| I of the Storm |

I of the Storm: Chapter 20

I pinched myself. Could it be that the entire Shafer crew is cooperating, smiling — and genuinely happy? Could it be that our family portrait is not a complete farce?


“Let’s go, guys, keep moving!” I said in my best cheerleader voice, throwing baby wipes, winkies, and dollar chatchkes into my hopelessly bulging bag.

It was Shushan Purim, and we were going for a family portrait. The idea? Kill two birds with one stone: provide vacation day activity + delight photo-craving grandparents.

I was proud of my efforts: The kids were freshly bathed, sporting coordinating Gymboree outfits, shiny Italian loafers (yay for 50 percent off sales!), and matching accessories. Not quite Kayla-level perfection — I’d long given up on such ambitions — but not too shabby, either.

I’d also prepared the kids emotionally, describing how the process worked, and what would be expected of them. “If you find yourself feeling upset or antsy tomorrow, what do you think we can do?” I’d asked Shira during bedtime, stroking her back. “What strategy might help?”

She thought long and hard. “Sometimes I get hungry.”

Yes! Self-awareness and communication! Together, we carefully selected and bagged three healthy snacks. Then we role-played: Dahlia annoys Shira, Shira feels like lashing out, Shira asks Mommy for some calm-down snack.

“You’d think we were making aliyah or something,” Daniel had teased that evening. “Do all kids need extensive therapy sessions in advance of a… studio session?”

“I’m taking no chances, honey. Do you remember our last portrait fiasco?”

There was no way he could forget. Shira — in one of her “got-to-impress-when-in-public” modes — had spent most of the session contorting her facial features obnoxiously. Petrified, Tali and Dahlia clung to my skirt, refusing to turn toward the camera. And little Ari had determined the moment was opportune for a colossal spit-up.

In desperation, a discombobulated Daniel had resorted to empty threats. “Shira, if you carry on like this, we’ll ask you to leave the family picture.”

As if she gave a hoot.

The sweating photographer — a thin-lipped woman who looked like she’d do better as a penitentiary officer — shook her head vigorously. “Lady, you’ve got to get those kids under control!” she finally exploded. Groundbreaking revelation. Her voice dropped. “Or just have less of ’em,” she muttered.

We’d all left the place in tears, me included.

But this time around, I’d resolved to do everything possible to avoid mishaps. Two hours later, as the six of us settled in front of the photo background, everyone was still in good spirits — pooh, pooh, pooh.

“OUUUCHH!!” Shira suddenly shrieked. “You stepped on my TOE!” She lunged toward Tali; Daniel thrust his hand between the two.

“Shira, you just got hurt, right?” I said, taking her palm in mine. No response, just flaming eyes. “Do you think Tali did it on purpose?” A loaded shrug.

I waited 60 seconds, then whispered into her ear. “Remember our strategies for calming down? Do you want to use one?”

Slowly, her muscles relaxed. She nodded. I took her to the side, where she chose one of the bags and launched into a three-minute chomping fest. When the storm had died down, we walked back to the shoot. This time, thank G-d, we’d landed a clown-nosed photographer who actually seemed to like kids.

“Everybody look at my nose!” the paunchy fellow boomed. Click, click, click. “You guys are terrific!”

I pinched myself. Could it be that the entire Shafer crew is cooperating, smiling — and genuinely happy? Could it be that our family portrait is not a complete farce?

“Okay, kiddos!” Mr. Clown Nose bellowed. “Now shout out your favorite thing in the whole wide world!”

“Stickers!” squealed Tali.

“Hello Kitty!” cheeped Dahlia.

“Super Snacks and swimming and Princess dolls and when Mommy hugs me tight and says ‘You’re my sunshine girl!’ ” Shira pelted out breathlessly.

She looked at me, grinning. I laughed, mussed her hair.

Just one year ago, would I have ever dreamed there were so many layers beneath the tempest?

Impulsively, she squeezed my hand with insane energy, pressed her head into my thighs.

I didn’t flinch.


“Here you go ma’am,” the clerk squawked, handing me a manila envelope. I opened it quickly. Great, classic shots — the kids, Daniel and me, Ari in a ball pit. And then… whoa.

“Yeah, I know this isn’t what you came for.” The paunchy photographer — noting my consternation — headed my way. He fingered the print; he’d caught me mussing Shira’s hair as she grinned.

“I thought it was too good of a moment to lose,” he said sheepishly.

Agreed, I thought, and the tears rose up, hot and copious and unbidden.

Because some things are too important to lose.




(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 486)

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