Here it is, friends—the money shot. The kids are million-dollar smiling. The lighting is perfect—their faces are crisp, the background is perfectly faded. These are my glorious angels—I share it on Facebook and people can see their halos glowing. My friends see, and they imagine our walk through the crunchy leaves. Their bliss as they enjoy each other on this beautiful day. Their leaning into each other and posing and giggling. The shot says it all—we have it together. We are happy. This is our life.


And now the truth: This was our life, yes. For one click—as fast as the shutter opened and closed—that was the frame of time of our bliss and joy, which is now frozen in time forever. It is on our Facebook. It is here. It is on our mantle. And when my sister sent me the photos from that day, it was a total and complete surprise.

Here is how I remember it: like real life. They were not in the mood for a photo shoot that day. Wally spent his time wandering, looking for sticks for his “stick collection.” “You don’t have a stick collection, Wally,” I’d say. “Yes I do,” he’d say, holding up his pile of sticks as proof. I looked around. The leaves that day were beautiful. Apparently Vivvi thought so too, rolling around in the leaves and dirt to hear their crunches extra close. The kids wanted to be doing everything but standing still and smiling. (Now that I write it, I think, does that ever sound fun to anyone?)

My sister is an amateur photographer—or better sounding and more accurate, she is my personal photographer. When she had kids, she felt inspired to have good photos. And like the scrappy, fearless person she is, she purchased a fancy camera, took a few how-to classes, and came out on the other side as the best non-paid taker of pictures I know. She is so good that, for every birthday party I’ve had, I call her sometime the week (or hour) before and claim that my photographer had to cancel last minute because he came down with a flesh eating virus or he was called by the Kardashians to photograph their latest baby’s birth, etc., and I know it’s a long shot, but is she free and can we hire her? In our schtick, she is always, thankfully, free.

We try to take pictures of our kids in some beautiful setting twice a year, because from 6 months to the next, they can go from this to this.


Like any parent who has gone on a quest for photos, we come armed with copious amounts of gummies and M&Ms and bribes of Happy Meals and horrible, outlandish threats. I say a lot of “If you smile, you can have a gummy,” and “Smile now,” and “Damnit, just pretend your happy for one second,” and “If you don’t smile now I’m taking all of your toys away and sending them to the kids without the toys who would be more than happy to smile for just one nice picture.”

Of course, none of this works, so we make fart noises and cement the deal with a few “Boo boo butts” and “Professor Poopypants,” and that is usually where our best shots come from. Once we think we got a good one, we say the phrase every kid who has smiled like they were told to loves to hear—a phrase that we will probably repeat 30 times while we are there: “Good, now just one more…”

My sister and I usually rate the experience on a sliding scale of stab-me-with-a-fork-please painful to pluck-a-stray-eyebrow painful—we rarely get above that. But, because she is good at what she does, we end up with photos like this, so it is so worth it. I’ll take an hour of stub-your-already-stubbed-toe painful for just one of these on my wall.

And whenever I look at that photo, I will be glad. Because I will think of my memory of that day, which looked more like this.

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And it will remind me that every day, they are getting older. Every day, even those days when I only see and feel the muck of the process of growing, there are moments of joy. Moments of joy that can be caught in one click. Moments of joy that I too often miss.