As I stood there watching the photographer set up her equipment, I attempted to give the boys one last round of instructions. It was important to me, and I wanted to get it right.
It was day three of our beach getaway – our cheeks were rosy, our shoulders tanned. The sun was setting at the perfect angle and the surf was gently lapping at the sand. The photographer called us to our places. And I tried not to cry.
The vacation was planned late in the summer to give us one last time to be together. One last set of memories before my husband left for Iraq.
I was trying to tell myself that this photograph would be a reminder of my happy family. But inside, I was wrestling with my greatest fear: that this photograph might be the last image of the five of us together.
Through it all, I smiled.
We sat on the dune together, and walked at the water’s edge. The photographer patiently captured the essence of each child, then seated me and my husband together. With his arm around my shoulder we smiled for the camera, trying to forget why we were there. She took the final shots of us separately, me last.
When the photos arrived in the mail a few days later, I was quite surprised at what I saw. The smile on my face was not at all what I expected. That day I felt afraid and anxious. But the smile I saw in the photograph was not.
The smile in that photograph became part of me, and I wore it for the better part of the next year. That smile kept from crying many times. That smile meant everything would be alright. That smile meant that I was, indeed, strong enough.