My wife typically has a very easygoing and amiable personality except for that one day every year guaranteed to spark her ire: Christmas Photo Day. I dread it for months. So do our boys. Forced smiles and matching shirts are bad enough. What’s worse is the sheer humiliation of knowing that the family Christmas card with said photo will be mailed to family and friends and thus subject to the scrutiny and scorn of countless peers.
Still, moms can be relentless about this sort of thing.
One morning last week, Diana was already scowling at breakfast, preparing for a fight. “I put out their damn clothes,” she said. “They better come down properly dressed.” We had a rare opportunity to get this arduous job done. All three of our boys were home. The sun was shining. The sartorial theme had been decided: plaid shirts and khaki pants.
I suddenly had a crushing headache caused by a flood of memories from my childhood. My mother had meticulously decorated the stair’s railings and banister with a garland of greenery, mistletoe, and tinsel. My father was fussing with the camera and tripod. My brothers and I were instructed to line up on the staircase, oldest to youngest, and try to look jolly.
That last requirement seemed too much to ask one year. I was wearing the goofiest sweater ever to grace the racks at JCPenny, a find that horrified me but delighted my mom. My neck itched and I was breaking out in a rash. I’d outgrown my pants so I was walking stiffly like a robot to avoid creating a wedgie.
Meanwhile, my middle brother was lobbing threats at my parents. “I hate this shirt!” he howled. “I’m not going to wear it!” My youngest brother, sensing an opportunity to score some points with the parents while also making his brothers look bad, came downstairs with a big smile, his hair perfectly combed.
“Adorable!” my mother gushed, which prompted me to give him a jab in the ribs. The little monster flew into hysterics and suddenly we were pushing, shoving, yelling, and being yelled at by our parents. What a fracas!
Oddly, once we’d been threatened with the cancellation of Christmas, we managed to pull it together to take the perfect photo. My mom framed it and it hung in the living room for years. The only thing missing from the photo – a detail I suddenly remembered last week – was the glass of brandy my father had poured for himself as a reward after pulling off that feat.
“Are you with me here, Jay?” Diana called sharply from the living room.
My wife’s question startled me. Absolutely not, I thought, I’m trying to recover from PTSD. I could hear our boys upstairs trading barbs. “Shut-up” and “you’re an idiot” and other insults filled the air. “Mom, my pants don’t fit,” hollered Robbie.” “This is so stupid” huffed Cade. “I’m not doing this,” Collin protested.
My Dad had the right idea, I decided. I was in the kitchen pouring myself a finger of bourbon just as my wife rounded the corner. “What do you think you’re doing?” she fumed.
Our boys pushed, shoved, and elbowed each other just like my brothers and I did forty years ago. They moaned, bickered, complained, and finally smiled. I managed to get the perfect picture. “That was fun,” I said brightly to Diana. She took one look at the empty bourbon glass and raised an eyebrow. Next year, I figure, she might even pour one for herself.
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