Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I remember our older son's first professional picture. It was taken by the hospital photographer who sauntered into my room the morning after he was born.

He was just a day old, and yet as early as then I couldn't reconcile the unfamiliar--almost desperate--tone of this child's cry. He wasn't digesting his food properly, that I knew. And, the developmental specialists had already paraded through, checking the looks of his eyes and forehead (which presented as a baby with Down's Syndrome). Normal. I must pretend everything is normal, I thought as I combed his full head of auburn hair so that he would look handsome for his picture.

He even bristled when I swiped the comb across his head.

Certainly, we must have an official picture to mark the event! I was envisioning an angelic scene, a photo we could use to announce his birth. After all, that's how "it" works, right? That's what people DO. I'm a follower by nature. If that's what people do, then that's what I was going to do.

We set him down in a lighted bassinette provided by the hospital, and the second those lights hit him, he melted in a sea of tears. That cry! What was it about that cry that was so different?

"Oh! Don't you worry, Mama," said the photographer. "I'll get a picture out of this one!" With those words, he plugged our son's mouth with a hospital pacifier, pushed his face down into our son's and made a series of ridiculous noises to get him to look at him.

He wasn't looking. He was a day old, and he was crying about his environment. I had a bad feeling.

Suddenly, the photographer pulled the pacifier OUT with no warning and shot the picture. The goal was to catch the baby off guard so that he wasn't crying in the picture. Boy, did he hate that. Which each attempt, the flash felt brighter and brighter, and the screams of our child escalated until people were stopping in from the hallway to check on him.

Polite but lacking faith in this project, I stood at the sidelines.

Well, the resulting picture was horrible, and I had an irate child for the effort. Filled with hormones, I was devestated at the permanent record of our child looking so horrible. NOBODY must see this picture, I insisted, the mad woman that I was.

My husband started calling our son Boris. In that photo, he looked like a fat, drunken Russian man in his late 50s. Anytime my husband saw it, he adopted a Russian accent and started talking to his day-old child, "Boris", about how photogenic he was.

I'm laughing at this now, but, believe me, I was NOT laughing then. God bless all the new dads who can manage mommy hormones! I honestly was not thinking properly--I actually hid those pictures. Hmmm. I bet I can find one. Hang on...

Haha! I just might have thrown it away! Hell hath no fury like a new mom with an unflattering picture of her baby! LOL!!

Anyway, my husband, the adorable geek, has made up for that one picture and then some! There was a time when he'd carry three cameras on him in order to capture all of the moments in our young son's life. Later, after he was diagnosed, I poured over those pictures.

There was a distinct period where he wasn't crying into the camera. All the photos looked...normal. He's looking at the camera there! Look! He's connected. He seemed happy in a lot of those shots even though I knew he was not a happy child. Was this really a time when he was...okay?

I asked this of my husband one day. I was in tears and contemplating if I could have somehow caused our son's autism. He emphatically answered, "No!"

"I worked carefully to get happy shots of him," he said. In large part, the images were contrived.

Well, I thought, I guess we had bigger fish to fry then to expect a good and honest picture. But, I was lying to myself. I wanted it! I wanted the happy snapshot! I wanted it, even if it represented a short period of time. I wanted a snapshot of who he really was.

What I didn't realize at the time was that I was, in fact, getting a snapshot of who he really was. He was a little boy who was scared by life, didn't understand connecting to people much less a person holding a camera that gives off this unpredicatable flash. Plain and simple: the kid was stressed out by having his picture taken.

Elementary school came, and our held out hope that he would come home with a great shot. With excitement, I would pay for as many pictures as I could in anticipation of a shot that would make mama proud. I'm ashamed that I didn't realize every shot where he is actually in the frame should make me proud.

Most pictures have a half smile, a furrowed brow or a look of shock on his face. There were years that I didn't even purchase them. He didn't like the process. I didn't like the result. Why bother?

I have a friend who has made a collection of her special son's pictures. One of them even has him darting out of the frame. I wish I could easily have had her wisdom. Instead, I have used her example as my goal. I'm still working on picture taking skills, but now I appreciate the effort he gives me because I know that he is doing the best he can do.

"Say 'cheese'," I happily instructed last night for his Halloween photo. (Why do we say "cheese", anyway? I bet that directive alone ridiculous to our older son.)

"Cheese, please," he'd say in a mono-tone voice. He still doesn't enjoy it, but he is learning to put up with me.

Happiness is a healthy child, a child who is learning and progressing on whatever level is appropriate for him or more. Happiness is not determined by a photograph. Wouldn't it be ironic, then, that the time I've reached acceptance and understanding on this issue, I received an additional gift of one fabulous school picture this year?

I think this picture will carry me for quite some time.


  1. ooooooh!!! What a great post. I love his picture. And by the way: we're still thinking about having a picture taken of our family. An official picture. We should do it now, been thinking about it for 16 years!!!!

  2. The only way we can accomplish a family photo is to get a candid shot. Will sticks out his tongue for a lot of them. We are terribly uncivilized creatures...

  3. What a lovely picture and triumph!!


  4. That is a great shot. Enjoy it. :O)

    Why is it that we all find it so hard to celebrate reality when it doesn't line up with what we'd envisioned it to be? It's not just you--I think that describes, well, pretty much everyone. There's this glitchy discontent that we have get over before we're ready to look at the wonder of what we do have instead of the lack of what we'd asked for.

    Maybe it's just exposure to too many perfect TV and movie people, too many commercials featuring gleaming white teeth and joyous abandon, or too many glossy ads in those parenting and other women's magazines that imbed these pictures in our minds of how our lives are supposed to be.

    Or maybe it's not too much of any of those, but rather too little reality in what people choose to put out there: too few (read: nonexistent) sitcoms showing realistic families with problems that aren't magically solved in 30 minutes, minus commercials, too few stories about how we all trip and fall, but it's the getting back up that matters, and too few people telling the truth about themselves and their lives. Real families are funny (your Boris paragraph is proof enough of that) and loving and worth a closer look.

    Your blog provides all of that, and I think that's exactly why it is such a pleasure. It's real. The world needs more real.

  5. ^^^ Why is it that I can never leave a normal-sized comment here? Sorry. ^^^