Every year we do our family portrait in front of our tree for our Christmas card. In our family there are very few opportunities for family traditions. We never know if Stephen will tolerate certain situations or be able to participate in the same traditions year after year without getting upset. Our family portrait in front of our tree has become one of the few traditions we have that Stephen has been able to be a part of which is why it is so special. And we look forward to it every year. It's one of the few times we get to do something that "normal" families do.
Now I know that getting that perfect photo with the any kids, special needs or not, is no easy feat. But maybe because we are able to get that perfect shot year after year, despite extra special circumstances that Stephen's Autism presents, makes us feel a huge sense of pride. Our "perfect" family portrait also represents how we have managed to thrive and be such a loving family in the face of all our challenges.
Here are some of our past family portraits-
We have different techniques for coaxing a smile out of Stephen for these photos. It's not that he doesn't smile spontaneously on his own. He smiles all the time. He just doesn't smile on cue. He is not capable of a fake smile. When Stephen smiles it is completely genuine. So I always feel a little weird trying to get him to smile for our family portrait. We have tickled him, put the camera right in front of the tv with a show that he likes on, sang silly songs and acted goofy, etc. Even though we are doing things to get him to smile, make no mistake, it is still a genuine smile. When he smiles it is because he is really happy or excited.
Well, this year we just couldn't make it happen. Either Olivia, Pat and I would be smiling and looking at the camera and Stephen would be looking very unhappy, had his eyes closed, etc. or Stephen would be looking right at the camera and we would all be out of focus. We took as many family portrait photos as he would tolerate in front of the tree and figured we could work with at least one of them. I went to Walmart.com to make the cards and just couldn't use a single photo and feel good about it. Then I saw that they had a layout with 3 photo frames. Pat suggested we have Olivia take a picture of him and I for the middle frame, we'd use a photo I had taken of Olivia in front of the tree and Pat and I would go up to Stephen's room and take a photo of him there. Sure enough, Stephen was much more comfortable in his room, in front of his computer and with a little foot tickling by Pat we got a great photo of him.
Although we are a little sad to say goodbye to our old tradition we now have a new one. This new way of composing our family portrait for our Christmas card is more in line with how we feel about real happiness in life. It's not about looking perfect. We don't believe in form over function. We are definitely concerned with cake and like frosting but know that too much will make you sick. Style will never be more important to us than substance.
I have a new sense of pride with this year's Christmas card. I think our photos look great this year not because we were able to get that "perfect" shot which is so coveted and sometimes unattainable even for families with "normal" kids or looking like the "perfect" family for a millisecond but because our challenges bring out our creativeness and not just ability but WILLINGNESS to do whatever it takes to have a happy and healthy family. We don't just look happy, we really are happy : )