I realized just before Christmas that the time had come. Maya was now a few weeks short of her third birthday, and Cole had just past 18-months. Oh no... OH NO!
Yes, the time had come for us to make the DREADFUL trip to the photographer to get pictures taken.
In an effort to spare myself the frustration of a mall photographer at Christmas time, I decided to wait until after New Year's to make the trek.
"This shouldn't be so bad," I naively thought to myself when I got up early for the "big day" last Thursday morning. Right.
"Mama, my tongue hurts," Maya complained as she came down the stairs and joined me on the floor for the tail end of my workout.
"Really? Say AH," I responded (BIG mistake), as she stood and towered over me.
To my dismay and disbelief, "Ahhhhhhh" was followed by a crimson shower of vomit. Instinctively, I put my hands up in a feeble attempt to protect myself and the carpet. "Got it... Oh, SICK!!"
With a one-two punch, the second heave splattered through my hands to my face and hair, and the third left a scarlet mess all over the floor beneath me.
Yeah. We didn't make it to the photographer that day.
The 24-hour bug was gone by Saturday morning. "Maybe today," I thought to myself as I got out of bed. Not so, I realized when I entered Cole's room and discovered a mysterious rash that had broken out all over his face, neck and chest.
No, we didn't make it to the photographer that day either.
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING could have stopped us (me) yesterday morning. We were all up early. No vomit. No rashes. No problem.
After breakfast, I got the kids dressed in their Tuesday best - a perfect little bow perched atop Maya's curls, and every hair on Cole's precious head was in its place. The kiddos looked perfect. Just perfect. At 9:50 a.m., we dashed from the house, jumped into the car, raced up the road and merged onto the highway.
We would be at Kiddie Kandids by 10:06 a.m. PERFECT!
I screeched into a parking spot, and sprung from my car to open the trunk.
"Oh, no. OH, NO!!" Paul forgot to put the stroller back when he used my truck last week. (This may not seem like a big deal to most, but ANY of you mothers out there, try to imagine getting ANYWHERE in a mall - IN A HURRY - with two toddlers and NO stroller... Yeah.)
PERFECT. I thought to myself, biceps burning, as I curled my 30-pound son in one arm and tugged my 33-pound daughter with the other.
At 10:16 a.m., we got to Kiddie Kandids to discover that my immaculate children would have to wait to have their pictures taken. Three other moms with their perfectly-dressed newborns (NO, NOT NEWBORNS?!?!?) beat us to the two photographers taking pictures that morning.
Claire-bear. Sweet, little Claire-bear, would you give mommy a smile...
"20 minutes," the manager said with a grin, and handed me her Kiddie Kandids card. "We'll see you back in 20 minutes."
"Perfect," I thought to myself. I had a sweater to return anyway. "We'll run to Nordstrom and come right back. This will be great."
We made it back to Kiddie Kandids with three minutes to spare. Unfortunately, the perfectly-dressed, totally sedate newborns and their well-meaning mothers didn't get the memo that their time was up.
Come on, honey. You can do it! Will you smile for big brother?
KYLE, come over here...
"We're running a little behind," the smiley manager explained as she led us to the holding area in the back of the store.
Within 10 minutes, the whining and fussing and squirming began. "When do we get to have our fixtures taken???" After 20 minutes, in a moment of desperation, I sprung for the $5 mall buggy and strolled Cole, who was rapidly melting, around the tiny studio.
25 minutes... 30 minutes... 35 minutes...
Give momma, just one smile. ONE smile, sweetheart.
"OH, we should just leave," a muffled voice surfaced from within.
"Are you KIDDING?!?!" a bigger, stronger, resounding voice rebutted, beating down the first...
"I'm so SORRY, Ma'am," Smiley Manager said as she approached (Perhaps the huffing and eye-rolling and muttering under my breath as I strolled my squirmy, perfectly-dressed toddler around the store gave it away). "Sometimes, these things just happen - especially when we have newborns first thing in the morning," she droned.
Unable to mask the aggravation seething inside, I lied with a weak smile,
"No problem, these things happen."
40 minutes... 45 minutes... 50 minutes...
Just one more pose, honey. I know you're tired.
56 minutes later, it was our turn.
Smiley Manager escorted us to the "studio" in the front of the store and introduced us to our photographer, "What's-His-Name." I greeted him with a contrived smile as I clutched my toddler with one hand and desperately clung to the end of my rapidly fraying rope with the other.
"I don't want to have my fixture taken... I want to watch NEMO... I'm getting hungry... I want Cole to go first," Maya nagged from behind.
Within minutes, my exasperated, perfectly-dressed son was sprawled on the floor spilling over with tears, while my red-faced, perfectly-dressed daughter was jumping up and down, pounding her fists, and screaming, "I don't want to have my fixture taken," front and center in the Kiddie Kandids window for all passersby to witness.
I couldn't hold in my anger a moment longer. "THAT'S IT, I'M DONE. WE'RE LEAVING!!!" I exploded.
I threw Cole into the $5 buggy, yanked Maya by the arm as she stumbled to the floor.
"GET UP," I screamed, as I pushed Cole and the buggy and dragged Maya down the LONG mall hallways, through the food court, and FINALLY out the front door.
The frigid outdoor air wasn't enough extinguish the fire in my chest and face, as we rushed to the car. I was annoyed. I was embarrassed. I was livid.
Honestly, I can't remember being that angry in my entire life.
I was unable to speak to or even look at my children (or anyone else) for most of the day yesterday. I was SO angry. It wasn't just STUPID Kiddie Kandids. It was everything. How could they have behaved so poorly? How can they be so selfish? When do they stop taking? I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO GIVE.
Why am I so ANGRY???
"Anger is a secondary emotion," I heard someone say recently.
So what was the primary emotion? Frustration? Disappointment? Bitterness? Resentment? All of the above?
I won't pretend to know the answer, because I don't. The only thing I know is that I left this experience with a profound awareness of my brokenness and imperfections - ashamed of how I responded to the entire situation. I am SO far from perfect, so far from sufficient. I have all sorts of emotions bottled up inside, that have yet to be unleashed. I need grace. I need mercy. I need love.
The perfect picture is just not so. The reality is that sometimes my kids get rashes and throw up in my face. Sometimes they have tantrums and meltdowns, and sometimes I get frustrated and REALLY angry. Sometimes, I need a break, and I don't get it in time. Yes, sometimes I even explode at my children.
Yet, today is a new day (thank the Lord). I thank God that children are resilient.
I praise Him for the unending grace that comes in the face of glaring imperfection.
I rejoice in the hope of knowing that His mercies are new EVERY morning. In this very moment, my kids are playing and running and squealing and laughing as they terrorize my house. They are perfect in all their imperfections.
Cole is almost 19-months now, Maya will be three in less than two weeks, and I still don't have my perfect pictures.
I don't know that I ever will.