Family portraits are for the perfect. I’m not that. I’ve always had a hard time with family photo sessions. Forced smiles and clothes we don’t normally wear, I am very conflicted about this. On one hand, it is so nice to see things looking the way it is supposed to. On the other hand, whitewashed tombs. Authenticity is important to me and for many years I didn’t feel like photos authentically represented my insides. Even though they now more accurately represent what is going on, it’s still feels a little like something I don’t deserve.
I think moms especially might have a lot of reasons to avoid holiday pictures. We avoid them because we haven’t had time to get our hair done. We may have accepted the message that society or family has fed us that for some reason we are less worthy for putting on a few extra pounds and not keeping it tight. As the years come and go there are more wrinkles and grey hairs. The expense of portraits in both the session and also the little details that make up a picture perfect wardrobe are just too much this time of year. We are all so busy. And some of us have been told just enough times that their family isn’t all that…. and why would do all of the above for a sub par family? Sad face emoji.
I canceled our family photos this year. I had recently received messages that I was self righteous, unforgiving, unreasonable, and worst of all; that my kids were ‘poisoned’ by me. This message is a very long running story arc that didn’t exactly hit out of left field, but the update was executed at a time that provided maximum gut punch. In an effort of full disclosure, every time I received a hurtful message, it was because I reached out first. I fully understand that to keep peace I should stay in my lane, and I didn’t. I knew this going in. I chose to reach out. I was reminded of what I already knew, I caused those words to be said to me. And part of me is very easily put into a place where I take those words to heart and punish myself. Why does a person like that deserve family pictures?
To say we’ve had a weird year would be an understatement. First of all, Harry and I have never been politically minded, but this year has been one for the books. We went from right leaning independents to full fledged liberals – hashtag Thanks Trump. Some people really can’t handle our political affiliation. We are angry and sad, it’s brought things to the surface that my white passing, immigrant husband has been able to keep successfully buried for decades. It brought forth things for me to reevaluate that I had never considered before, and self reflection is hard. Second of all, I had a very young, very good friend die. I’ve had to attempt to explain to my kids why their prayers matter at all; if Ms. Kelly died anyway, why did we pray? And like, sometimes I don’t even know you guys. Don’t worry, I know God is good even when bad things happen, but finding your roots to be shallow in times of grief is hard. We also stood our ground against some internal injustices. Gas lighting ensued, sides were taken, and we were shut out. We have been told that things that happened were misunderstandings, also that children “misunderstanding” is grounds for shunning for months on end. We’ve been excluded from festivities and then shamed for not being at said festivities; and I am not smart enough to understand why that makes sense. So many nopes in 2017.
We have been told plainly that certain people won’t change and me not accepting that is the root of the problem; that we must submit. I mean, but do we? We have decided we will go where we are embraced and learn to live without places that we are expected to swallow who we are and get in line. Everyone wants to be loved unconditionally. Everyone wants to be special enough to be worth going to battle for; even if the battle you fight is with yourself. Everyone wants to know their voice and their heart matters.
I have told my kids their feelings are valid. My husband has told his kids their feelings are valid. When we mess up, we apologize to our kids. We don’t tell our kids “Sorry if you are upset”, we say “Sorry we hurt your feelings with my actions” because words matters. One of our kids in particular is more like us than the others in this way. Watching that kid process grief and disappointment with parents that give that kid validation is healing, affirming, and a little bit maddening all at the same time. I am both jealous of not having that and simultaneously so thankful I can recognize the difference and that there has been positive change. Watching a cycle break is so painful. Watching a kid process being told by someone they desperately wants acceptance from that a six month abandonment period was their fault was heart wrenching.
So I guess, the lesson is that you can share your feelings, but you can’t determine the response you will get. If you have really done your best, it maybe isn’t you. Maybe it really never was. Maybe you were just a symptom of another problem that was around long before you existed. My experience is that being shunned from the source actually created a lot of peace for our family.
And while I stumbled a bit and actually canceled our photography session, I came to my senses. My kids are all stone cold miracles. None of them came to us the way we envisioned, and yet, here we all are. They are good kids that have only a few haters; high ranking as they may be, that does not mean they are bad kids. They are beautiful and I want pictures of them. My kids and my husband think I am nice. Honestly, anyone outside of that is just gravy and I don’t even like gravy. My bigger than I like butt and squishy tummy may make me cringe a bit at certain photos, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have pictures. My wrinkles are a sign that I have lived and I am still alive; photograph it. I know far too well that my wrinkles might not be here for next year’s photos, being here is a gift. My grey hair? Well, that we are still gonna lie about because none of us are perfect and we’ve all got our demons.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am worried all the time. My whole life I have been worried, but after 2017 I am more anxious in some ways than ever before. One thing I am less worried about though, is the wheels falling off with this. I was never really told my way of doing things had any validity. Eye rolls and “that’s so stupid” was standard, along with other words I don’t use on this blog. I was told people couldn’t wait to see me have kids just like me; I believe that was a dig. I mean, I know it was a dig. Oh, the sweet victory and validation you might feel some day when I was cursed with kids just like me and oh, how I would understand your plight. Well, feast your eyes. It happened. Each and every one of these kids is quite a lot like me. They are strong willed, they are talented, they are artsy (which does not mean pretentious), they are smart (which does not mean they look down on you if you aren’t), they make mistakes (like everyone), they are sensitive, they are all so nerdy, they are all a little socially awkward, they aren’t perfect, the status quo is not their jam, they are funny, they are dreamers, they are curious, they don’t find a ton of comfort in stuff, they will defend themselves and others, they have melt downs, and they just want to be loved. Here’s the thing though, I’m not even a little bit mad. Sometimes when a kid gets cray, the hubs will look at me and go “Well, that’s from your side.” and we laugh a little bit and then we work through it like emotionally healthy grown ups. Process as you will.
Anyway, don’t put off family photos because a voice from somewhere (internal or external) says you don’t deserve them. Hire an awesome photographer, or even grab a friend with a cell phone and document yourself with the ones you love. You deserve it. Thankfully, I called my photographer the day after I canceled and said “I don’t know what I was thinking, but I really want to still do this.” and she was kind enough to work us back in. I am so thankful.
2017, you were the worst, but I forgive you. I am glad I got to live through you with these folks. 2018, you are up.
These portraits are by my talented friend Michelle who owns Brave and Bright Photography. I paid for these photos and was not in any way required to share them or even mention who took them, but I just wanted to share. This isn’t an ad (can you imagine if I used that random unload as an ad?). But seriously, if you are looking for a San Diego Photographer, I highly suggest her.