Here’s the song reference.
Because pictures of the tiny people make distant relatives smile, we make an annual trip to a local portrait studio to have professional photographs of our tribe made. We have been patronizing the same company since Bugaboo was a year old, which means that when I call and request the earliest possible appointment, the kind people who work there remember our name and accommodate us, sometimes to the point of creating an appointment slot before the studio is technically open. Those of you who have ever cooled your heels waiting for any practitioner of any discipline who has fallen behind schedule, while trying to maintain order among four very young children, understand what a tremendous kindness this is.
Manie made the loving sacrifice of rousing Mr. Man and Baby Guy, neither of whom are cheerful early risers, out of their cribs and upstairs while I showered; by the time he left for work, the girls were getting washed up and dressed, and the boys were arguing with their waffles over whether or not the hour was too early for breakfast, much less anything even remotely approximating civilized behavior. Mind you, they were not arguing with each other using the waffles as weapons; they were actually arguing with the waffles. Mr. Man, in particular, informed his breakfast in no uncertain terms that he did not like it, or the fork he had been given with which to eat it, or the plate on which it awaited his eating pleasure, or the morning generally.
In a testament to the power of a mother’s prayer, we were all in the van by 8 a.m., and the tiny people were actually in a photogenic state insofar as their hair and attire were concerned. Mr. Man’s face, however, somewhat resembled a constipated thundercloud, and he continued to voice his displeasure with all things morning for the entire fifteen minute ride to the photographer’s. When he saw me unloading the stroller (which does multiple duties as a portable coat rack/shoe holder/sippy cup repository/sliding door), he redoubled the pitch, volume, and tempo of his complaints.
For non-regular readers of this blog, Mr. Man is two years old. Some stereotypes are justified.
In any event, I suppose the two gentlemen who were awaiting the emergence of two ladies from the nearby Yankee Candle store really couldn’t help but notice the commotion emanating from the general area of our van, but the girls and I thanked them profusely when they came over and held the door to the studio for us and wished God’s blessings upon us. Baby Guy, fully awake by then, favored them with a broad grin and a giggle from his perch in the back seat of the stroller. One of the gentlemen even took the moment to tell me that while he had seen me press the button to lock the van, he had not heard the horn beep. As it happened, I had pressed the wrong button and the van was not locked.
Once the tribe was safely inside the studio, the young lady who was staffing the front desk greeted me with a bright smile and thanked us for coming back and for the business of several friends we’d referred there over the past year, then took the time to great each of the tiny people and compliment each of them — she praised Bugaboo’s calm, Beanie’s shining hair, Baby Guy’s smile, and Mr. Man’s Spider-Man sneakers. Mr. Man, still in full roar, received a few sharp words from me after he returned the lady’s compliment by shrieking at her that those were HIS Spidey sneakies, she could NOT have them, he would NOT take them off . . . you get the idea.
At precisely the time fixed for our appointment, the photographer and her assistant waved us into the Christmas-themed room I’d requested for the annual photo shoot. You may be wondering why, at this point, I did not simply reschedule for another day or time, and the reason’s actually fairly simple – grandparents wat the pictures early so they can have the pride of having THEIR grandbabies’ pictures be the first ones to arrive in the mailboxes of friends and family. If we can make our parents happy by a minor inconvenience to ourselves, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice of time and sanity.
As we paraded back to the room, with its gaily decorated tree and backdrop, I was shucking coats off kids and plying the hairbrush. It will come as no surprise to any of you that Mr. Man also did not want to part with his parka, and was nearly inconsolable when said parka was tucked neatly into the cargo compartment beneath the stroller. I will be forever grateful for the sympathetic smiles bestowed upon me by every other patron and the entire staff of the studio as we made our way back, as I alternated between issuing instructions and reassurances to the tribe and apologies and thanks to every other human being in the place.
Mr. Man, of course, was in no mood to cooperate with the photographer and her assistant, who conferred quickly with me about how we should proceed. Our consensus was that if we could get all four kids into something approximating a photographable configuration, she would simply start shooting so we wouldn’t miss the “one good shot” that this particular studio always manages to obtain. Not wanting to sound like a drill sergeant in the studio, I started out attempting every bit of calm and soothing cajolery I could muster to obtain Mr. Man’s cooperation, or at least get him to stop doing his best banshee imitation. In the end, however, I reduced the studio to silence when I had to break out THE MOMMY VOICE so as not to be “that family” that made the whole studio run behind schedule.
“Now look, Mr. Man. I have given you back your Spidey sneakies. You have had hugs and kisses and songs. I’ve used the nice voice and the nice words you like, but enough is enough. You WILL sit in that chair, you WILL smile for the nice lady, you WILL stop screaming, and you WILL say, “I’m sorry Ma’am” to the nice ladies. NOW!”
One little bum hit the seat of one little chair with alacrity, and two tear-swollen brown eyes looked pathetically at the photographer and her assistant, both of whom seemed to have developed sudden, but mild, cases of bronchitis. Our corner of the studio was sufficiently quiet at that point that, although he whispered it, Mr. Man’s quavering, “I’m sorry, ma’am,” was clearly audible.
As we waited for the images to load onto the studio computer, I commended all four of the tiny people, some more richly than others, on following the photographer’s instructions and on their patience in waiting. Snacks and cups of milk were passed around to refresh my weary little crew, and I tried not to make eye contact with the other patrons who were awaiting their turns in the studio, being somewhat embarrassed by both Mr. Man’s conduct and my own eventual raised voice. My attempt was unsuccessful. Nearly every person in the place made it a point to come over and offer a little kindness, or sympathy, or compliment. The volume of small acts of compassion nearly overwhelmed me. A gentleman retrieved the sippy cup Baby Guy playfully hurled in the direction of the changing rooms, an elderly lady came over to pat me gently on the shoulder and tell me that when her own quartet was small, she required at least eight adults to keep them in order for photographs, a teenaged boy picked up Bugaboo’s coat that had fallen on the floor as I was attempting to pass shoes and outerwear to their owners, and gently helped her on with it. The sales lady, when she sat down with us, told me that she remembered me, and instead of delivering the lengthy spiel about the available portrait packages, simply asked which kinds of pictures I wanted more of and which kinds less, and laughed with me over the outrageous faces Mr. Man was making in the majority of the shots. Five minutes later, I’d made the relevant selections and was headed for the front desk to pay for this year’s portraits, where a young man with a calm voice and a patient smile took my card and advised me that the pictures should be ready in about half an hour.
That seemed like a reasonable time frame, so I piled the tribe into the van and headed across the way to Chick-Fil-A for a bit of brunch for all of us. After some miniature chicken biscuits and hash browns, we returned to the studio. The front desk lady saw me pulling in and ran out to the parking lot to meet me, a slightly panicked look on her face.
“I am SO sorry. Our printer has broken, and your pictures aren’t ready. I don’t know when the repairman will be here. I’m SO sorry, I know you need to get these to people out-of-town, and I promise I will call you as soon as I get a call back from the repairman and find out when the machine will be fixed.”
“Don’t worry about it. Really, things break sometimes. It’s okay. Just call me when they’re ready.”
I thought she was going to cry. “Oh, my God, thank you so much for being so patient. Thank you for understanding.”
“Hey, I should be thanking you again for being so patient and understanding with my crew here. We certainly gave your morning a crazy start. I’m going to be running around a bit today, so I’ll give you a call this afternoon to check in. Don’t worry about us, we’ll still be back. Technology breakdowns happen, right?”
“Right. Thank you so much for being so patient and, and, and so NICE about it!”
“No problem. I hope they get to you soon and that everyone else is nice to you today, too.”
We exchanged waves as I re-started the van, the girls adding their own waves from the back and Baby Guy crowing a cheery, “Ciao!” at his recent peek-a-boo buddy as we drove away.
Unsurprisingly, all five of us took early and long naps. For the record, the printer was still not fixed as of 6 p.m. yesterday, and that’s still okay.
Later in the afternoon, I was talking on the phone with Manie, who had called to let me know his boss had decided to shut up shop a couple of hours early to give the staff some extra time to spend with family and friends. As we talked, I walked up the hill to unload a few items from the van that I’d forgotten to bring in Thanksgiving night, since I would need the passenger seat for my wonderful husband’s derriere when we headed over to Nonno and Deedaw’s upon his return. I had just opened the door when a FedEx Ground truck pulled up at the end of our driveway, and a gentleman emerged bearing a very large and cumbersome box containing a play kitchen that will be a Christmas gift for the entire tribe to enjoy together. The delivery man smiled, waved, and waited for me to finish my conversation.
“You need a hand with those bags, miss? They look a little heavy.”
“No, thank you, I’ve got this. Would you mind bringing that box down the hill and putting it by the front door, though? I don’t think I can wrangle that and these bags down the hill at the same time.”
“No trouble at all.” He looked up, saw two little girls peeping out the front window, and quickly hid the picture side of the box behind the open passenger door. “Tell you what, you want to run those bags in and shut those blinds so Santa doesn’t get his surprise ruined?”
“Are you sure you don’t mind waiting?”
“No, I don’t mind at all. I’ve got kids too. I know how it goes.”
Wow. “Thank you so much! I’ll be right back!”
I sprinted up the stairs with the bags, quickly turned the television on to Sprout, and drew the shades before running back outside, calling strict instructions to stay away from the windows to children who were already happily absorbed in “Super Why.”
The delivery man was still hiding the box behind the van door, and he smiled at me when I ran back up the hill. “No rush, ma’am, really. Where do you want me to put this? I can put it behind your fence so the kids won’t see it if you don’t want to put it on your front porch right now.”
“No, that’s very kind of you to offer, but the front porch is fine. I can cover it up before they see it, and my husband will be home in a few minutes. He’ll stash it in our secret alcove.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I think everyone who has kids has one of those spots. Just so you know, there’s pictures on all four sides.”
“Thanks for the warning,” I chuckled back. “I think I’ll grab some paper and tape and do a quick front porch wrapping job.”
“Sure you don’t need a hand?”
“No, I’ve held you up long enough. I know you guys are busy this time of year.”
“Yeah, that’s true. I try not to get too busy to remember that other people are busy too, though.”
“God bless you, sir. Thank you for all your help and your kindness. I hope it all comes back to you.”
“Thank you, ma’am. You have a merry Christmas, now.”
And with that, he lumbered back up the hill to his truck and sped off.
Today’s prayer: Lord, thank You for showing me Your face in the eyes of so many strangers today. At every moment when I needed a reminder of what love looks like, You put one in my path and opened my eyes to see him or her. Thank You for the guest instructors who taught Your blessings so beautifully today how You call us to share Your hospitality and Your gifts with one another, and who reminded me that even in their most trying moments, Your blessings are exactly that.