I realized it was getting harder and harder to capture my then two year old son, Greyson, with our camera. Like any other, more energetic than lightening toddler, it was hard for him to sit still for even one click of a camera shutter. But there was something else going on that I couldn't quite decipher or explain. His eyes, once a sparkling blue that made strangers comment in adoration, looked cloudy and dark. In pictures, he looked as disconnected as I was starting to feel from him. I would sit and say his name over and over, waiting for him to look at me. It didn't seem to ever happen anymore. I tried to remember the last time someone commented to me about his shimmery blue eyes... It had been months. What happened between then and now? was the wonder I wondered late at night when sleep competed with fear.
At night while Greyson slept, I read every single thing I could find on portrait photography. I watched video tutorials. I asked people who knew. I was determined to make the image I took reflect the Greyson I saw. I was desperate to capture his sparkle, to prove it wasn't gone. During the natural light of day, I practiced all I had learned on Greyson. Finally, after millions of imperfect attempts, the image I saw of Greyson in my heart started to match up to the Greyson I saw with the eyes of my camera.
A few months later, Greyson was diagnosed with autism. Suddenly his lack of eye contact and interaction with me made painful sense. Fast forward a couple of years and add one precious baby boy named Parker. Despite my passion for photography and my King Kong sized determination, I still couldn't get a perfect picture of my two beloved boys together. Photo shoots ended in tears, (theirs and mine.) I yelled the entire time. Sit down! STAY STILL! GREYSON STOP!!!!! PARKER LOOK AT ME!!!
PARKER! Don't bite your brother!!!
GREYSON- Where did you put your shoes? They were JUST ON!
Over the years I was able to get a handful of acceptable shots of the boys together, but what I really, really wanted was that perfect posed family picture. You know- a picture where we are ALL looking at the camera at THE SAME TIME, and we are all wearing pants. (I gave up on the shoes part).
Hmmmpffff. At least we are all wearing pants.
Over the years we tried everything. Bubbles, iPads, bells, toys, reinforcers, bribery and threats. We brought in Behavior therapists and babysitters to help. Nothing worked. Below is the photo shoot that made me say, "Screw all photo shoots".* (*Warning. What you are about to see is unedited, imperfect, real life.)
My hair was butchered by an impromptu Super Cuts trip, Parker's jeans were 17 inches too short, Greyson wanted to be ANYWHERE but there, and Michael got punched in the jimmies.
Parker is trying to get down to run to the mall to buy himself some pants that fit. Possibly even some shoes for Greyson.
At one point in the shoot, I was laughing hysterically WHILE I was sobbing. And to make it worse, the perfect family Christmas card people were just feet away getting their perfect family photos taken. The children listened to every request of the photographer. They even followed directions. No one was flailing on the floor or trying to hit anyone in the private parts or taking off their shoes.They even had their perfect dog with them WHO ALSO FOLLOWED DIRECTIONS. I'm not kidding.
I was so mad at them for being so calm and uncomplicated. I also desperately wanted to be them.
Now Greyson is 6, and Parker is 4 years old. It's been a few years since I've subjected us to the torment of a photo shoot. This year, I thought long and hard about those perfect family cards. I asked myself- why is this so important to you? Because everyone else does it? Because you can't have it? I think it was probably a little of both. But these pictures are torture for our entire family. There isn't one single moment of joy to be found in any of it. I decided I just couldn't do it again.
I love pictures because each one is an opportunity to tell a beautiful story. This year I realized, I don't need our picture to depict my family as something we are not. I want our Christmas card to be a true story. One that makes you laugh or cry or simply feel as though you can relate.
Here is our card this year. We were on an Behavior Therapy community outing at Target. We were racing our cart through the aisles as fast as we could and having a ball. I realized this is about as real life as it gets, and while perusing the Christmas aisle I asked our awesome therapist, Jordann, if she would take our picture. She took a series of pictures with her phone and texted them to me. I picked the one that was the worst because it made me laugh the most. It shows our real life and it is awesome.
I now realize, most people don't have perfect Christmas card lives. Even the people who DO have perfect Christmas card pictures, don't actually have a perfect life to go with it. Some families have two moms. Some families don't have any. Some families are blended by marriages or separated by death, distance, estrangement or divorce.
Although pictures can be in black and white, real life is not. Real life is a million beautiful shades of in between. We are all just humans, making mistakes and trying our best to contribute to our real life story, every single day. We are all imperfect, but perfect- just the way we are.
I love us. I love our family and our sometimes hard, real life. I no longer ache for that perfectly posed family portrait. Candid pictures are my favorite. I love our truth and the story we are writing as each day unfolds. Real life is very complicated, and the very best lives are the ones that can't fit inside a 5 x 7 little box. I am grateful for my two perfect boys who have taught me what real beauty looks like.
Like our picture says, This Holiday Season, Embrace Imperfection.
From my family to you and yours, Happy Holidays.