When we were waiting for Petunia, I used to dream of having a feisty child. When you work on becoming a parent for years, you tend to dream of what parenting is going to be like. You spend lots of time thinking about the cool outings you’ll take with your kids hiking or to outdoor concerts, the adorable clothes you’ll dress them in, and the books you’ll read together. (For the record, Petunia is not yet a Little House on the Prairie fan, but I have my fingers crossed for Harry Potter.) But you really don’t bother spending time thinking about how your child will take their adorable feistiness and use it to spoil your best laid plans.
I wouldn’t wish any of the precociousness away from my little Sassafras. But there are times, like the photo session I booked weeks in advance, when a little less feistiness would be appreciated. I worked all day to select outfits, tie up loose ends, and pack for our out-of-town trip. I picked Petunia up from school and we swung by Amp’s work to pick him up. From there we travelled an hour and a half to the rural farm where the session was located, only to have Petunia balk at the chosen clothes, and insist on brushing her hair in a style that can only be classified as unique.
Booking the photos at the end of a busy week is probably not the smartest move I’ve ever made. Nor was promising a fun evening with friends once it was over, because all Petunia could do was fixate on the Halloween carnival to come. She saw the photos as the only thing between her and a good time with her friends.
I had a choice to make: stick to my vision of how I wanted things to go—and risk a tantrum—or go with the flow. Tantrums are rare but not unheard of these days, and the package was pre-paid, so I decided imperfect photos were better than no photos at all.
Now as I see the other advertisement-worthy photo sessions come up on Facebook, I live in fear of what ours will look like. I had dreamed of a photo representing our familial bliss. You know the ones—with everyone dressed in complimentary colors, laughing, and looking like there is nowhere they’d rather be, than right there, taking photos together. Instead, I fear it will be more in the vein of Awkward Family Photos. I envision Petunia with her new hair style. I stand with a forced smile on my face, the tendons in my neck popping out. Amp is sweating, because, with visions of holiday photos dancing in my head, I convinced him to wear a cashmere sweater on what turned out to be a record-setting fall, 80-degree day.
I have heard countless parents of Chinese girls refer to their daughters as “spicy girls,” explaining their region in China is known for strong-willed women. Petunia certainly qualifies. But I also think our children have had such an eventful life before they reach us, that surely they must all be strong-willed to come through with feistiness in-tact.
When I look back on these photos, I won’t see the idyllic family of my pre-parenting dreams. My hope is that I will also not see a battle lost, but rather a real, imperfect family, who loved each other enough to sit there and grin, even when we would have preferred to be doing just about anything else. I’m already composing the story in my head that I will tell Petunia’s future boyfriend/spouse/child about my own spicy girl, and how she knew what she wanted even at an early age—and how we wouldn’t have it any other way.