I took the standard boatload of back to school photos of my children this year. There are the requisite posed photos on the rock we have used since they were infants. The rock is a perfect photo spot. No matter what the state of the yard, with a bank of trees behind it, the rock always keeps the background of our photographs picture perfect.
I captured my customary handful of forced poses. “Smile.” “Not that smile, the other one.” “Relax!” “Too cheesy.” “What the heck?”
I relaxed, happy I had my usual shots. The children, waiting in the driveway, reverted to their real selves. Boywonder thrust his hands in his pockets, one hip out, and flashed an enormous grin as I attempted (and failed) to fix his cowlick.
GirlWonder, a newly minted freshman joining him in the high school, parodied what she was going to do to big brother when she saw him in the halls. She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him, threatening to give him a sisterly smooch for good measure. His face contorted in a mix of sibling angst and good humor and I clicked the shutter on the shot. The photo took me back instantly to the hundreds — if not thousands — showing the same expression since she joined our family when he was not quite two.
The neighbor boy joined us and asked if I wanted a few shots with the kids. He gamely lifted my camera and snapped off a few snapshots of us.
For once I didn’t leap out of the frame in protest. In these photos my kids are their gloriously gorgeous selves and I am, well, me. I wasn’t spiffed up for back to school glory. My midriff is lumpy and my hair isn’t quite right. The background of the photos shows our porch steps (in need of painting) and a pressure washer (left out the night before). There are boots sitting on the steps.
It’s ironic that I once appeared in House Beautiful (shameless plug). Let’s be real here. By me, I mean my writing — not my house. The only way we would end up in House Beautiful is as a “before.” We have never been particularly enamored of yard work or terribly picky about curb appeal.
On this special day the yard was less than perfect because just the day before, Boywonder had invited his dad to join him and his friends for a day of rustic fun in the woods. Mr. Wonderful had at first insisted he really had to stay home and tackle the yard. We had a chat about the fleeting nature of parent invitations extended by 16 year olds. In the end, Mr. Wonderful spent the day making memories with our son.
That’s a day you can never get back and I’m glad he went. Nonetheless, the shaggy grass visible in the photos makes it clear that we haven’t been logging the mower miles. You might think we don’t own a weed trimmer at all.
There was a time when that photo of my beaming, happy kids in love with each other and life would have never seen the light of day. I would have focused on the less than stellar background. Imperfect photographs were banished. When your camera can take 3000 shots, it’s easy to keep clicking until you get the “perfect” one.
The photo of me hugging my gorgeous “baby” — no longer “little” at 14, and headed for her first day of high school — may have been deleted. At the very least I would have cropped myself out of it. Rarely does a photograph of me meet my high expectation for myself.
Another favorite shows my son smiling cooperatively for the camera as I leaned in to kiss him. I know to cherish that photo. Those moments aren’t captured nearly as often as they were when he was two.
Of course I don’t know how many were actually captured then because when he was two I was worried about my weight, chins and stray hairs. Photos of he and I together were few and far between. Browsing our scrapbooks you might think Mr. Wonderful was a single father. I regret that now.
With the years ticking away I have finally learned to focus — literally and figuratively — on what matters. It is not the unpainted porch, the yard uncut, the shoes on the steps or the few extra pounds, stray hairs and lines of age. It is the people. It is the moments. It is the memories.
There is gospel truth in that old adage about children growing like weeds. Speaking of weeds I like to imagine at the end of your life you will never regret the time spent making memories rather than trimming them.
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