Flying in the face of any hard-won progress mothers have managed to make regarding the family photo, Lydia Rex is trying to get her son not to look at the camera.
Her method involves a little bit of in-house vaudeville — storybooks, a play kitchen, building blocks — pivoting between gags with a grace and resilience that would suggest the qualities that make for a successful parent aren’t all that different from tonight’s headliner at The Laugh Factory.
Rex tours almost exclusively in the living room of this modest town home in State College, much to the delight of its two regulars — a 4-year-old girl named Julia, and Eric, a 2-year-old boy who Rex and her husband, Kyle, officially adopted last October.
“We had really wanted to give Julia a sibling,” Rex said.
And the evidence accumulating on the wall indicates that little Eric is actually quite photogenic when he puts his mind to it — but not altogether consistent in his attitude toward the lens.
One of the only framed images from the day of his adoption — a portrait with his mother, father and older sister on the courthouse steps — is a actually a sketch, a very convenient cheat that may be of interest to any parent who has ever attempted to wrangle a pair of complementary smiles out of two competing toddlers.
There are fewer photos of Eric as an infant. He was 3 weeks old when the Rex’s became his foster family — the connection was instantaneous.
“That love for him just absolutely swallowed our whole family,” Rex said.
Still, it was a long time before she allowed herself the possibility that Eric could be with them for the long haul.
Before they underwent the training to become foster parents, Rex and her husband had struggled with one of the more challenging realities of the system — becoming attached to a child and then having to say goodbye.
“You’re loving and adoring this child like they’re your own, but at the same time you’re trying not to let yourself think they could grow up here,” Rex said.
If Rex had to be a memory, she resolved to make it a good one — to pack as much love and caring into the formative years of a child like Eric as possible.
Now at least she can take her time.
“I think that’s the one thing that I was put on this earth to do — to be Eric’s mom for as long or as short as he needed me,” Rex said.