May is the month for mothers, highlighted of course by Mother’s Day–a day when we honor our moms for all the pain and suffering they endured from the birth -giving process, as well as the emotional and psychological damage we brought them from the toils of raising us. For all this, we throw them a party and gift them with macaroni art and a few flowers.
Just our way of saying, “Thanks, Ma. Now we’re even.”
My wife is actually pretty good about not milking the holiday. She doesn’t demand breakfast in bed (I’m not sure our insurance would cover that anyway), doesn’t insist on a huge party or expensive dinner. Nope, all she asks for is that we take a yearly family photo, one where we all dress up.
Really, no big deal.
In the few years we have indulged this tradition, I’ve realized something: taking a family photo with three young boys is a really big deal. It’s actually an evil, evil ploy by my wife to make me suffer in some small way as a reminder of what we must put her through. Maybe that’s my paranoia talking, but it is evil because trying to coerce three young boys to sit still long enough to take a nice family photo is very much like trying to tattoo the image of the Mona Lisa on your own face.
As the parent, you’re really caught between a rock and a hard place. You have to keep it together, because whatever maiming you have the urge to do will have photo evidence tied to it that can be used against you in court.
Another thing about family portraits: the goal of them is not to capture a moment in time. Not at all. It’s to fool others into believing you have a tried-and-true, Leave-it-to-Beaver type of family, with all the glorious “Gosh darns” and “Beg your pardons.”
The problem is, such a family doesn’t exist–and others know it. So what they really end up believing is that you sedate your children with marmot tranquilizers or something just as potent, because every parent knows that three little boys do not sit still for more than eleven seconds at a time, and that’s only if you’re dangling candy in front of them.
After a good hour and a half of chasing them around the house, reapplying diapers to tushies, re-washing crayon and other unidentifiable blemishes off their faces, as the photographer–who’s charging by the hour–sits and waits, you are finally able to trick them into sitting still long enough to snap a few pictures. This is when the real fun begins. If your children are like mine, they have practiced an arrangement where only two of the three will smile at the same time. The third one–and it’s never the same third one–will scream or cry or give the stink face. And once you’ve brought him out of this mini-tantrum, another starts in right on cue.
Thank goodness for Photo Shop.
There’s another problem. Our four-year-old has three different kinds of smiles: one is a serial murderer type of smile where he holds a shrug that makes him appear to have no neck; another is serial-murderer smile sans the shrug; and the third is a normal, very photogenic smile. Unfortunately for us, it’s a rare occurrence that we ever see this third kind of smile when the camera is aimed his way. However–and I think I speak for both my wife and I when I say this–at this point in the photo-taking process, who gives a flying fudge popsicle?
If ever you look at a formal family photo that has young children in it, pay close attention to the faces of the parents. Do they look tired? Frustrated? Like they’ve been cooking bacon in the nude? If you’ve never noticed this before, it’s because our brains make us focus on the children when we look at these photos–and that’s because of the cuteness factor…and thank the heavens for it! This is a mercy play by Mother Nature, since the parents are usually crying harder than their kids at the point of taking the picture.
And this brings me back to Mother’s Day. I’m grateful (and apologetic) for my Mother, who raised me and survived these kinds of family photo fiascos. Having been adopted, I’m also grateful to my Birth Mother, who endured the torture of childbirth so I could be here today. I’m grateful to my wife, who did both for our sons and continues to be my rock in figuring this stuff out, even when I act as the fourth child in the house.