I am pretty sure that my sheer existence embarrasses my oldest child. This has pretty much been the case since, oh I don’t know, he was born. It doesn’t come so much from being a teenager, but the fact that he doesn’t like that I don’t mind one bit to embarrass myself in front of a crowd of people.
He prefers not to be seen with me, and I’m not offended. He shrinks away if I so much as touch him, and God forbid I try to give the kid a hug. (I wouldn’t do that to him in public).
One day, so far back I don’t even remember when it was, he was in the midst of an especially strong case of embarrassment issues. We were on a trip somewhere. I am guessing I had been merrily skipping along or something equally mortifying (to him), and I just couldn’t help but make it worse. I asked him to take a picture with me.
Did I mention he also prefers not to have his picture taken? Oh, how he hates a selfie.
There was a lot of protesting and growling.
“Please?” I said, “Just one picture.”
I got the look, but he did agree to pose with me. Then he stood so far away that I couldn’t get us both in the frame.
“You have to stand closer,” I said.
“Please hurry up,” he said, “Take the picture!”
“I can’t take the picture until you are in the frame.”
He inched closer, and I put my arm around his shoulder and pulled him in.
He pulled away, but stayed in the frame.
“People are watching. Take the picture!” he said.
“You’re not smiling,” I said. “You have to smile.”
He forced a smile that looked more like a scowl.
“That’s not a real smile,” I said.
“MOM!” he whisper-screamed, “TAKE THE PICTURE!”
“SMILE!” I whisper-screamed back.
After about ten attempts, I had a picture of us together in which we appeared to be happy and there was no evidence of the aforementioned whisper-screaming.
And from that day on, it became our thing. To begin with, it was a funny thing where he protested, and I was dramatic, and he complained and I insisted. But somehow along the way, it became a tradition.
We have lots pictures from our trips with all sorts of combinations of family members, but you can be sure there will always be at least one of just me and Dylan, wherever we go. This summer it was me and Dylan at Mount Rushmore. Me and Dylan at a badlands overlook. Me and Dylan in front of a statue of President Eisenhower.
Most of the time, he smiles. On very rare occasions, you can see teeth.
This weekend, in honor of his thirteenth birthday, he and his dad went to New York City and saw the FDR Presidential Museum in Hyde Park.
He called me just a few hours after he’d left to tell me he’d just seen the Empire State Building, and while I was so excited he would be seeing awesome things, and happy because I knew it was a trip he would always remember, I was also sad because I wasn’t there with him.
I would love to have taken a picture with him at Times Square. And another in front of the shawarma place he found, because shawarma! And oh, with the statue of FDR, because then we could have started a presidential statue selfie collection.
It’s not about the pictures, though. It’s about sharing the experience.
I wanted to see him see New York City.
As I was looking at the photos they were sending back and getting tidbits about their trip, it occurred to me. This must be what it feels like when you’re really no longer in the picture — when your kids grow up and do their own thing and your little family is no longer the center of their world. When they go to college, travel, start their own families. When you become more of a spectator, and less a participant in their experiences.
Our silly selfie collection is an ongoing joke, but those pictures are meaningful to me and even moreso after this weekend. We have a lot of fun, and much of it is recorded in those photos.
Dylan may be a little embarrassed by me, but he still likes it when we do things together. I am so thankful for that.
With kids, you’re only in the picture — really in the picture — for a short time, and I am going to enjoy every minute of it that I can.