Meet Tommy. He’s not going to sit nice for your photo. He doesn’t give a shit how much you want him to. You can beg for “Just ONE nice Christmas photo of aaaaall the cousins around the goddamned Christmas tree fortheloveofGOD!” But you’ll only be causing a scene. And maybe launching flecks of spittle everywhere. Like they do at Shakespeare plays. Ever see that?
Tommy won’t do it. Don’t get me wrong; he’ll be in photos. It’s not like he’s afraid of the camera stealing his soul or anything. But if he’s going to be prodded into a staged photo and placed like a prop in some future idea of a scrapbook entry—one of those posed “look-where-the-family-visited” shots—then expect him to give the camera HELL. Scorching, unrelenting, apocalyptic HELL.
Tommy is my nephew and I love him dearly. The fact that he won’t sit nice for photos is one of the things I love most about him. Maybe I’m biased. Jill and I don’t opt for posed portraits. Or shots that try to create a memory instead of capturing a moment. Most of the photos in my family, of my kids, are candid shots. It’s strictly a taste thing. Well, that and we are abysmal at planning anything (is that the correct use of abysmal? This blog has no proofreader or editor or any quality control). So if it’s something we need to prepare for—the right dressy clothes or everyone all at the same party together—then you can count us out. You’re better off investing your time and energy into building a time machine to go back in time to find the younger versions of me and Jill and toss us into individual therapy sessions until we got our shit together. Until then, our kids will wear mismatched socks and Minecraft t-shirts to the holiest of family gatherings. Which brings us back to candid photos and how it’s good for us that we’d rather catch real moments as they happen. Seeing as how we really don’t have a choice.
Besides, candid pics are easier than ever for most people. Because everyone has cameras in their phones and phones grafted to their hands.
But I also love that stubbornness in Tommy because that’s his spirit coming through. His will. His personality. And it’s heavy on the authenticity. If you want to have shots of him without the HELL, then they’re going to have to be on his terms. They won’t be any moments you picked. They will be things he wants to document and showcase and remember. The things he’s proud of. His childish treasures and triumphs. Mostly, he wants to see that proud person behind the camera, the one who wants to share his moment of glory. And when he’s ready for his close up, he dazzles. He gives you his all, the true 100% Tommy.
I’m not blaming his parents for wanting those posed shots. That group all facing forward in their best clothes and smiles. It will be nice to look back in 10 years and have everyone represented and say “we were all there.” But it’s better to say we are all here. And live here. Now. Together.
These are the lessons that I can steal from other parents. Being a proud uncle can help me be a better dad. So in those moments when my kids won’t cooperate, I can try to remember what Tommy has taught me. To let kids and moments unfold as they will.