Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Do You See?

On the way to work this morning my mother in law Lana asked me if I had a photo of myself with all of my sisters.  She has met my oldest sister Marcia because Marc lives in a town only half an hour away.  She also was able to meet my parents once, briefly, when they came to visit my sister on the occasion of  my nephew's wedding.  I talk about my family often, and I'm always relating stories about my siblings, nieces and nephews, but it shocked me to realize that Andy's mom has no visual reference for most of my family members.

This is the most recent picture of all of my siblings together, and it was taken eight years ago.  Why am I not smiling?  It looks like they just woke me up.  From the left:  Myself (Michelle), Monica, Marcia, Marilyn and Michael.  Yes, our names all start with the letter "M".  My parents are Jane and Joseph, and our middle names all start with "J". (Joy, Jane, Jean, Joyce and Joseph).  It is always my "fun fact" when people ask for an ice breaker style introduction.
I've thought about this all day.  I find it so odd that when we hear stories told by friends, neighbors, and often even our own family we fill in the blanks with our imaginings of what the faces behind the tale may look like.

I think back to all the stories I've heard of my husband's father Sam and how I always picture him.  Sam passed away before I ever had the chance to meet him, before I even met Andy.  There is a picture of a child Andy and his brother Matthew with Sam that I always reference in my mind to fill in the blanks.  He is young, and grinning and joy filled.  This is the way I always see him.

I really ought to start smiling in pictures.  I have dozens upon dozens of where I'm frowning or looking off into the distance.  The few where I am outright grinning and appear to be thrilled with the moment I am captured in are few and far between.    In most of them, I don't look that great and all I can focus on are my crooked teeth or goofy hair or crazy outfit.  If there were only one photo of me left behind for the world to craft a visual reference of me, what would I want it to be?

I'd want it to look like Sam's.  Joyful.  Fun.  Maybe slightly overwhelmed by the moment, but glad as hell to be in it.  I'd want it to look more like the pictures of the children in my life look.  Look at this photo of my niece Niah.  She's not just my niece, she's my great niece, my nephew Patrick and his wife Kelli's first child.

She looks like this in nearly every picture (except the ones where I'm holding her where she's about to bawl her face off - true story).  Even Patrick is grinning.  It is hard not to when you're holding this happy girl, although Patrick smiles unabashedly in photos all the time.  The kid is happy.  With good reason.  I'm happy too, but you'd hardly ever tell by looking at a photo of me.  That ought to be different.

If you're going to think of me, I hope the girl you're imagining looks something like this.

It isn't a perfect picture.  The lighting is crazy.  I have a goofy grin.  I'm dressed as a fairy, blah blah blah.

What makes this photo different is some true happiness.  It was the same year as the photo I'm in with my siblings.  It was the same month.  It was taken shortly after my friend Judy and I got to this party and I hadn't even started drinking.  I was just busy flapping my wings, dancing and having a great time.

 The fairy version of me forgot to be self-conscious.  She forgot to adopt her tight lipped smile so no one could see the teeth that she never got fixed because she was a trumpet major and didn't want vanity to interfere with musicianship.  More importantly she's a heck of a lot more approachable than any of the versions of her regularly captured on film that try too hard to be someone else's version of normal.

My version of normal is joyful and loved.  And I need to start embracing it.

I just took a picture of myself grinning.  I deleted it because I looked like Charles Manson.  True story.

Change takes time.  I hope you notice more grins in my photos.  I hope that I won't be afraid to look happy.  I hope the same for you.

Much love to all of you.

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