Thanks for not smiling, Mack

Over the past few weeks, I have sifted through hundreds of pictures of Mackenzie, and all the while as I have paused over each image, I have smiled, I have laughed, and I have sobbed—sometimes exhibiting all three emotions simultaneously. As I have lingered over particular images, I have desperately sought to sear them into my memory. Mack’s adorable freckles, especially the big one on her left cheek, her brown eyes, her dimples, those long limbs, and that crooked little smile are all beautiful reminders to me of her physical appearance and her tangible self. But so many of the pictures also capture her humor, her athleticism, her joy, and her incorrigible determination to thwart all of my best efforts over the years to capture the perfect, smiling photograph of my younger daughter. When Savannah saw a camera, she always sat up straight, engaged me with her eyes, flashed me a dazzling smile, and delivered a beautiful portrait every time. Mack, however, always preferred to ham it up, make a ridiculous face, or strike an absurd pose.

It always drove me nuts that she couldn’t just sit still and smile and let me have my shot. But now I know that she has given me something far greater.

Most all of the writing that I have done so far has spun off of one of those hundreds of images that I have spent so much time with since October 7. All of the photos I have of Mack are precious to me in the same way that childhood photographs are precious to every mother. But the photographs that are inspiring my stories about her, about my life with her, and about my life now without her, are not the ones in which she is smiling perfectly for the camera. Don’t get me wrong, I adore those priceless few images in which she gave in to my wishes. But it is a fact that the photos in which she exerted her own interpretation of the event or activity that I was trying to capture that are the most comforting to me now. I always believed that Mack was just being goofy, that she was deliberating trying to aggravate me, or that she was disrespecting my attempt to capture forever her growing-up years.

Yet in looking at those images now and thinking about the writing that pours out of me as a result of considering those images now, I realize that Mack gave me a special gift. In those goofy photographs, she allowed me to capture her spirit at that moment instead of her pretty smile. She made the photos about her and not me, and she made them about her approach to the situation at hand and not mine. She did not believe that photos were about capturing the perfect smile in every context, but rather they were about capturing the absurdity of a situation, the joy or laughter provoked by a particular moment, setting or event, and about living life and not just posing for it.

Thanks for not smiling (all the time), Mack. I love you for it more than you ever could have believed possible during all of those hundreds of photo shoots when I begged you for a pretty smile.

And now some beautiful examples:

When I asked the girls to pose with the prototype wax Lincoln for the yet to open Lincoln Presidential Museum, I got this…

girls with Lincoln

When I asked Mack to pose with my newly published book, she gave me this…


When I asked Mack to send me a picture of her Halloween costume one year, I got this…


When I asked for a picture of summer ball at The Gym, she gave me this…

goofy kid

When she sent me a picture of a kitten she was babysitting at college, this is what I got via text…


And here is one of the precious few in which she obliged my desire for a pretty smile…

Indiana braids

4 thoughts on “Thanks for not smiling, Mack

  1. Pingback: Mack Memo #1: Make a Face | Being Mack's Momma Bear

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s