I’m trying to think of a time that a family picture shoot went according to plan, but I can’t. I just can’t.
There was the time in the snow, up in the Utah foothills, where my two-year-old son kept running off into the woods, laughing, and eating snow, and it was everything I could do to keep from letting him run off, alone, to be raised by a family of wolves.
Then there was the time at the park, in Minnesota, where I was attending graduate school, and my then two year old middle daughter, Norah, pulled one of those epic all the way up her back blow outs in the sweetest white dress. She laughed. We didn’t.
There was the time, in the fall, at one of those forest parks.
The dead leaves were on the ground. The light was just right, peaking in between the trees. We were all standing on this bridge, a wonderful creek flowing below us, and suddenly it got quiet.
I looked down, and our youngest, Aspen, then three, had filled the front of her nice dress with dead grass and covered her face with mud.
She growled at us, like she was going to war.
To this day, I still don’t understand why all of our family pictures have to include nature.
Anyway, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen my wife quite so mad as when we are getting pictures. This includes the time my son covered our one nice living room easy chair with peanut butter, and tried to clean up by having the dog lick it. Ultimately Pikachu threw up on the new carpet, and well… I could go on, but I wont.
My wife has said some things to our children during family pictures that I really shouldn’t write down.
And you know what? In the heat of the moment, when we are all standing there, uncomfortably, trying to make it work, I’ve said some things, too. They were always just loud enough that the kids could hear them, but not the photographer. There’s something about family pictures that make me wonder if I’ve ruined my children.
I don’t know why it has to be this way. I don’t know if it’s because of Instagram or Facebook, or all the other parents posting these award winning photos of their children looking like little angels, while our photographer is back at his studio, trying desperately to transpose my daughters mud covered face with a clean one.
I remember getting one family pictures as a child.
It was about a year before my father left. A photographer came to our church. My brother, dad, and myself were all in matching brown suits with little bow ties.
My sister and mother were in matching frilly forest green 80s style dresses with shoulder pads. I can’t remember us all yelling. I can’t remember the threats or the bribes, I just remember standing there, smiling, and boom, we were done.
But that can’t be right, can it? I know my mother. I know her death stare, and that forceful whisper she often leaned in with that even now, as I write, makes me tremble.
“Shape up or else…” she’d say. And when she said “else” I heard “I’ll end you.” And I know my brother and I, we were about as obedient as a circus. There’s no was we went in front of that camera without a fight.
I point this out because when I look back on that one family picture from my childhood as an adult, I don’t feel stressed.
I don’t feel frustrated or put out or like my mother was going to bury my in the back yard. I just feel warm. I remember that short time when my family was still complete, before my father left. And I have a feeling that our children will feel the same way, too.
So listen, if your kids are little terrors every time you get a family picture, I get it. You are not alone.
Behind each and every one of those family pictures you see online there is a mother fighting desperately for one good memory on film. And you know what, despite all the fits over getting dressed, and fighting for tucked in shirts, and combed hair, and smiles, we always, every single time, wind up with at least one picture that give me the same warm feeling I get when looking at that picture from my childhood.
Every one does.
Does this make the hell of getting pictures worth it?
Well… I suppose it depends when you ask. During the photo shoot, no. It doesn’t. And after is also dicey. But in between, when that one really great photo comes up on Facebook memories, and you feel the urge to try again, yeah. It does. It’s totally worth it.