Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Here, Now, and Everything In Between (Our 2015 Family Portrait)

 This was the first picture Alec took of us.

This picture was take about five minutes later.

Just a few minutes transpired between those two pictures.  But a lot happened.

In the first picture we're just starting our family portrait session, this year under the light of the full moon, as suggested by my genius friend Alec Miller.  Alec asked Grant to put his arm around me and hold on to Audrey's arm behind me.

You might think that simple act of holding on to his sister's arm behind me would not cause a fight.  

But shortly after Grant began "holding" Audrey's arm behind me, Audrey began crying, "Mom he's tugging on my arm!  It really hurts!  Tell him to stop it!"

This went on and on on and on until finally I asked Alec for a time out.

He pretended to check the settings on his equipment while I tried to moderate the latest Gao family melee.  It was a hard one to referee because I had so little information.

I don't know what had been happening behind my back, whether Grant was holding Audrey's arm or tugging on it.

I don't know how much tugging it takes before you experience actual physical pain.

I don't know if that's a good reason to scream.

I don't know what good mothers do in situations like this.

All I can do is tell you what I did.

"Guys, come on.  Alec is here and the moon is out and this is our chance to take some nice family pictures.  But they're not going to look good if you keep up all this fussing.  Please just, stop it."

"But he was tugging on my arm!"

"I was not tugging on her arm!  She's lying!"

"Mom, he always does this to you!  He thinks if he can yell louder than me then you'll believe him!"

At this point I seriously considered calling the photo shoot off.  I hate it when they bicker like this, and I hate how completely unequipped I am to deal with it.

"I don't even care what happened.  Just please, stop it.  Just stop it, both of you.  Just stop it.  Please.  Let's take some pictures.  Please.  Just stop it."

An angry silence seemed to drift down out of the sky itself.  It covered us like the moonlight and although it didn't give us peace, it did give us quiet.  I told Alec we were ready to resume.  That's when he took the second picture.  In it, you can tell there is a lot on our minds.

I'm looking off to the side, not smiling.  I'm thinking about the squabble that had just happened.  I was thinking about how often my children argue, and how often I get dragged down into it.  And how much I hate all of that.

I was also frustrated with myself for not being able to settle their arguments better.  That argument ended badly.  We didn't agree on anything, we just decided to keep moving forward.  We had not signed a peace treaty, instead we had merely negotiated a temporary ceasefire.  We had drawn the 38th parallel down the middle of us, and went back to our photo session.

In that second picture you'll see that even my soul sister the moon is allowing herself a celestial scowl.

I asked Audrey what she was thinking in that picture.  She told me, and then quickly added, "Don't put that in your blog."

She knows me well, my firstborn.  She knows me well. 

Grant says he can't remember what he was thinking, but he thinks it had something to do with extraterrestrial life.  As Alec was setting up his equipment, he and Grant had been talking about SETI and the possibility that we are not alone in this universe.  It was perhaps the first time Grant had considered that there is other life out there among the stars, and he was intensely curious.

"Oh no, now I don't know what to do with my life," he lamented as we took that second picture.  He was talking to me although, as you can tell from the picture, his back was to me.  "I've always thought I wanted to be an archaeologist but now I think I want to look for life in outer space." 

Still soaked in the milky moonlight silence, I wasn't able to articulate a response at the moment.  But this is what went through my head. 

Do both, my son.  Do both.  Dig into the earth to discover our past, and reach into the universe to find our future.  I know that you have the power to achieve both of those things in one lifetime.  I held you in my body while God forged you out of steel and holy thunder, and I know that you have the power to do both.

It has been said that all of us have a solar personality and a lunar one.  Our solar personality is the one we present to the world.   It is the one we want people to see.  The way we want to be known.

The epitaph,

the stage name,

the filter we apply before posting. 

Our lunar personality is who we truly are.  It is what we do when we think no one is looking.

The Freudian slip,

the facial tick,

the fearful walk through the dark parking lot when only a lonely security camera was there to observe us.

And if that's true, I guess these moon portraits are who my kids and I really are.

We are war and we are peace, and we are a frosty stalemate.

We are a smile in the sunlight, and we are a scowl in the twilight.

A loving shoulder to lean on, and the iron-vise grip on your arm that makes you scream.

We are the past, buried deep within the earth underneath centuries of ash and dust.  And we are the future, floating somewhere far beyond our reach, in a place we haven't even thought to look yet.

I guess in the end, we are here.  

And we are now.  

And we are everything in between.   

I love us this way. 


Alec Miller said...

This was wonderful to read. Thank you for telling this story. As a photographer for families I run into this a lot. I always see the photo different but it is great to get into our thoughts and see it play differently. And families do need their private moments whether they are home, in a restaurant or about to say "family" in their own special way while in front of a camera. This was great!

Melanie Gao said...

Thank you Alec for being the kind of photographer and friend who can see us as we really are and capture it in a picture. You're really something special.