Ah, Picture Day: the day when photographers come to your child’s school or day care to get a beautiful shot of your smiling, sweet child.
That is not what the photographer got with my kid.
I take my almost-2-year-old daughter to a Mommy & Me class at our nursery school, and the other day was Picture Day. My daughter got up at 5 a.m., no doubt because she was so excited for Picture Day. (I lie: she gets up at 5, or some other before dawn ungodly hour every day. I shouldn’t take that personally, but I do.) I got her dressed in a very cute, all cotton, black and white number that could have come from the Mad Men for Toddlers line. I wrestled her hair into a ponytail with two barrettes she picked out herself. She wore black Mary Janes with those cute socks that have lace on the cuffs. She looked pretty adorable. Bring it on, Picture Day!
School started at 9:30 a.m., and our class was scheduled to go first. We walked to the outdoor garden to take pictures.
That was when things started to get real.
For three minutes of waiting her turn, my child was happy as a clam. As the wait grew longer and longer, however, she found sources of dissatisfaction all around her. She realized she had wet cut grass all over her legs. She didn’t like that very much. I picked her up. That made her mad. I put her down. That made her madder.
Like a cowboy taking his guns out of his holsters before the big shoot-‘em-up, she reached up and yanked both barrettes out of her hair — and then proceeded to throw them somewhere into the newly cut grass. She glared at me, her hair beginning to unfurl in Medusa-like tendrils around her small, red, angry face.
I don’t want you to think, though, that this was all done silently. Imagine, if you will, all this accompanied by a near-constant soundtrack of extremely loud crying and yelling. And yes, I took her away and talked to her quietly, patiently. I explained to her that we have to wait sometimes, and that grass is wet sometimes, and that barrettes go in hair, not in grass, and that screaming is inappropriate in basically every situation. To no avail.
“It’s your turn, sweetie!” the photographer said. It was a full half hour after we’d gotten to the garden. My daughter had the last individual portrait. We had crossed over the point at which walking away would have been acceptable. Looking back on it, I think the photographer assumed those words would flick some sort of ‘good behavior’ switch in my child.
Well, dear reader, they did not.
If anything, the crying and screaming escalated as the photographer, the teachers, the other parents and I all tried to jolly my daughter out of her tantrum. I hugged and kissed her. She screamed. We sang. She screamed. We smiled. She screamed. We cajoled. She screamed. Another mom played my kid’s favorite song from music class on her phone. She screamed. We tried telling her she would have no picture unless she behaved. Clearly, she didn’t care.
It wasn’t going to work. Nothing was going to work. You know why? Because she’s (almost) 2. Because sometimes toddlers melt down, without rhyme or reason. Sometimes they inexplicably laugh, and sometimes they inexplicably cry. Sometimes, they are so carried away on the tide of their powerful little emotions that nothing you say or do can bring them back.
“I don’t know ... nothing’s working,” the photographer said.
“You’re right,” I said. “But take the picture anyway.”
I told her to take the picture. Because in that split second, I realized: the kid who would sit perfectly, hands clasped? That wouldn’t actually be a picture of my kid. My kid is active from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to sleep. She’s not always perfectly behaved (understatement). But that is the reality of life with a toddler. It’s messy, and unreasonable, and arbitrary, and loud, and occasionally unpleasant. Sometimes, you spend time and effort getting your kid all gussied up and they’d rather be playing in a sandbox or being read to or dancing or doing basically anything else on the planet — and they let you know. Loudly.
And these are the kinds of moments that we tend to gloss over and forget in retrospect, in favor of the ‘greatest hits’ moments of Instagram- or Facebook-worthy bliss. So I told her to take the picture because even though it wasn’t the one I came to have taken, it was the one of the kid I happened to bring that day. And I want to look at it and remind myself that sometimes, things come out differently than you’ve planned. Because, in reality, my kid’s not perfect. Neither am I. And I’ll keep both those ideas in my wallet, happily.
I might not get ‘the picture,’ but the picture I get will have a clear view of The Big Picture. That might not be as pretty, but it’s not so bad either.
Because so many people were so kind, patient and good-humored during this little girl's meltdown, this story is part of NBCU’s Season of Kindness. Follow the series on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. #ShareKindness