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Picture Perfect

Brooke Williams

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Brooke Williams' perfect shot of her son Conrad
(Brooke Williams)
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Holiday cards are stuffing mailboxes around the country. If you're short on time or words, why not send a picture? We hear they're worth something like a thousand words. Ah yes, the family photo. Round up the kids and head to the photographer; or better yet, cheer on dad as he runs from behind the tripod, sets the timer, and tries to sit down and smile before the camera flashes. Brooke Williams spent her youth posing for her family's annual photo. And it was excruciating.


Even at the tender age of six, it felt fake. Why was my mother forcing our family to wear matching outfits, intertwine our arms and look happy for a photo she sent every December to a bunch of people I didn't know?

Each year it got harder for my mother to coerce us into this strange ritual that always took place at the height of fall foliage so our earth-toned sweaters would coordinate with the trees.

From 1976 to 1982, I retaliated by not brushing my hair for the picture. At 13, I changed tactics, spending hours feathering my Dorothy Hamill cut, but then refusing to smile.

The year my brother was strangely cooperative, it turned out he was preparing to moon the photographer.

Making my child pose for a holiday card was something I would never do. But a week after I gave birth to my son Conrad, there I was propping his swaddled body under the tree, trying to capture a moment that was a cross between "Unto you a child is born" and "Look what Santa brought."

In 2006, at age two, my son transformed into a moving, leaping, growling target. Capturing just the right photo became a real challenge. Weekend excursions picking apples and hiking became extended photo shoots.

But no matter how many pictures I took, the right image continued to elude me.

As the days before the holiday dwindled, I started stalking my son like a member of the paparazzi. The afternoon he smeared cottage cheese on his chin, I saw the photograph. Throwing a Santa hat on his head to accentuate his cheesy white beard, I grabbed my camera and started clicking.

After the euphoria of nailing a great shot with a seasonal twist subsided, a wave of angst followed.

Had I crossed the line?

Until the moment I picked up the Santa hat, I refused to believe I had become my mother even though my husband had started calling me by her name every time I snapped a photograph.

Only my other mommy friends understood. It was downright stressful and nearly impossible to capture everything you loved about your child in one photograph, we commiserated. But still we had to try.

I vowed to start earlier in 2007. But when December rolled around again, I was empty-handed, so I just gave up.

Not sending a holiday card was liberating, until I developed a random roll of film and discovered that I'd taken the perfect shot: Conrad perched barefoot atop a rock, his impish smile and spirit illuminated in the setting sun. He was even wearing a hand-knit Irish sweater for crying out loud.

I'd been robbed. Here was my photo. Was it too late? So what if it was January. I could call it a New Year's card, a Columbus Day card, a Valentines Day card. Couldn't I?

This year, I am back in the game, working against the clock as usual. Now that I'm a mother of two, I didn't realize how easy I had it before.

  • Music Bridge:
    Little Dance
    Artist: Tom Verlaine
    CD: Warm And Cool (Thrill Jockey)


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Tien (Le) San Lucas

    From Houston, TX, 11/11/2010

    I loved reading this. It captured the challenges and humor behind finding the perfect holiday card picture. I am not sure why we stress over it so much, but I think we will look back and laugh one day. I especially love the ending!

    By Patricia Wolfenden

    From Winter Park, FL, 01/10/2009

    Brooke, I laughed out loud -- and not just because I know your mother! Your writing is fresh and vivid; I have enjoyed both pieces you've done for Weekend America and hope to see more.

    By M Beck

    From FL, 12/21/2008

    I heard this on the radio and HAD to look at the slideshow. I thought your brother would have been 10 or so when he mooned the camera. The actual pic made me laugh harder, seeing that he was a teen!

    By Rebecca Strupeck

    From Flossmoor, IL, 12/21/2008

    VERY FUNNY! Yes, Brooke! We DO become our mothers!My own children SWEAR I would line ALL 4 up by: age, size, eye color, hair color, shoe size, THEN....girls only, boys only ALL OVER AGAIN! Somewhere in there at least 1 picture turned out presentable. AH, the joys of capturing moments on film! And I now have 5,000 pictures to prove it! And so might YOU!!!
    Becky Strupeck

    By louise burke

    From West Orange, NJ, 12/20/2008

    I alternately laughed and cried as I read the article -- brought back memories of trying to capture my own children in just the picture perfect pose. Ms. Williams is an incredibly talented writer -- she captures the moment with incredible almost poetic writing.

    By Julie Stolar

    From Wooster, OH, 12/20/2008

    Heart warming memories that I wish I had of my childhood. But thankfully I am NOT my mother.

    By Susan Shade

    From Decatur, IL, 12/20/2008

    This story is priceless. And, whether we like it or not, we DO become our mothers.

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