My Favorite Picture

I actually have many pictures that would fall into the “favorite” category.  Pictures of the Boy sitting on top of rocks, his legs partially crossed, his face serious and contemplative.  Pictures of the Girl climbing over the couch, chocolate ringing her glorious grin.

A picture of Pat and me at our wedding, during the recessional.  My dress has flared out behind me and, for a moment, I really am a bit of a princess.  On Pat’s shoulders, the shadows of the leaves dapple his back, and roses are everywhere.

But my favorite picture is the one used as the “Featured Image” for this post.  It’s back in 2005, and my children and I are visiting my parents in Germany.  This is the apartment we lived in when we moved back to Germany when I was a senior in high school.  This is the apartment where I listened to the radio when the Berlin Wall came down.  This is the apartment where I cooked Christmas cookies and took on more of an adult role in my parents’ lives.

My daughter is just over one.  My son is four.  And I am on the other side of the worst year of my life.  Pictures of me from the last year always have an edge of sadness, the shadows in my eyes are indecipherable to everyone.

But I see them.  Every time.  I see the hints of darkness in the corners of my smile, in the way my shoulders slightly droop.  And I held my sadness within me, swallowed so much of the grief and clung to any source of normalcy that might be feasible.

And then, school ended and my children and I boarded an airplane and I went home for the first time in over five years.  I hadn’t been back to Germany since a Christmas vacation during my first year of teaching in a totally different county.  And I missed home.  I missed the mountains that are on all the home pages of all the different websites I have created.  I missed the quiet, “Whisper Train” that travelled just behind my parents’ back yard.

I missed the echoing of the church bells, the chiming of the cow bells when they were in the alms (meadows), the shrill whistler of the Zugspitzbahn.

I haven’t been home in almost seven years, and I still dream about being on the train, coming into the valley.  If I crane my head into the high corner of the window, I can see the mountains at the edge of the valley and I stare at them hungrily, dreaming in a dream that I will arrive soon.  And, as always, the mountains recede.  The train breaks down.  I get off on the wrong stop.  I don’t go home.

But in this picture, I am home.  I am wearing my soft, cottony pajamas and a black shirt that hid my pudge.  My beautiful and wonderful father is lying on his side, likely making silly faces or silly noises at my children.  And they are laughing, brilliant, incredible laughter.

This is unadulterated, unabridged joy.  This is happiness that holds no censorship or boundaries or fears.  

This is love.

My mom is on the other side of the camera, and I am thankful that she didn’t catch our faces perfectly.  She caught our laughter, though.

I love how we are all touching one another.  My son is resting his hands on my father.  My daughter has her hands on my leg.

We are all looking at one another.

We are all smiling at one another.

The huge table in the living room was a table my mom built so she could have a place to do puzzles.  I must have inherited her love of puzzles because, today, I finished my third in the Thomas Kinkade Disney puzzle series.

On Mom’s table, in the picture, are alphabet reading books as I have been teaching my son his alphabet to prepare him for school.  During that year of sadness, I poured my grief into nurturing my son, into trying to do anything to give something to him that could numb my sadness and give me a sense of construction during the months of destruction.

But when the Boy and I weren’t doing alphabet and reading exercises, the Girl was literally climbing on top of the table.  She was learning to walk and would initially pull herself up using the table.  However, true to her nature, she has no fear, no anxiety, and she found that the table was a perfect place to see the world from new perspectives.

Initially, I was frantic at this new game of hers.  After exorcising the anxiety that she was going to fall and hurt herself, I fretted that I was going to upset mom, break something.

Instead, Mom joyfully encouraged the Girl’s exploration, loved how the Girl would climb up on the table, swim around for a moment, climb off, and then repeat the process.

I love this picture because I can see that I am absolutely comfortable, absolutely sure of everything that is happening.  Within that picture, the anxieties have been quelled, the insecurities silenced.  For that moment, I was not questioning everything or doing long-range planning only for those plans to be destroyed and I frantically grab more paper and do budgets and look at houses and wonder what the future is going to hold.

This is the relationship that I still have with my parents.  As I was writing this, my mother FaceTimed me and I told her about the blog and the picture that was the inspiration for today’s piece.  And as I described it to her, her face relaxed into a lovely smile and she told me about how she had spent the day perusing the scrapbooks that she had been creating since she and my father had been dating.  I feel a bit self-centered that I had no idea these books were even in existence.

Mom told me about how when she reaches the point where her brain is “mush” or that she has died, she wants me to take the books and read them.  And then I can “trash” them if I want.

I can’t imagine throwing away my parents’ past.  Because as I peel back the years and see more and more of what is truly important, I keep on super-imposing my favorite picture over the fleeting past and the sprinting days of the future and see that the joy I felt then is the joy I still feel.  Was feeling moments ago as my dad told me he loved me.

Was feeling when my mom smiled at me and shared with me her day.

We are still laughing at one another, still touching one another, still finding ways to make one another laugh.  And even as my children grow up and eventually move out of my home, I know that someday, I will tell them the story of this picture, will let them read my parents’ un-trashed scrapbooks, and will take pictures of them with their children (if they choose to have any), and the stories will continue.

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