If you look at the photo smiling out at you from our yearly holiday card, taken on an idyllic Rhode Island beach, you’ll see six happy faces, a proud family clutching each other with love. Every year I schedule a family photo shoot to get that picture. Every year we get one. And I mean JUST ONE. Out of the hundreds of pictures the photographer snaps, there is usually only one picture where we are all happy, and looking presentable enough to send out to everyone we know. The rest, the outtakes, tell a different story. They tell the truth behind all those happy smiling family photo cards you get in the mail each year. If you have a family of your own, with small children, and have been through this process, you know what I’m talking about. They are much more anarchic than the calm conveyed in the final photo.
It begins at home hours before we leave. I run around and pull together complimentary outfits for us all. Each year I come up against protests about the outfits from the girls, as though I had asked them to be tarred and feathered. The boys have usually outgrown what I’ve laid out, since they wear their white button down dress shirts so infrequently, and they can’t stand having to change outfits. The kids complain and drag their feet, and it takes much shouting and cajoling to get everyone in the car. By this point I have usually given up on the complimentary outfits, and the neat hair. Around this time I may even be reduced to shouting something childish like “fine! I don’t care what the rest of you look like in the picture as long as I look good!” As we drive to the beach, my husband is getting cranky due to all the bickering and back talk. He questions the need for the professional family photo, and usually chooses this moment to find out what it costs. Now my husband and I are bickering too. I try to remind him that the outcome will be worth it. When we arrive at the beach, I am already apologizing to the photographer for our motley state. As we begin to try to pose, at least one child is freezing and miserable. We bribe, threaten, and tickle to get the desired simultaneous smiles from all four kids. This year we added our untrained dog to the pandemonium. He was kicked out of the family photo after about 5 minutes for stepping on one of the kids and making them cry.
Once again we ultimately got the photo. Just one (as close to perfect as we’ll ever get) photo of our precious family, and the dog even made it in without needing to be added in photoshop. Having that one picture that captures this moment in time is so worth all the trouble we go through to get it. We cherish the timeline of our growing family that we now have, and we can laugh when we scan back over the years of our family pictures, knowing the bedlam that went into capturing them. In turn, we love getting our friends holiday cards with pictures of their kids each year, seeing how their families have grown as well, and knowing the secret behind those perfect family photos. Chaos!