They know what I’m going to say. It’s not very original but when you’re face is obscured by the camera you can’t just smile and hope to solicit one back. So, off my tongue it rolls, “Look at me and say MOMMY!” over and over until we get a decent shot.
Last Saturday was the day for this familiar refrain. It was time for the annual Christmas photo shoot. Every year the boys dread it but this year I threw them for a loop when I said, “We’re not going down to the pond—I’m sick of the pond.” Right away I could see they were more nervous. We’ve taken almost all of our holiday pictures by the pond behind our house. It’s familiar and with no travel time it provokes less anxiety.
Picture taking is one of their least favorite activities. A quick cell phone shot is one thing but posing for what I call a “real picture” is unnerving. Some kids jump in front of the camera but not mine. I used to think this was about them being autistic and the struggle they have with eye contact. Then I got involved in youth ministry and discovered that lots of kids run from the camera and that eye contact is becoming a lost art in general.
Still it’s been hard on me. I’m a highly visual person and depend as much on non-verbal cues as the spoken word. With other kids I can shrug it off but with my own it stings. It’s been said that the eyes are the window to the soul and what mother doesn’t want to see right into her son’s heart?
That’s not to say I can’t get them to look at me but you can see how hard it is for them—their body language changes. The hands and shoulders tense up and facial expressions become strained. It’s as if my eyes become headlights and they’re the deer in them. It makes serious conversation a challenge.
Picture taking adds even more glare. The camera heightens their insecurity. As a result they aren’t the only ones dreading the annual effort. I hate it too. However, this year I went determined not to get upset about anything no matter what.
Then out of the blue something unexpected happened—things went smoothly. I couldn’t believe it. Driving home I began to assume it was too good to be true and I hadn’t gotten a good shot. Out of the fifty I took I’d have nothing to work with.
I was wrong. I had six great shots to work with. I was stunned. I never have that many. Somehow I’d hit the photo jackpot. This year I could choose whatever Christmas card I liked with so many options.
Later in the day I was still marveling at it. Putting my camera in the bag I found a penny lying at the bottom of it. I don’t remember finding it but as I reached for it that detail didn’t matter. In that moment it whispered, “Progress”. The word used to describe what every parent hopes for at all times—movement in the right direction.
I sat down in my chair and looked at the pictures again and saw what I’d missed the first time—both boys looking not just in my direction but looking me right in the eye. It was as if the camera wasn’t there. They’d fixed their eyes on me and nothing else.
In one shot of Luke his gaze was so intense I wondered what he was thinking. What had he seen looking at me that maybe he’d never noticed before? Did he see how much I love him? Could he see how the sparkle in his eyes lit up mine?
I don’t know and if I were to ask I’m sure he’d think I was crazy. Teenage boys don’t really have descriptions for things like that and it’s entirely possible he was just in autofocus mode. However, none of that takes away from what I saw which was two boys who struggle to look the world in the eye stare it down without flinching. The healthy self-confidence I’ve prayed for them to have was there right in front of me. That’s more than a penny’s worth of progress that’s years of progress.
It was the perfect reminder that the past isn’t always a predictor of the future. What you think will always be an issue sometimes becomes a non-issue. People despite how they’re pre-disposed can change. It happens all the time.
I know this and yet I forget it. Like my boys for a variety of reasons I get stuck looking in the wrong direction and miss what’s unfolding in front of me. I suppose that’s why sometimes you just need to step away from the camera lens and get the bigger picture. It really is worth a thousand words.