About That Happy Picture

November 28, 2016

Here they come parading across the screens of our computers and phones.  It’s HAPPY FAMILY PICTURE SEASON!  

For the next month, we will be inundated with photos of beautifully coordinated, clearly successful, loving families frolicking in the snow together, playing board games by a crackling fire, cuddling while watching a show that somehow the entire family agreed on … and the worst … photos of lovely hand-crafted gifts and meals that people’s CHILDREN have made for them!  (This really happens??!!)

Meanwhile in my home, we’re lucky if the kids change out of the clothes they slept in, it’s way too cold to go outside, most of us hate board games, we haven’t agreed on a TV show since the Cosby’s (and we all know how well that turned out) … and the crafty/cooking gene has definitely skipped the younger generation.

Facebook envy is a real thing! 

So about happy family pictures …

Our family had a rough Thanksgiving Day.  Actually, the day was 82.7% awesome, but that other 17.3% threw a soggy wet blanket over the day.  Maybe because we’ve had a rough year which followed a few other rough years ….

What I’m trying to say is that things have been less than photogenic for awhile. 

So when the Christmas tree gods smiled upon us and we had a really FUN time on our annual tree cutting outing, you’d better believe I grabbed my phone and started snapping pictures while we sipped Starbucks, sang carols at the top of our lungs and the girls cavorted around the tree farm like crazy kids.  I watched and smiled and prayed we wouldn’t get kicked out!  

That evening after everyone retreated behind their bedroom doors, I chose a few photos and did what any mom with a grateful heart would do. I posted them on Facebook!  

Awaking yesterday, I scrolled through the usual comments, “Such a beautiful family,”  “Love you guys”  “Happy holidays”  until I reached one comment that jolted me straight up in bed.

Someone who only knows our family through a friend of a friend of a friend wrote, “This is just overwhelmingly beautiful. Such unity and love. My Christmas wish would be that more families and people would catch your fever of togetherness.”

My first reaction was to literally laugh out loud.  My second thought was, “OH IF YOU ONLY KNEW…”  

And then I was filled with compassion for this mama who was probably feeling what I feel when I see those happy photos: 

Longing

Sadness

Failure

Anger

WHY CAN’T I HAVE A FAMILY LIKE THAT?

It’s official … my Facebook jealous eyes have been opened by this comment.  Because I know the REAL story behind that happy scene.   I know that those moments were photo-worthy because they are rare and treasured.

Just to prove my point, here are a few more “real stories” behind the photos (not all of these are my family – thank God):

**  a baby sitting in a huge pile of oozy green poop during her first photo session because that outfit was the only one that matched the parents

** the extended family photo shoot where a toddler screamed for two hours while the rest of the family tried to keep smiling in case he stopped long enough for a shot

** the massive argument in the car on the way to the photo shoot – so bad that the wife threatened to leave

** the daughter who ran away and broke her parents’ hearts but showed up long enough to get in the pictures on the next holiday

** the adorable grandbaby who was born from a really terrible, unhealthy situation involving Child Protective Services

** the homeless son who keeps his mother awake countless nights but smiles warmly with his arm slung around her shoulder

** the kids who are bribed with ice cream if they cooperate  (a few husbands are bribed too)

** the epic (and I mean EPIC) struggle one mom had to get everyone in matching clothes

** the family photo on the beach where one of the sons wasn’t speaking to his mom

So to the mom who wishes more families were like ours:  THEY ARE!

Maybe somewhere on this planet, families really live that charmed life we display on our holiday cards.  But for the rest of us, LIFE HAPPENS.  Beautiful, complicated, messy and wonderful life.

Happy photos are our attempt to write a good story about our family.  Whether real or staged, those captured moments represent our common longing for connection, fun, joy and sometimes illusive “fever of togetherness.”

This holiday season, I’m going to look at the happy family photos differently.  I’m going to cut us all a break. We aren’t a failure if our family doesn’t “do” happy well.  We aren’t trying to be fake or paint an unrealistic picture if we manage the perfect photo.   We’re all trying to get this family thing right. 

The beauty is that there is no “right.”  There is only REAL LIFE and the story we tell.  

The story of love that shows up for each other over and over and over again. The magic that occasionally catches everyone smiling at the same time.  The courage that chooses to smile even when the 17. 3 % knocks us down. 

And when there’s a less-than-perfect story behind the picture, I think those who smile through the pain show the most courage.

‘Tis the season …. Smile away, kind hearts.  Love your people hard.  Take the pictures.  Tell the story.

And if you succeed in getting everyone to wear matching sweaters, you get extra points.