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.

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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.

Sigh.
Sigh.

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 Antisocial Grouch’s Guide to a Good Visit with Your Grown Up Parents

Today’s post comes from Elizabeth of Beezus Kiddo, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over at Last Minute Panic, where I talk about having extra kids as a Candyland avoidance technique.

I am writing this while on vacation in Mexico. I literally have nothing to complain about, except for the fact that my husband failed to turn off his usual wake-up alarm on his cell phone, which woke up our 5 year old at 6am, who then climbed into our bed to “snuggle” which at this age really means “stab me with her knees and elbows.” Everyone else is back asleep now, in the big ol’ King Sized bed…except me, sitting in the kid’s roll-away bed, blogging. At least I’m not being stabbed with elbows.

I have lived across the country from my family since 2000. I grew up in California, and by my senior year in high school I was itching bad to spread my wings and fly far, far away. That ultimately resulted in me going to college and law school at the University of Pittsburgh. How do you go from Southern California to Pittsburgh? It’s called “scheduling Honors College visit weekend in May, when all the tulips are blooming, and goodness Pittsburgh is gorgeous!” Little do we outsiders know that you only get one or two of those weekends a year, which means that although they are rare, you never stop taking them for granted. I digress.

Living far away from your family means that when you do have family visits, they are long ones. We can’t pop over to California for Sunday dinner. When we visit, it’s to the tune of 5+ days. When they come visit, it’s the same. When we bought our new house, one of the big features was that the guest bedroom is on the lower floor with its own bathroom. It’s almost it’s own suite. When you have frequent guests for long stays, giving them their own space is so helpful for the patience and sanity of all involved.

Longer visits mean that slight annoyances smolder into a full-blown forest fire after a couple of days. I am particularly guilty of being a jerk to everyone after a couple days, because THEY ARE ALL DRIVING ME CRAZY. (Note: my irritation is not limited to visits with family, basically, after being around anyone for about 48 hours, I’m DONE.) My husband has pointed out to me that having a 48 hour expiration date with other people is not normal, and that my “quirk” is really obnoxious, and has the potential to cause more long-term hurt feelings. In short: It’s not them, it’s me, and I need to knock that $h!% off, or I’m going to badly hurt some feelings.

I can’t turn off the “you are making me crazy” switch, but over time I have developed some approaches to stretch that window of pleasant behavior longer than 48 hours, or to stunt my allergic reaction to the presence of others. If you are social freak of nature like me, perhaps you will find these useful.

    1. Do Something Silly– My dad and stepmom visited very recently, and we busted out a couple bottles of wine and Cards Against Humanity. WARNING: for people with any level of taste or sensibility, this is not the game for you. I do NOT ordinarily talk with my dad & stepmom about the kinds of things that are the beloved focus of Cards Against Humanity, which made it all the more fun. What was even better was when my stepmom didn’t know what half of the cards even meant, and had to keep googling things. What to normal people may sound like a social nightmare was so amazingly fun, that it was one of my favorite memories of the visit. It’s hard to lose patience with family members when they have to google Cards Against Humanity cards.Cards Against Humanity
    2. Make Your Priorities Known– One objective on family vacation is for everyone to get to do a little bit of what they want to do. No one necessarily gets to do every single thing they want to do, but you do your best to make sure to hit everyone’s biggest priorities. One area where I’ve had problems in the past, and have worked on well, is communicating what I really want to do. And if I don’t communicate well, no one understands that what I’m throwing out there as a “suggestion” is not so much a suggestion but a high priority. As in any group, the loudest voices tend to hold the most sway, so while it is obnoxious to be loud about everything, it is beneficial to everyone on the trip that they know what few things you really want to do, so that those things can be incorporated. Presently, my biggest priorities are to spend hours of directionless time sitting at the beach drinking beers, and getting a massage (because I strained my upper back while YAWNING, and it is killing me and I am old). We accomplished the first quite readily yesterday, and appear to have several more such days on the immediate horizon. Luckily, that is a priority shared by all. For the second, Mr. Beez and I scheduled massages for this morning, and we’ll be sending Baby Beez to the kids club (she’s been asking to go to the kids club for every day in the month leading up to this trip. She is very good at making her priorities known.) Everybody wins.
    3. Know Your Limits– This is essential in the vacation planning stage. I need space. I need my own area to be alone. I also need my own time to do things that I want to do, on my own. Getting to pick the activity for everyone to participate in does not cut it. I need to do some activities without everyone sometimes, to keep my sanity. This means that we have found 2 vacation approaches that seem to work great for both spending lots of time with extended family, and also keeping my sanity: Cruise vacations and all inclusive resorts. Both of them offer the variety to meet all kinds of interests, but also take away the friction of having to divide up bills or having to take extra steps to account for individual tastes (someone doesn’t like what other people want to do? Fine, you split and everybody does what they want). Also, alone time is preserved by everyone having their own rooms, and being able to retire back when it gets to be too much. When we were in the planning stages of this vacation, my mom suggested that we all rent a beach house together, and I think I laughed in her face. (whoops!) That much togetherness would be a surefire recipe for me to quit the family for good. We did, however, have a pretty great vacation on a cruise in 2013, with Mr. Beez’s parents as well as my mom & stepdad. The key was that we had together time, but not too much together time. We seem to be replicating that model here, on our all inclusive vacation. It’s approaching 48 hours in, and I am not feeling any approaching urge to renounce my family and run off to live in the jungle with the spider monkeys.

jamaica

Now I’m ready to kick off day 3 of this trip, with no bickering on the horizon! If you’re an antisocial grouch like me, hopefully these tips will help you keep the peace on your next well-intentioned but high-risk-of-crazy family vacation!

Thanks to Elizabeth for this excellent post!  And check out more from the Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event here:

Harvest + Bloom // Yes, Wear That! // jelly jars // Glam and Graffiti // To The Streets // In Pursuit // Pittsburgh & Pearls // Beezus Kiddo // Last Minute Panic // Steel City Intrigue // Crank Crank Revolution // Amanda Narcisi // Pittsburgh is Beautiful // From Cats to Cooking // Yum Yum PGH // Breelicious Bites // Parmesan Princess // Coffee & A Blonde // The Steel Trap // Wavy Alabaster // everybody loves you… // Eat with Emily // Don’t Forget to Eat // Sloping in the Sky // From Farm to Turntable // Secrets in the Wall // Red Pen Mama // Feedback Soup // The AP Collection // Blog Or Die PGH // Pittsburgh Happy Hour // Friendly Fitness Foodie // Small Town Dad // Josh’s World // Geeky Sweetie // Sean’s Ramblings // Lunges, Long Runs and Lattes // Try it and You May! // lil Burghers // Orange Chair Blog // Ya Jagoff // Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents // Melissa Firman