My three kids were hellions.
Not just bad, but rebelliously awful, not listening, not behaving, letting all of their care-free tendencies fly, splashing each other in the tidewater of the Gulf Coast. The white sundresses that my daughters wore were splattered with wet spots from the waves, the white ribbons in their hair fluttering in the wind as they ran down the beach. My son, in shorts, thought it would be fun to throw sand — in the face of our photographer.
Family photos can often be stressful.
But having family photos done with extended family, including five young children past dinner time when no one has had a nap — is a very bad idea.
I should have known better. I should have known that the photo shoot was heading south during the first five minutes, when our 3-year-old refused to look at the camera and our oldest daughter and son kept trying to pinch one another. I grinned, trying to make the best of it, while my husband’s short patience for such things quickly wore out.
One child tried, unsuccessfully, to push his sister off a dock. Another child became terrified that there were alligators in the water. And I felt like giving up, because no matter how much I told my kids not to do this or that or to listen and behave, it went in one ear and out the other.
It was the worst photo session ever. No amount of profuse apologizing could make up for the photographer’s witnessing, up close and personal, how chaotic my family really is.
As we finished the photo session last month, we had planned to go out for a nice family dinner afterward. But with the kids wet down to their underwear from playing in the waves, with sand in their hair and my nerves shot, we decided to order pizza, open a bottle of wine for the parents and stay in instead. I didn’t have patience for anything else.
Luckily, we spent the next few days sitting poolside, watching our kids swim and play pool games, or on the beach building sand castles. My middle child finally learned how to swim on his own, and got quite good at it. It often rained in the afternoons, giving us a perfect respite from the sun right around naptime. In the evenings, after dinner and an evening swim, we rode bikes with the kids around the planned community where we had rented a beach house.
Thankfully, the rest of our Labor Day beach trip all but made up for the awful beach photo session from our first day in Florida. The pictures didn’t matter, I told myself, or the small fortune I had paid for the photo shoot.
But then, a couple weeks ago, we got the photos back. And they were breathtaking.
When I was stressing over my girls getting their dresses wet, the photos showed their glee of splashing in the tide pools, sinking their toes in the sand. While I worried they were acting like hellions, running down the beach, the photographer’s camera caught them, mid-run, laughing, their hair and bows being blown by the wind.
The photographer caught their playfulness, their smiles, their carefree attitudes in a way that is beautiful. The photos document how I see my children day-to-day — when I’m not so stressed about their behavior — at home.
There was a beauty in that photo session at the beach, the sand, the water, the gorgeous sunset, that I completely missed, because I was too worried about other things. As I look back on those images now, I hope it will serve as a reminder to me that sometimes, it’s best to let go, to be more carefree. Sometimes, it’s better to just see the beauty in the moment.
I’ve been thinking about that beach trip a lot lately, as the area we vacationed in was recently hit by Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone on the Florida Gulf Coast.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.