Yes, it is in fact too much. Yes.
Christmas card 2004. Just sit still and smile! Please, you guys. Just smile. No, don’t touch his hat. Open your eyes! Come on. I’ll give you a piece of candy. There. Now smile, everyone. Stop blinking! Keep your hands to yourself. Settle down. Seriously, I’ll give you two pieces of candy. OK, almost got it. Move your head a little. Don’t lean on your brother. Stop switching places. You guys, I’m getting mad. Just do it. No, no candy. Just sit there and smile. Stop touching your hat. I’m going to put you in time out. No, really. I am getting really mad! You guys are being so naughty. Fine. Just go play.
Is it too much to ask three kids (ages 2, 4, and 5) wearing Kazakh hats their aunt and uncle brought back from Mongolia, to sit still right before dinner for a “perfect” Christmas card picture? I wanted the world to see my beautiful children. They could not be bothered. Someone was blinking or sneezing or adjusting someone else’s hat. As they goofed around, they realized they had power. They could make me mad. Their little minds whirled: look, Mom has steam coming out of her ears. The success of the yearly Christmas card was up to them and they were not going to make it work.
At the time I was apoplectic. I nearly lost my mind over that card. Why was it so difficult to sit still and smile? Did they not understand how important this was to me? I would regret abandoning the plan so I kept at it. A half hour later found three hungry kids, one aggravated mother and a collection of marginal photos. Herding ants would have been easier and more fruitful.
Twelve years later, it is my favorite card. I made a collage of four pictures, none of which were perfect, and left it at that. They won.
Yet it was perfect. It was a perfect snapshot of our life at that time. I may have been in charge, but I was not always in control. They were three little chuckleheads who realized early on that if they banded together, they could change the outcome and possibly get a reaction out of me in the process.
When I look at that card, I smile. They were awesome! They taught me much; the most important of which is that we do not need to be perfect as the world defines it. I did not need to have a magazine-worthy house. It was okay that it was decorated in Early Childhood. Since there was no clever organization system, toys were strewn around, books were in every room and there was no end of shoes lying about. It was comfortable. It was home.
We did not need to be clean and matched and coiffed. The occasional Gymboree outfit was purchased secondhand. Stripes and plaids were worn in harmony. We owned no combs. As long as the clothes fit and no one had dirt on their face, we were fine. (OK, usually someone had dirt on his face.)
Having three babies in three years taught me to slow down, see the joy in daily life and stop worrying about appearances. I realized that my house is for my family, not others. The kids had a right to have their things easily accessible and thus the matchbox cars in the bathroom and the dollhouse in the dining room. I did not have the energy to tackle rigorous interior design while wrangling toddlers. I lost interest in impressing others. A family lived in that house. We were loud, messy, sometimes smelly and a long way from perfect. Why try to fake it once a year? It was not worth the cajoling and frustration.
Getting three kids, whether they are 2, 4 and 5 or 14, 16 and 17, to smile and not pester each other is a minor miracle and it is great when it works. But those pictures where someone has crossed eyes, makes a face or grabs someone else are the ones that really show what family is. Those are my favorites.
Copyright 2017 Merridith Frediani
About the author: Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, tending to dahlias and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. Her favorite part of the day is family dinner which sometimes doesn’t happen until 8:30 pm. She enjoys hanging out on the front porch and laughing with family and friends. Good Italian wine is a must.