The Boys of Summer
I attended a photo shoot last night, one that lasted well into the evening and had me exhausted, wet, and windblown, like I’d spent my whole day deep-sea snapper fishing. Before I even had my first cup of coffee this morning, the photographer had uploaded the pictures and posted them on Facebook for me and everybody else in our small town to scour through. Smiling to myself and fighting back tears, I dissected every photograph and matched it with each of the dozens of mind-snapshots I still remembered so clearly from the hours we all spent together the night before.
Yes, we now live in a world of mass shared experiences, almost to the point of being voyeuristic. And you know, sometimes I think social media allows us to share too many of each other’s experiences, to be quite honest. Through Facebook and Instagram you can see how strangers spent their weekends, and where coworkers went on vacation. Sometimes I even get to attend a wedding I wasn’t even invited to. But so much is lost when that happens. So much of the stories behind those images, recollections lost for the people who are only peering from the computer. They will never know what really happened, what beautiful memories were made as those clicks rang out from the camera capturing them. What most people take away from other people’s pictures is so sadly…incomplete.
So, back to my photo shoot. It was an attempt to contain that brief moment in time where boys are not boys anymore, but not quite yet men either. Those years don’t last long at all, and I wanted them preserved before the tomfoolery and rambunctiousness of the early teen years completely vaporized. If I’m being honest, though, those months of planning and preparation I put in did not generate the photo session we’d all anticipated. I mean, it turned out absolutely nothing like it was supposed to.
Let me set the stage:
Seven good-looking, obedient fourteen-year-old boys, the best of childhood friends at this fleeting moment in their lives, still uninhibited in their goofiness and teasing, all willing to procure fancy church-clothes for the classy images they were directed to produce for us. I had it micromanaged down to the letter. We had wardrobe changes planned, including matching “Class of 2018” shirts and other cliched nonsense. Talk about attempting to tame animalistic urges! Their hair was fixed for but one solitary moment.
Imagine our disappointment at the weather, which, like the boys, didn’t cooperate as ordered very much. Fifteen MPH winds and white-capping waves hindered us from making the easy journey across Pensacola Bay where God Himself intended for us to take those pictures.
Y’all! It was all I’d thought about for months! And yet…that wind!
I imagined every perfect pose in my mental Rolodex. We, all the mothers, ran the different scenarios we faced and there was not a single option — not one — that protected us all from getting wet. I stood on the dock plotting and scheming, engaging in frustrated conversation as the curlers (still somewhat perched in my hair) lobbed back in forth in the whipping wind. It was futile, and I knew it. We were going to get pounded in that boat so I just accepted our fate and we went for it…we made the crossing.
It took two trips in 12-knot winds and 2-foot seas to carry eleven people and four life-sized plywood cutout numbers spelling “2018” one-half mile to the other side. I struggled to keep my curlers in, wanting to save my hairdo (at least) for that one beautiful shot of me with my kid before he leaves my nest. Admittedly, I was being the ultimate hopeless optimist and not accepting (at all) the reality of that whipping weather around me. Ever the hero, our boy-captain revved the engine as the photographer (also one of the moms) cradled her body over the expensive camera equipment, trying to preserve its life the best she could as the bow of the boat lurched and rolled. The other two mamas…hair done, makeup perfect, were forced to crouch like refugees in the bottom of the boat as the bow pounded onto breaking wakes and water sprayed over the top of us like a ride on Splash Mountain. After the first dousing, I felt all the curlers on the right side of my head slip down just a little and I knew it was over.
An eternal boat ride later, we hauled our aching, dripping butt bones out of the vessel as the boys fussed over us and unloaded the props. We patted our dripping noses and sopping hair with towels and I silently wondered what in the world I was thinking wearing a short sundress…on a boat…in windy weather. My outfit was practically indecent as I disembarked. We plucked our hair clips and ponytail holders from our purses in the truest sign of surrender. The ladies brushed the dirt off their white, pressed pants and just laughed out loud looking at each other because by then we knew we were a mess. And plus we could hear the squeals of our kids playing along the beach, trying in vain not to wrinkle the classy button-down shirts we’d ordered them to wear.
The timeless images she captured last night were not the synchronized uniformity of young men in pressed khakis standing like robots with their hands in their pockets. It was the other kind, the unscripted kind I could never have anticipated. As I saw those moments actually being captured, in the exact instant the photographer clicked the button on her camera, I knew that every second my eyes saw and my ears heard their hilarious interactions, their sarcasm, their playfulness…I was witnessing something magical, something that wouldn’t always be there.
I can still hear their jokes. I can still see them dunking each other’s heads underwater. And the laughing…I will never tire of hearing how much they laughed. I was seeing young men, but I was witnessing best buddies, being themselves and doing what boys do. The horseplay segued us against our will into the bathing suit portion of our shoot, and that’s when things got super real. That’s when we saw the magic. And she got “the shots,” a whole beautiful bunch of them. Real life. No script.
Some of those curlers I was wearing are now at the bottom of the ocean and I hope the images of how I looked last night never surface for public viewing. The untreated six-foot-tall wooden “2018” props will probably become bonfire wood. They didn’t make it either. I may never sort out the soggy mountain of socks, shirts, and towels still lying in my garage, but I saw something beautiful last night. I watched my kid and his friends doing what a lot of the rest of us don’t ever get to do anymore: live life to the absolute fullest with all the people you love most in the world. I wish I could bottle up those hours and keep them on a shelf forever. And I did something for myself in those moments too, something I was consciously aware of every second I stood on that beach, just watching. I didn’t use my phone; I didn’t take any pictures myself: no selfies, no recording. I didn’t do anything but just enjoy it. And when the fruits of all that went down came alive in front of me this morning, I was overcome with the experience of it all. And there was this one picture…when she snapped it I knew it was “the one.” I heard the click of her camera and these four words came to my mind: “soak it all in.” And I did.