I snapped a picture as the gondola rolled down the canal, the sunlight in my eyes blocking my view of the screen, so all I could do was hope it came out.
Later, I looked at it and my breath caught in my throat.
If you’d asked me to capture each of my children’s personalities exactly in photo form, this is what you’d get.
She is smiling at the camera, hair perfect, sunglasses perfect, smile perfect. Confident and happy and just a little sassy. Smile, I said, and she did, and it was perfect because she knows how to make it so. I don’t think it’s vanity, but it’s a self-awareness I certainly didn’t possess at thirteen, and an acceptance that it’s actually okay to care. It’s not pretentious, not forced, and she’s not embarrassed by it. She is a perfectionist, and she does live in a world where every moment can be insta-worthy, but I like to think she balances that out. We sometimes think that only the ugly moments are real, but the pretty ones are too. As long as we can accept both as truth, we’re all doing okay. She’s more than okay.
He, the oldest, heard me say smile but waited a heartbeat to do what he was told. He is purposely still staring off in a different direction, a feigned look of mild confusion on his face. Hair coiffed to perfection though. He knows what’s going on, knows what we want him to do, knows how to do it, but he likes to pretend he doesn’t sometimes. Wants the world explained to him in minute detail, wants to ask questions that have already been answered and wants me to answer them again and again. A split second later he was grinning at the camera, but I missed it and he thought that was funny. Innocence and mischief, that one.
He, the middle, did not hear me say smile and is not bothered by it. He was not listening. He is leaning over the side of the boat, which we told him not to do, trailing his hand in the water, which we told him not to do, and he is not bothered by the fact that we will tell him both of those things again. He knows he will not fall in. Knows he will not get hurt. Knows exactly what he’s capable of, knows what he wants to do and how to do it, and knows how far he can go without getting into real trouble. Because he knows we also know what he is capable of. He is independent and fierce and determined, and humors us by following the the rules we lay out before him, but not always. Not always.
He, the youngest, is in the center of it all, confident and grinning and happy and posing like a king, letting all of us orbit him in his glory. He has no doubt in any fiber of his body that anything is less than wonderful, and that radiates right out of him at all times. He is completely secure and sure that everyone loves him, that everything will be fine, and that life is good. He is right.
I don’t know what I did to get so lucky to have these little individuals for my own for a few years, these little people whose personalities are so completely their own, even when I do occasionally see glimpses of myself or Matt or another relative in them. They came this way, and I am just lucky enough to get to steer them along their course for a little while.