Today we headed off for our annual trip to the Target Portrait Studios for a holiday photo session. We first made the pilgrimage when our daughter was just seven months old, and now a series of 8×10 family portraits adorn the second floor hallway in our home, and we hope to continue the tradition for as long as we can.
If you look carefully at that progression of family portraits just outside our kids’ bedroom doors, you’ll notice that my husband and I are essentially wearing the same several pieces of clothing, mixed up from year to year to create a different look. The tie I’m wearing one year shows up around his neck a few years later, and his shirt from year two is on my torso in year five. Last year, we just about came full circle. The outfit I wore was his exact outfit from year one. This is of course one of the benefits of being a same sex couple who are basically the same size.
Today marked year nine, so we had to carefully check what we wore against history’s photos. My husband came down in brown slacks, a crisp pink shirt and a patterned chocolate tie.
“How do I look?” he asked.
“It’s nice,” I muttered, thinking there was something familiar about this outfit. I pulled out my phone and checked last year’s photo and flashed it to him before he swore under his breath and headed up to change. He was wearing the same outfit as last year.
We finally got things squared away. He found a brand new sweater vest and tie that has yet to appear in any of our holiday photos over the years, and I opted for a red shirt he wore in 2008, a sweater vest I wore in 2011, and a gray tie that will be making its debut in the family portrait scene.
(The kids of course looked fabulous in their brand new clothes; they’re growing so much that recycling old clothes is simply out of the question.)
In the early years, these portrait session entailed us screaming in our head voices to catch our toddlers’ attention and get them to smile: “Over here guys! Look over here! Look at Daddy! Laugh! Smile! Ha ha ha ha!” We had to build up tremendous stamina on the drive over to Target; we knew that this was going to take a lot of energy and we’d end up with a bunch of shots destined for the desktop trash can. We always tried to reward ourselves with a nice lunch afterward. We were all dressed up in fancy matching outfits, so why not show off how awesome a racially diverse gay family can be? Our little ones tended to thwart those outings though by spilling ketchup on themselves or throwing a tantrum during the appetizers. Two years ago, we sat down at the table and our son promptly spilled a glass of water all over the four of us. That year, we simply got up and walked out.
Today though was different. Our ten minute photo session was calmly exciting. The photographer gushed over our adorable children, which led the two of them to turn on the charm for the camera. They took some fantastic shots, and we didn’t have to say a word, much less shout a few choice ones, to get them to cooperate. We headed to a fancy brunch afterward and had a great time laughing and enjoying each others’ company afterward.
This morning, I didn’t think this day would go the way it did. All hell broke loose when our son kicked our daughter’s balloon. Not once but twice. Yes, he kicked the balloon and our daughter shrieked like he had stabbed her in the thigh with a dully serrated knife. My attempts to get him to think about how his actions affected his sister resulted in his own meltdown: “Fine! Kick all the stuff in my room! Whatever!” In the midst of all this, I turned to my husband and suggested we cancel our lunch plans, which only brought on more whining from the two kids.
Then things turned around. We got in the car, and we were each able to let go of the difficulties from the morning. And I could finally see what lies ahead of us as parents. We’ve really hard trying to get these kids to grow up right, and we’re starting to see the dividends of that investment. It’s been hard, really hard, for the past eight years, and now that they’re both coming into the age of reason, we can start to see glimpses of the moments of calm that are inevitably in our future. Parenting is definitely the hardest job there ever was. Imagine a job where when you did your best, your boss laid down on the ground for five minutes, screaming with snot pouring out of her nose. You continue to do what you know to be best for your position, and your boss’s tantrums only grow worse; she starts using some nasty words to describe her feelings for you and she ends up head butting you in the chin a few times, something you want to believe was an accident but feels pretty damn purposeful. And then, after six or seven years, your performance reviews start showing marked improvement, and your boss even has some pleasant things to say to you. Your boss actually starts performing her job better as a result of your endless perseverance. Maybe she even gets a better job with more pay because of all that you’ve taught her.
That’s what parenting feels like, and today, it started to feel a little better.