The Perfect Family Photo

I don’t know how other families do it, I really don’t. I see them on Facebook all the time, posting beautiful, smiley, well-lit photos of their children as if it was the easiest thing in the world.  Here you go, just a casual snapshot of MY ENTIRE FAMILY LOOKING PERFECT!  See how nicely they’re dressed, in coordinating but not overly matchy outfits?  Look at those smiles!  Look at how none of them are giving me the finger!

Which is not to say that my own kids have given me the finger in a photograph, at least not physically.  I’m sure mentally I’m getting that and much worse every time I get out my phone.

I don’t know.  I suspect that some of these friends of mine just have more generally agreeable children than I do, which is not to say my kids are disagreeable.  They’re not. They simply have very firm opinions on certain subjects, one of them being photography.  And while they’ve always enjoyed a covert selfie session resulting in 5,000 of the same picture on my phone, they are less into the traditional “say cheese” method of capturing memories.

Some examples.

Oh, you sad woman.

This is me, thinking I can get a nice photo of myself and my two little boys and my new haircut.  Notice what an idiot I look like, smiling for the camera while two small toddlers make a break for it.  Maybe this is why my kids are so anti-photography, because they see what a jackass their mother looks like half the time.  I can hardly blame them.

Wow. That kid looks angry.
Wow. That kid looks angry.

A decent family photo on the surface, and then you notice the irate two-year-old in the background.  It almost looks like he was Photoshopped in there, doesn’t it?  Well, he wasn’t.  Photos like this are difficult on several levels, one being that you must continue to smile and be camera-ready while the photographer tries to cheer up the irate two-year-old.  Also because eventually you will reach the inevitable point where your smile is no longer an expression of happiness and joy but instead a hideous stretching of your lower face that more resembles an expression of criminal insanity. Fabulous.


This is a good one, taken at the now-defunct Sears Portrait studio because I loved the photographer there.  Her name was Kat and she could get good photos of anyone.  I feel like my kids are pretty cute in real life, but Kat’s photos made them look perfect – adorable and charming and full of personality and not at all like they’d just spent fifteen minutes freaking out over a fruit snack.  On this day, as you can see, my smallest child presented Kat with more of a challenge.  Not helping matters was the Mom who couldn’t stop turning her head to try to fix the situation.  Clearly I had not yet learned the rule about remaining frozen like a deer in the headlights while the child is cajoled into smiling or otherwise behaving like a normal person.

Mrs. Smile-A-Lot
Mrs. Smile-A-Lot

Last but not least, here is a typical “casual” photo of my family. We are near the shore of Lake Erie, which seemed like a nice backdrop for a lovely Facebook cover photo.  Maybe I could even hang it on a wall!  I still stand behind my “good backdrop” theory, but apparently a “cooperative family” is also rather crucial.  On a side note – here we are again, one more photo where you can’t help but pity the mom.  AKA me.

To be fair, my kids have gotten better at this as they’ve gotten older.  My stepson is nearly sixteen and really was never a problem at all, and the littler kids – well, we’re now at the phase of “how can I best look like the Joker in this one” photography.  But we’re getting there.  One day, we too may have beautiful, smiley, well-lit photos that we make look easy as pie.

In the meantime, that Erie photo hangs on my wall, and I will tell you why. It’s because that photo was that moment.  That is exactly what it was, on that day at that time for my specific family.  Because I can pretend to complain all I want, but each and every one of the pictures above? Is actually, absolutely perfect.

The Best Gifts Are Sometimes the Ones Where You Look the Stupidest

This is a baby picture of my dad, taken sometime in the late 1930’s and later appropriated by me, for a display of “Mom and Dad as Younger People” photos. Which I hung prominently in whatever apartment I lived in at the time. It was nice.

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This is another picture of my father, taken many years later but also many years before the “grown men re-creating their childhood photos” craze. In this one, my dad is attempting to imitate himself as a baby, and I will tell you that I did not have to beg him to do it.

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As I recall, the conversation that led to this beautiful shot went something like this:

Me:      Hey Dad, why do you think you were holding your hands out in this baby picture?

Dad:     How the fuck should I know?

Me:      Well I mean, do you think they were like, offering you a toy? Doing something to make you laugh and you were trying to grab the funny thing?

Dad:     Mis. I was a baby. I don’t know what the fuck I was doing.

Me:      It’s cute, though . . . don’t you think?

Dad:     I was probably saying, “Hey, quit taking pictures and give me some money, you assholes!”

Me:      Ha. How sweet. Would you do it again now?

Dad:     Now? I don’t know. Yeah, I guess.

And that, as they say, was that.

As you may be able to see, he not only copied the pose, but also removed his false teeth for increased authenticity. The rectangular thing that’s propped up in front of him is the original baby photo, which I wanted to include in case some archaeologist unearthed the picture hundreds of years from now. So they’d see what it was all about, or at least have a chance. All in all I think it worked out great.

So I got the picture developed (like I said, this was a long time ago and Foto Hut was still doing a pretty good business), stuck it in the corner of the baby photo’s frame, and displayed it for years in my various houses and apartments. Every time my parents visited, my dad would say, “Huh…nice picture!” Not, “I look like a whacko in that picture, please put it away,” or, “Why would you ask me to do something so idiotic?” Because my dad knew funny when he saw it. Either that, or he actually did think it was a good picture. Even before Alzheimer’s, you really never knew with him.

In the end, I kept those photos out for so long that the sun started to fade both the baby picture and the re-creation, and so I had to put them away. Later today I think I’ll show them to my kids so that they can know, or at least get an idea, of what their grandfather used to be like. Which is sentimental and sweet and nice, but not really where I’m going with this.

So, where am I going with this, you ask? Well I’ll tell you. For one thing I’m saying that the best memories don’t necessarily come from Disneyland, which quite frankly is a relief, since my parents never took us there. For me, and I’m guessing for my sister too, the best memories came from moments that were not planned, not perfect, and not even particularly important. Like for instance, our dad looking like a jackass in a photo just for a laugh. Or our mom saying “I hate that baby” on the way into a Christmas party where there actually was a baby that she hated.

And speaking of Christmas: maybe this year you’re giving your kids an iPhone or an Xbox or a hover board or, I don’t know, a hot air balloon. Or maybe you can’t afford any of those things and you’re worried about how to handle your kids’ disappointment. And that sucks, and I know, because I was once the kid crying at the mall when I couldn’t get the Jordache jeans. Which is still not the point. And I’m starting to think they should find someone with a far more organized brain to write my blog for me.

Unfortunately that is not going to happen, so, here’s what the point is. Finally. The point is, I’m not saying it’s good or bad to get your kids expensive gifts, and I’m not saying it doesn’t suck when you want to but can’t. What I am saying is that if your child asks you to be photographed in a way that just might make you look like an asshole, you should totally do it. Because that, my friends, is the gift that truly keeps on giving.