A quick look at a lesson in surviving family photos.

Fall is the kick-off of my favorite season. Pumpkin spice anything, leaves, and finally a break from the heat and humidity. I don’t think I’m alone in loving that the routine has settled in and, although it is insanely busy, we have a schedule and places to be. Rounding into the season of pumpkin carving, hay rides, and stressful extended family coordination, we have to plan for one of my very favorite things, holiday cards.

I know, not everyone shares the love, especially for the old fashioned physical card in the mail. But there is something that I cherish about receiving beautiful communique printed on matte card stock from friends near and far. For years, I have collected them, placed a single hole punch in one corner and conserved the collective on a metal ring. Each year I unpack and savor the metamorphosis I see in my nieces, nephews, friends and colleagues. If they share something personal, I love it even more. 

In the usual Fall fashion, I rally my troops into what I like to consider the death march (a.k.a. family picture day). Shannon, from Sweet Caroline Photography has taken our family photos for many years. My kids know and trust her. She puts them at ease with her kindness and stares in awe as they disembark from the car after seeing them for the first time in over a year. For me, she is home. She has loved and accepted us from the time before life got complicated. When it was time for our daughter to transition publicly, Shannon did not miss a beat. Always kind and gentle, her affirming presence puts everyone at ease.

Parenting, in general, is not for the weak-hearted, but being the parent of four children, on picture day, is best served with a tiny umbrella and a fruity drink. Our home is loud and in constant motion and picture day is no exception. When I tell you I start planning family photos a minimum of three months in advance, trust I am not being dramatic. Getting ready for pictures is like pulling teeth. I mean literally, I would rather go to the dentist.

Despite best-laid plans and begging for people to try on clothes weeks in advance, inevitably something falls apart. I admittedly tend to get impatient having talked about the impending fiasco, relentlessly for ages. This year, I was determined to thwart the inevitable. So when the ironing board was found lying outside of my door, Ravens game in the living room, and the clock struck thirty minutes prior to departure, the shit hit the fan. 

Thankfully, Shannon graced us with her calming presence. After hugs and briefly catching up on life, Shannon lined up all the kids to start shooting. Our dog wanted to be in every picture and one kid would not hold the other’s hand. Shannon was on point and rolled with it. From behind her lens, I glared at them with a tight upper lip, and flames ablaze out of my ears. Next, she arranged the six of us and, again and despite her best effort, they would not cooperate. Touching, leaning, wrapping arms around, or even standing next to their sibling was out of the question and quite frankly an affront to their humanity. I snapped. I threatened. As a result, tears welled up. I realized I had done harm.

The beautiful person that I birthed sat upon the cold cement, petting the family dog with tears silently falling down their face. I look at my husband, “what do I do?” He had nothing. I apologized. Explained that I needed them to cooperate just for these precious moments. They will not respond. Photos wrap up and we go home.

In short, raising children is tough. It is a constant balancing act to figure out how to meet the needs of each other while preserving sanity and harmony. It is not perfect, I am not perfect, we all mess up. Our perfectly messy life is poised in pretentious poses. We look at the camera, smile, and pretend it is perfect. None of us is though. Above all, we all just love each other and hold tight to the marvelously messy mayhem of the moment.

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