This is not the real story. It never is. It’s a fraction of a second, one photo out of 50 nearly identical but not as close to perfect as this one. A second before, a few seconds after, and you’d see the truth.
It’s that time of year, when leaves on trees turn brilliant shades of beautiful one week, and then shed them the next. The morning and evening cool promise something different is around the corner. And daylight slips away more quickly as dark claims the landscape.
That time of year when kids carefully choose who or what to become for an hour during a very crazy fun school day, and an hour or so of walking through a dark neighborhood, knocking on doors asking strangers for sugar. (Which, by the way, we teach them explicitly NOT to do during the other 364 days of said year. Maybe that’s why it’s so fun.)
But that’s not the event I am speaking of.
It’s that time of year when as soon as the carnage is cleared and the survivors of back to school supplies are packed up and shipped away, the Christmas Decorations appear. Not in the front aisles or prominent end caps, but there, behind the black and orange merchandise; the two holidays props just as radically opposed in color as theology. Thanksgiving merch? I think it’s hidden in the greeting card and kitchen sections.
But, that’s not the event I am referring to.
No. The season the USPS loves. The season many dread, and many adore. The season when the excess and the poverty in our country are never more starkly contrasted.
The season of Christmas. And before that, the season of Christmas expectations. In the form most notably, of mail.
A tradition as old as, well, I don’t know, but it’s been going on at least since 1972. I’ve always been a lover of real mail, and handwritten notes. And Christmas mail, cards and letters and pictures, are the pinnacle of the heartfelt mail year.
I’m not sure when the law that “You must send your Christmas cards out by December 1, and no later than Dec. 31” went into effect, but I’ve pretty much ignored it, either conciously or not since Mark and I have been sending ours.
I used to write actual Christmas letters, typed and printed, back to back pages of what happends and well wishes. This was pre-blog, so for me, it was the one time of year that I could spread my writing ink and fly my words to 80 or so households.
Then came babies, a business, and a blog. I wrote for work for a long time, and ran out of words for my life, so pictures spoke the quota for me.
And that’s where we ended up with the “Family Pictures”. They had become the thing to do, and if you had a family, an unspoken must. So with dreams of a very happy family in any pose Christmas picture, we hired a fantastic photographer I knew from working, and had ourselves a photo shoot.
Let me take you through Photo Shoot #1: 2010 September
Out on my parents property, in the middle of a wheat field. We were fitting in the shoot between schedules and the perfect sunlight. It was hot. I was impatient and cranky. We were all itchy from the heat, the wheat and the weeds. Mark was late. The boys did not want a part of this. But eventually, our photographer got their attention and somehow, someway, miraculously, she managed to capture a CD full of gorgeous shots. My favorite part is the looks on the boys faces. Their mischief and personalities can never be photoshopped.
Photo Shoot #2: 2012/October
Two years later, and later in the fall. I’d procrastinated and it was into October before our photographer could come to our house to do a shoot. We look pretty great, but I can assure you, we started out just the same as the shoot before: Me, cranky and stressed, boys uncoorperative, and a new wrinkle, a dog. Again, though, our photographer soon had the boys under her spell, got real smiles out of us all, and went on to deliver us another precious CD full of beautiful pics. I love seeing my boys faces of two years ago, and how she caught their unique indentities again.
I’m not saying I don’t like sending them. I’m not saying it isn’t worth the effort and time and cost. It is one of the best parts of the season, sharing our lives with the people in our Christmas address book, which is comprised of family and friends and neighbors from 18 years of Decembers. Crossed out, written over, and added to names and addresses that tell us where we were then, and where we all are now.
I guess that over the years it has been the expectations in my head, and the pressure I’ve put on myself that has made it harder each year. How do I condense a year (a year!) full of our family into several paragraphs, or a spread of pictures? What am I trying to say anyway?
I wish I’d booked our photographer for this year, being two years after our last session. But, I didn’t. So, I will piece together, the best I can, with pictures and words all the things I want to show you, and tell you, and share with you about our life in the past twelve months.
It won’t be everything, not the ugly and the boring, the daily and the routine. I won’t tell about what really happened, the pains and tears, the silly and the proud, or the words said or left unsaid. Whatever Christmas greeting I send from my home to yours, just know that it’s a snapshot of us, a family doing their best to live and love in this crazy world, who for an instant captured the truth of it all in a photograph.