I was working on a recent freelance project and it involved digging around under my bed and finding an old photo. As I shuffled through boxes, I found a stack of Polaroids that I took when I was 11 years old. And that’s where I found this jewel. It was also timely and eerie, as I had just unknowingly reenacted almost exactly the same scenario some 26 years later.
That’s my youngest sister, Rachel, sitting in my mom’s lap like a pleasant baby Buddha. My middle sister, Rebecca, is cropped out of the frame because apparently I was holding a grudge against her that day and she was dead to me. Probably because she wrote her name over and over on the first ten pages of my favorite Romona Quimby book.
Who am I kidding. That grudge still holds.
I remember being distinctly disappointed that my mother would not let me take her picture. I thought she was being a super bad sport and not being very supportive of my photography goals.
But there she is. My mom. She probably hadn’t bathed. Or been out of the house. She’d probably gotten a dozen glasses of water, and cleaned a dozen diapers, and wanted desperately to run screaming down the street. And when I came around with my Polaroid camera, she did what any of us would do. She grabbed the nearest object, held it in front of her non-washed-non-toothbrushed-non-makeup face so that her state of drudge wasn’t captured for immortal posterity.
As I examined this photo, my heart twisted in a feeling of complete comradeship because I, like her, had not brushed my teeth or washed my hair that day. I’d drug out a handful of gigantic dust bunnies when I disturbed the photo bins under the bed, and those things were the size of small kittens as they threw shade on my housekeeping skills. There was nothing to cook for dinner, and I hadn’t gotten out of yoga pants for a full week. Not only that, but Jane’s deflating birthday balloons were floating around the house and tripping me, that is, when Jane wasn’t using them to try and rub static in my hair.
Jane has also developed a penchant for photography, which entails her stealing my phone and taking random selfies of her dolls, herself, herself with her dolls, and me at my absolute worst “underneath the chin” angles.
I remember a movie where Bette Middler screamed “NEVER FROM THE LEFT” at photographers and somehow, now, monitoring the angles with which I am photographed seems much less diva and much more wise.
All that to say, Jane was snapping away, and my only defense was a nearby birthday balloon. So like mother, like daughter, I shielded myself as best I knew how.
But as Jane kept snapping and laughing and yelling “but your face isn’t too bad today” I realized that I don’t really care that much. And my own mom really didn’t care that much. It’s no secret that the reality of most of our faces bears no similarities to the make-up-filtered ones we put on Instagram. But some days all we can do is silent protest with a balloon and then wait until we’re alone so we can shove some chocolate in our faces without being asked by someone who’s voice sounds like just a chipmunk on helium, “CAN I HAVE SOME TOO?”
I wanted to call and apologize to my mom all over again. Everyone jokes about their crazy mothers. I think that’s fairly universal, but truthfully, there is no way to become a parent and retain full sanity. It leaks out of your ears like dribbles of rational thought fleeing a demilitarized zone. And you’re just this person who used to go out for drinks and wear nice clothes but now you just wipe noses, or butts, or hands, and find yourself embroiled in an argument about whether broccoli is really just tiny fairy trees that bad men chop down.
I wouldn’t trade being a mother for anything on the face of this earth. But there’s no way I’m getting out of this with full sanity.
Then, as I continued my search, I found this jewel. We were in Eureka Springs, perched on a park bench and trying to eat a snack. My dad and mom were wearing matching shirts (theoretically so we could find them in a crowd), and their faces say two different things.
Mom: “I’m only here in body form, but I’ll smile anyway.”
Dad: “Can I please just eat one last meal without that Polaroid in my face while sweat rolls down my back and can I just die now thanks.”
Oh parents. I am so sorry. I am so sorry that we aged you and exhausted you and stressed you, and still, somehow, you managed not to kill us. Despite the baby-pack-sweaty-vacations and the balloon-face afternoons, we’re all still here and functioning and alive.
It gives me hope, as I type this and have a very sweaty strange bun on top of my head (growing out short hair is the pits), and I’m not sure whether I’ve shaved my legs in at least a week But I feel like I’ll make it. As I type this and wish for a magical house elf to prepare dinner, and ponder garnering the energy to finish out the 11th chapter on a writing project that never seems to end, and then sit down at the coffee table to muster the proper enthusiasm for homework and maybe, if I’m still conscious, a fairy-art project, I know that everyone in this apartment is going to get out of this week alive. And that’s called success.
Even if it requires less-than flattering photos and balloon-face maneuvers.