Screaming for Smiles

Today I encountered a woman screaming at her children because she wanted to take a photo of them smiling in front of a lake. Her kids were grinning at each other, at passers by, up at the cloudless sky, across the gleaming water– they were smiling at everything except for their mom. In fact, they completely ignored her screaming demands. With their backs to her, it was almost as if they couldn’t hear her. 

I wondered how often she screamed if it was that easy for them to tune her out.

I get it. I understand wanting to have pictures of your kids smiling in beautiful places. I get that you want to have memories preserved for viewing over the next several decades. 

But I couldn’t stop thinking of the irony of the entire situation.

It’s enjoyable to look back on family photos because they were often taken during special times. Or maybe run-of-the-mill, totally unimpressive, normal times. But years later those normal times are realized and regarded as special. 

I wonder
Will that mom look at the photo of her children’s forced smiles 15 years from now
And remember how she was screaming at them
Will she remember forcing them to turn their backs on the nature that had captivated them so deeply
So that she could replace their genuine smiles with plastic ones?

I wonder
Will she look at that photo and remember how fun that day was
Or will she only see the disobedience, frustration, and reluctance
Saturating her children’s faces?

I offered to take a family picture for them
Hoping to interrupt the screaming
The mom scoffed,
No thanks, they will probably ruin the photo, they won’t take any pictures for me today

I wonder
Will her children someday look at that photo
And remember the perfectly breezy, 75 degree day
And the way that both the moon and the sun hung perfectly over the blue-green lake
Or will they remember their mom saying to a perfect stranger
That they ruin family photos
(They may as well have ruined the day)

I wonder
Decades from now, what will bring that mother (who could have easily been me) more joy?
A photo of the backsides of her joyful in nature, non-arguing
Heads-not-buried-in-screens children
Or their front-facing, sad, glaring expressions
Set in the most beautiful scenery

I smiled sadly and walked away
Silently promising myself that I would never scream for smiles

I will be a journalist taking candid, stunning photos of the scene unfolding in front of me
I will be a National Geographic photographer, documenting but not disturbing
I will pay attention to the parts of the world that captivate my child most
The trees? The water? The insects? The friendly dogs that pass us by? The gum on the pavement?

When I look back on the photos I took 
Of our adventures throughout her childhood
I hope to see 
Blurry, unfocused exposures
Mismatched outfits
Little legs excitedly running away from me
Wild curls and matted hair
Snow Cone stained teeth
And ear-to-ear smiles so genuine
That any random stranger 
Would know they were not smiles
Produced by a scream

4 thoughts on “Screaming for Smiles

  1. Tender reflections- thanks for sharing. it reminds me of the Modern Family episode where the family, dressed in white at Claire’s request, and stiffly posing, start airing grievances, and end up in a mud flight, with stained clothing…laughing and having such fun. and THOSE are the treasured photos…genuine joy from a solemn moment.
    It all makes me smile, and your questions invite me to reflect once again on when I have been ‘that person’ wanting things to be different than they are. Thank you for the invitation to mindfulness. I love that you can capture the perfectly imperfect and just let it be.

    • I’m a big Modern Family fan too, I had forgotten about that scene! So perfectly captures it. I think it’s so easy to slip into “that person” role. I used to do family photos for people and quit it completely because I couldn’t stand the way parents would talk to their children when trying to get the perfect family photo. It made me really sad. I get it, I really do. But man, there’s something to bed said about more candid, journalist style photos vs everything perfectly in place! Thanks for your comment and insights, I always enjoy reading them!

  2. Wow, only you could take something like this and make it so profound. This is one of my favorites you’ve done.

    Yes, it is sad that many people (Especially those with kids, like this individual) in this day and age see special (Or normal) moments as some sort of currency to be flaunted on social media, or a forced, rigid display of “memory-making” display. It just cheapens everything. Looking at a 1080p group selfie on an iPhone definitely doesn’t have the same charm as looking at an album of old Polaroid’s from a bygone time does.

    As much as technology has made things convenient and arguably added to our lives, I do miss the era of mystery, when we let natural moments, feelings, emotions, and even silence speak louder than words. It truly doesn’t feel like anything is sacred anymore.

    Sorry to be a downer, don’t mean to be, lol. Great story, thanks for sharing Courtney.


    • Jake,
      Thanks for your heartfelt comment…I love reading your thoughts and responses! I appreciate your kind words, too. I know exactly what you mean about the “good ‘ol days” before we were on our phones 24/7 with access to the entire internet, every song, and every photo you’ve ever taken right at your fingertips. I often long to go back to the days of a flip phone, but then know I would miss out on the parts of smartphone world that I do really love, and bring me more connection. It’s a double-edged sword.

      You weren’t a downer, by the way. I think a LOT of people feel the exact same way.

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