So I need a photo for the back of Dragons and dirt, this book I’m writing. I ask my friend Roz to work her magic so I can get the shot I need – and some of our family. Because it’s cool to frame moments where you’re blurred younger and cropped thinner – a flat smiling family with no depth disclosing irritation or tomato sauce on someone’s eyebrow. I imagine it perfect: We look incredible. We frolic for the camera like nothing is rigged. We get shots they can use on ads for margarine or washing powder. Roz thinks to herself: What well-mannered boys! What serene parents!
But tantrums during photo shoots – that’s how we roll.
Scott falls asleep on the couch half an hour before Roz arrives. We wake him and he gathers all the climatological forces of evil into a black storm. He ain’t smiling for no camera. Roz can’t get his face into a single family photo because it’s burrowed angry in one of my armpits.
Cam’s face is in most of the photos. He has picked out his ‘wedding clothes’ – as smart as it gets – and asks me to spike his hair cool. He photo-bombs every shot wild and loud. Then he flings himself into a foul mood when we say no, he’s not riding his bike to the shops and no, Roz is not going to run along the pavement to photograph the action.
We apologise for his, um, enthusiasm. Then we apologise for his sulk. Then we just apologise. Murray is being Super Dad – controlling the boys and his temper to salvage what’s left of our parental dignity. I’m feigning indignation: ‘They aren’t normally like this. Really!’ Roz keeps smiling and snapping calm. I die the slow painful death of inescapable embarrassment.
It’s pretty disastrous. Roz is pretty wonderful. She laughs unfazed grace and reassures us that we are amazing parents and that we can reschedule the shoot for any other more cheerful afternoon.
Truth is I’m a lousy parent. An angry, disappointed, lousy parent and I may as well kick and sob hot and cross like my boys and I can see how this mess spirals back to me:
Because I’m not getting what I want.
I’m mad because I want my kids to be good and do good so that I look good and feel good. I’m pinning my happiness on their behaviour – making them responsible for it when it’s up to me. Which is unrealistic and unfair. It sets them up for failure.
And being mad because they aren’t following the script in my head says more about me – and my pride – than it says about them.
Roz leaves. We pick up the day’s pieces. By suppertime the hearts under this roof are soft again. Sort of. Soft enough to get me wondering what obedience looks like when your kids turn a photo shoot into a fiasco. And I think how maybe it looks the same as obedience everywhere else:
‘…the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8)
Do what is right, I say to me. Teach truth. Find the courage to discipline for sin – not punish. Because Jesus already took all the punishment that I deserve, that these boys deserve. Discipline for repentance and restored relationships.
Love mercy, I add. Because mercy loves my boys when they’re good and gregarious, confident and competent. And mercy loves my boys when they’re disobedient and disrespectful. Mercy doesn’t plot parenting success on the graph of achievement over obedience. I resolve: Live grace. Love well.
Walk humbly with my God. Yes, that. Don’t try this (=cultivating small humans) at home without divine supervision. Don’t give up on these boys until the Father has given up on me. Which will be, like, never. Seek simplicity: be undisturbed and undisturbing. Because I can’t control my children’s reactions. I can control mine.
At bedtime Scott whispers warm apologies into my cheeks and hugs me hard. ‘Please you be happy,’ he says.
I am, I tell him. So happy.
And I think how sometime – maybe – we might even try another photo shoot.
. . .