The setting was picture-perfect: a brisk, fall day at our local park, a bit of sunshine poking through the clouds that brightened the fall colors on the leaves just a bit. The lineup: a camera vs. two little kids; both in clean clothes with freshly washed hair, and most likely amped up on sugar cookies or gingerbread men.
Let’s just get a picture for our Christmas card...words uttered by many a mother or father, only to come back and haunt them later.
My kids ran around, smiled a bit, acted goofy, climbed the huge trees, and tried their hardest to pose for the perfect picture. At least I think they were trying, but their little bodies really just wanted to play.
Which is all well and good on any day other than Christmas Card Picture Day. Mom was on a mission.
After almost an hour of bribery, cajoling, threatening, crying (me), and pleading, I had a camera full of possibilities and a patience level below zero. There had to be some amazing shots in there. Had to.
But by the time you sort through the pictures and delete any with closed eyes, turned heads, hair sticking up at odd angles, random neighborhood kids, and tongues sticking out sometimes you’re left with nothing to choose from.
Or maybe one just good enough shot. Because if you’ve been through it once, there’s no way on this earth you’ll subject yourself to the whole photo shoot again. We chose the one decent shot, cropped it a bit, and declared it just good enough while secretly wishing they were old enough to smile on cue and look like the kids in a Baby Gap holiday ad.
And then I noticed it.
I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
My sweet little three year-old daughter was flipping the bird at the camera. Right there plain as day, as she sat in the tree with her brother and smiled a huge smile.
Probably right after I bribed her with another cookie.
She had no idea what she was doing but to any adult (or middle school kid) it was painfully obvious. Not quite the Merry Christmas message I had hoped to send to friends and family.
We edited out her finger and reprinted the pictures.
But each year when I open our Christmas Memories book and flip to Christmas 2001, I get the giggles when I see that picture. It reminds me that despite our best intentions for setting up the perfect holiday with our perfect family in our perfect homes it’s not always this image of perfection that you will remember.
Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the year you burned the pancakes on Christmas morning because everyone was busy playing Rock Band on the Wii. It’s that time you couldn’t wait to surprise your daughter with a Nintendo DS but mistakenly gave her the empty case to open first. It’s the little girl who hates Santa and cries on his lap each year, or the year you chose the Christmas tree that turned out to be full of bugs. Or that one time when the Tooth Fairy was supposed to come on Christmas Eve but was apparently “scared off” by Santa.
It’s in the sugar cookies with purple sprinkles thrown on haphazardly by a three year-old, in the gingerbread men missing limbs, and in the homemade snowflakes that leave a trail of glitter all around the house. It’s in the handmade ornaments that fall apart a little bit more each year, and in that last pile of gifts that were accidently wrapped in baby shower wrapping paper.
And one year quite some time ago, it was in a little girl who tried to make a picture perfect moment for her mother.
But wound up making a perfect memory instead.
Sherri Kuhn is a wife and mother, writer, lover of wine and cheese, coffee fanatic, and sometimes exerciser. She writes at Old Tweener, a place that’s sometimes funny, often sarcastic, and requires tissues once in a while. She writes about raising teenagers, the craziness of being a middle-aged woman, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.