For a lot of us, right now is the most wonderful time of the year — Christmas carols playing on iTunes ’round-the-clock, hours spent bedecking the house from ceiling to floor with greenery and shiny baubles, evenings passed by watching favorite holiday movies while snuggling with those you love the most.
Then it comes. The inevitable hiccup in the season, the one thing that can send you running for the adults-only egg nog faster than you can say “down with the Whos!”.
Posing the kids for the Christmas card.
It’s like herding cats, but with a lot more hissing and clawing.
First, one kid complains that another is standing too close. Then someone steps on someone else’s foot. Bunny ears are hovered over the unsuspecting first-rowers. An elbow is jabbed into the tummy of the bunny ear maker. A hair pull, a finger poke, a ripple of scowls.
Someone bursts into tears and can’t focus her camera.
Mommy retreats in search of a tissue and kids scatter.
Another holiday card effort bites the dust.
This is what happens, every year.
Possibly you are someone who doesn’t leave this to the last minute of the holiday season. Maybe you are one of those amazing parents who is able to snap dozens of photos of your kids — all together, all smiling, all sparkly-clean with cover-model teeth and well-accessoriezed outfits — over summer vacation or while picking pumpkins or at a family gathering earlier in the year.
I am not one of those people.
My children are notoriously rebellious when it comes to getting their picture taken as a group. Oh, individually, they love it — mugging for the camera, they pose like models on a fashion shoot. I can even photograph them in pairs, and, on a good day, trios.
But all four? Together? All smiling? Fat chance.
So, every year I send out holiday photo cards with a collage of individual shots of each child, and every year I get dozens of cards featuring lovely full-family or all-children pictures.
I am jealous.
For once, I’d like to take that group picture, if not for the holiday card, then just for posterity, so when we all look back on our family photos in 20 years, we won’t think, “Gee, weren’t we ever together?”
Of course it’s not a big deal. The people on the receiving end of my holiday cards don’t give a whit about the perfection of the pose — they delight in the way the kids have grown and changed, the way each child’s individuality is increasingly evident in the contours of his or her face. Also, thanks to Facebook and other social media, most of them have seen pictures of my kids throughout the year. A fancy new picture of them at the holidays is really redundant more than anything else.
Every year when I express my angst over the failed holiday card pose, a dear friend reminds me that the outtakes — the so-called disaster shots — are the best pictures of all. And, looking back, I know he’s right.
The failed Christmas card attempts include pictures from the beach — sand-covered kids licking dripping ice cream pops — and in front of the Christmas tree — the silly poses with eyeballs rolling, monster faces growling, tongues thrusting — and in the backyard during autumn — scarlet cheeks, runny noses, mouths howling with drooly laughter. And a thousand in between. There is not a portrait-worthy pose among them.
Still, looking through these “failed” shots, I see my children. They are messy and boogery and crafty and creative and always, always, on the move. Their insides are alight with energy and enthusiasm and they don’t have time to stand still long enough to pose for a Christmas card picture.
In these outtakes, they are alive and real. They are themselves.
And that’s what the holiday card should present to the world. A snapshot of a moment in time, with all its failures and foibles and awkwardness and yet-to-bes and mess. Because that’s who people are, really. Each of us, a dorky work in progress.
Today I accomplished the impossible — after the usual griping and grousing and tantruming, I managed to take a very nice picture of four rosy-cheeked children in winter fleeces, set against a backdrop of bare trees and pre-snow winterland. If you’re on my mailing list, you’ll get your own copy.
I’m glad to have a nice picture to hang on my wall. If only as evidence that, you know, my kids were sometimes tidy and well behaved. With sparkly white teeth and all of that.
Because Moms like that sort of thing, from time to time.
Ah, but the outtakes from today were hard to say no to. Joanna’s growly, grumpy face in the first few shots. Mitzi’s pre-teen meltdown evidenced by puffy, red-rimmed eyes. Ellie’s glittery-eyed, gap-toothed shouting of the words “Merry Christmas”, followed by an off-camera, surprisingly strong right jab to her sister’s side after a snide comment. Cooper’s head-shaking, shoulder-shrugging resign in the face of sisterly drama.
This is who they are — who we are — right now, December 2011. Sometimes perfectly in place, sometimes not.
Kind of just like the rest of humanity.
Which is also kind of the message of the holiday season we are in the midst of celebrating — how we love each other not despite the flaws, but because of them. Cherishing each other for the totally perfect imperfect selves we are, always on our way to being something better, ever improving.
We send holiday cards to share the love we feel for others, born from the love we feel for ourselves.
Boogers and all.