tell them what they won, johnny!




The goal is not to change your subjects, but for the subject to change the photographer.

~Author Unknown

For six years, the paparazzi had nothing on me. I’d skulk behind trees, crouch around corners, blend like a chameleon into the shrubs. I was ruthless –  expertly stalking my quarry, waiting (im)patiently for just the right moment to pounce.

When I got my new camera last year, the first order of business was to outfit it with a high-powered telephoto lens. Friends teased me about it. I looked like I was working for the foreign press.

Once behind the camera, I had no shame. I’d jump up and down, make ridiculous noises, make an utter spectacle of myself. Heck, I’d even burp on cue to elicit a response. (Yes, I can.)

Rare birds? Hollywood stars? Politicians?

No, my subjects were far more elegant, far more seductive and far more elusive than any of those have ever been. For six years, I longed for a shot of these two rare beauties.




Those eyes.

That light in them – it’s not a trick of the camera. It’s Brooke.

For six years I ached for those eyes.

For a while, we played a game of cat and mouse. I turned, she turned. Around and around we would go. I called her name, she, well, didn’t do anything. I was heartbroken. I longed for those eyes.

We invented games. Big eyes, little eyes. We brought objects to our eyes. We taught her to orient her body toward us. In school she was taught to point at her partner in conversation. Her gaze awkwardly followed.

Eventually, we all settled into a happy medium. A comfortable compromise. She looks in the right direction. Enough to appear attentive. But when she wants to, when the mood strikes and Aquarius is in the Seventh House, she squares right in.

It happens more and more lately. I catch her looking right at me. She stops me in my tracks. I’m unaccustomed to looking at her head on. Her beauty takes my breath away. I almost don’t recognize her face without the slight angle that I’ve viewed it from for so long.

She stares at me, watching me. It is completely overwhelming.

Her terms. Her timing.

But there they are.



Those eyes.



On the morning of her birthday, we had a couple of extra minutes before school. She’d let me put pigtails in her hair. She looked adorable. Since the pigtails never last long, I figured I’d snap a couple of pictures while I could. I grabbed the camera, outfitted with the foreign press lens that got me that picture above from twenty yards away. Gingerly, I gave her some warning. “Brooke, I’m going to take a couple of pictures of you, OK?”

She didn’t answer, but instead walked right into the middle of the kitchen, stood stock still and said, “CHEEEEEEESE!”




And there it was. Six years in the making.

I nearly fell over, but I kept shooting.

There had been times when I had caught similar shots of her. Some were staged with Luau standing behind me, contorting himself to get her attention. Some were the Christmas card photos, taken by professional photographers after hours of cajoling and prodding and praying. A hundred shots for one. Some were moments like that one above when the camera was quicker than she was, when, as she turned her head, the shutter captured that split second that my eye would have missed.

I have those photos in my house. They are framed. They are cherished.

But they never felt honest. They represented what I hoped for, but not what WAS. Looking at them made me happy, yet filled me with longing.

On the evening of her birthday, our neighbors joined us for cake. We lit the banana candle and sang together as quietly as we could. As we sang, I focused my camera. I was ready to zoom in tight, get a picture of her blowing out the candle.

Our young neighbor cheerily sing-songed, “Brooke, look at Mama for a picture! Smile!”

Oh no. I cringed. My shoulders crept to my ears and my body tensed. I braced myself for the defensive shriek that was sure to come. It didn’t.

Instead,  this is what I got:




By the time that Easter morning rolled around a couple of weeks later, there were no holds barred. I went for the Holy Grail. A photo of both of the girls. Together.



And I got it.

Better than I ever would have dared to hope for.

Her terms. Her timing.

(And now I’ve got the pictures to prove it.)

16 thoughts on “tell them what they won, johnny!

  1. On Saturday, Brooke and I were outside playing when Katie came out to say goodbye. Brooke took Luau’s advice and told Katie to “break a leg”. For the next half an hour after they left she and I went back and forth saying it while she laughed hysterically. The entire time she was laughing, she would look at me to see my reaction and if I didn’t seem to be finding it as hilarious as she was she’d repeat the phrase, only louder and sillier. (She was trying to keep me engaged? Really?) At one point she came over to me, got her face about 2 inches away from me, looked right at me for a split second, smiled and yelled “Break a leg!” as loud as she could and then ran back over to her swing and laughed herself silly.

  2. Well worth the wait.

    It DOES take your breath away, doesn’t it? You know what? You will never, ever take one of her smiles for granted in your life.

    Payoff in spades.

  3. I remember an old post you wrote (‘Baby Me’) about how you all were watching old home videos and noticed that when Brooke was much younger she was looking directly at you (in the video). I remember how sad it made you – that you had lost her eyes. Looks like you got your baby back, Jess. Every time she allows you to look full on her lovely face, it’s a gift.

  4. Our victory came wrapped as a Mac book. The photo booth allows you to see yourself while taking the photos. Piper surprised me by loving this! She will sit in fron of the laptop and just take photos for as long as I will let her. I went from a handful of pictures to hundreds. I should write Apple a letter!

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