Recently, we (that would be me) here at Atlantic Beachlife subjected the children to the annual Christmas card photography torture session.
The good times start with Mother in a calm state. She tells her children of her plan for the day’s activity which is met with much grousing and bargaining for postponement, but she will not be deterred. They are smart children. They know that mother’s calm spirit is a contrived attempt to infuse this obligatory photo session which will be lengthy and repetitive, with false cheer. That Mother’s happy and upbeat demeanor will crumble at the first sign of their resistance, and she will become the tense and hissing woman they remember from previous family photo sessions. They wisely cooperate. She promises early to take them to McDonald’s so as to prime their moods and elicit the facial expressions and body language that make for a happy looking trio. She promises that if everyone plays their part well, it will be over quickly.
Because they are now older children she tells them straightaway that she means to take many photos, like, a lot, like, hundreds, because it takes hundreds, in fact, to get that one perfect shot (the one that will please her). They get it. They understand. They allow their hair to be combed, pony tailed, gelled. They wear the clothes she commands them to wear. They get into the car.
All is going well so far. Mother feels optimistic. She drives to her favorite site; a place that allows for changes of scenery beachside. Dune grass. Palm trees. Bench. Sand and sea. This gives Mother the options she wants.
Soon she has the children posing, and her voice remains friendly, coaxing. She remembers to smile when she directs them to stand over here, no, no, put her in the front of you two…closer, turn your head just a bit…no, not you, you keep looking straight at me and keep smiling, just keep smiling, now you, will you put your arm across his shoulder, yes! just like that, great, okay, oops, your eyes were closed, okay you two just stay like that…hey! look at me, there we go, good, great. No! Stop doing that, you are trying too hard, look relaxed, don’t clench, okay that’s better. Everyone! Look at me and smile, okay, let’s move over here, why are you squinting? Okay, yes I can see that, the sun’s in your eyes, let’s move to the dune but no! Stop climbing the dune, stop it now, it’s a crime to disturb the sea oats so come down now, there we go, now why don’t you all hold hands, keep them low, down by your sides, put the little one in the middle and just hold hands in a relaxed way. Stop squeezing her hand, that hurts her, oh no. NO. Don’t cry, please don’t cry, if you cry it will take longer and I won’t let you get the milkshake, okay? Okay? Good, good, here we go now… And so on.
Mother commands pose after pose, and the children, they are good, they cooperate so nicely. Mother is thinking that this is going much better than last year, when she screeched and berated the children when they fussed and fidgeted. Mother is determined to be a better mother this time out as she does not want their childhood holiday memories to be of her scowling on the backside of a camera. Mother thinks this should be fun! And if not fun, at least, bearable. Capped with a happy memory of a Happy Meal. Mother is old enough to realize that memories can be selective, so she does her best to maintain her photographer’s composure. She cajoles them when she feels like snapping at them. She only curses to herself. (She knows they are only children and cannot read her mind.)
For an hour she has them standing, prancing, sitting, looking at her, looking away from her, and finally, running toward her. This elicits another round of directions from Mother as she sets the camera to ‘continuous’ and urges them to come running toward her time and time again, back and forth. She shouts the appropriate encouragement: look at me, keep holding hands now, look over at me, look back at me and keep smiling! she repeats, as the camera stutters off round after round of these splendid poses. And then, it happens:
On perhaps their twelfth or sixteenth pass by her in her favorite ‘running toward me’ pose, the little one skids to the sand. Face down.
This is a child who does not shake things off quickly. This is the child who generally cannot be wheedled out of a crying snit. Crying snits come easily to this one. In an instant she is awash in tears and snot. And sand. All mixed up.
This injury is more emotional than physical, the humiliation of falling suddenly face down into the sand, mid-run, mid-smile, camera catching her startling thud so perfectly. She would not like seeing that.
Mother attempts vainly to staunch the flow with soothing words, but she knows this child is unlikely to acquiesce to mother’s urging her toward composure before she herself is ready to leave her wounded feelings behind. So they quit the session for good, Mother thinking that if she didn’t get at least one good picture from these tens of hundreds she shot, well…
Well, she didn’t have to think of the options. When Mother transferred the photos she noted that she only shot exactly 201, and of those 201, precisely two made the cut for Kid Photo 2008:
To these lovely children who suffered Mother’s whims all afternoon (because she made them go to Target with her after all that): thank you.