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.
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?
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
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)
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
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
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