local park. This particular park has a delightful, winding jogging trail that meanders through the trees. I told the kids I was planning a very artsy shot (in black and white), one in which they would be walking along the trail, laughing and talking together. I would snap a perfect shot.
And then? All of our friends on our Christmas card list would see that we are The Type Of Family Who Regularly Strolls In The Woods While Sharing Meaningful Conversation (In Black and White, Of Course).
But as I drove to the park, I found my shoulders tensing a little, carrying with me the previous years' baggage of stressful photo-taking. Irrationally, I found myself a little mad at everyone before we even got out of the car. I turned around in my seat before they all piled out, and I pointed a stern finger.
"I expect cooperation, guys. Let's get organized, pay attention, and get out there and ACT LIKE A FAMILY THAT LOVES EACH OTHER."
Ah, yes. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.
We left the car and headed toward the jogging trail. I carefully arranged them and then found a good spot. "NOW! Walk toward me! Talk and laugh!"
And you know what? Here is the lovely irony. They did talk and laugh. They actually had a ball walking on that trail. Joseph kept his hand on his little sister's shoulder, and Adam kept them smiling by delivering his favorite Calvin and Hobbes lines. Corrie gazed at her big brothers adoringly. It was perfect – just the moment I was looking for. I must've snapped 30 pictures of them.
And not a one of them turned out. The picture-in-motion idea, while a nice concept, made for some blurry faces, and it was just windy enough that all the moving made for some messy hair. Anyway, they were all laughing so hard at Adam's jokes that their noses were all crinkly.
A crazy and fleeting thought popped into my head: Kids, could you please stop enjoying each other long enough to look perfect?
I know, it’s crazy. Because the truth is that I value transparency and honesty in our family life, and that extends, I hope, to our family and friends. I don’t know why, once a year, I let myself get all twisted up about capturing the perfect photographic moment for Christmas cards. In reality, there are crinkled noses and wrinkled shirts and blurred faces and lost tempers and sullen attitudes and burnt casseroles. Why I’d get carried away and think I’d need to communicate otherwise is beyond me.
We regrouped into an easier shot and quickly snapped one that isn’t excellent (but is surely good enough). Adam’s leg is at a funny angle. Stephen is wearing a bit of a smirk. When we were finished, the kids ran through the park to play together. They laughed together, and they argued. They had a ball, and Joseph fell off the see-saw. They cooperated, and Corrie stained the knee of her pants.
It’s messy and imperfect.
And it’s us.