Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Adventures in Photographic Hell

Because my head is about to explode even as the holiday season is just beginning, here is a piece I wrote about a year ago that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer -- the topic was supposed to be "Family Traditions" but I tried to twist "tradition" into something at least a little bit humorous.

Oh yeah, HAPPY THANKSGIVING. And let the frenzied shopping begin!

True family traditions are not planned. They evolve naturally, as time lends significance to seemingly insignificant rituals. The passing years soften any hard edges and we're left with the glow of a happy childhood memory.

At least I hope that's the case with our family tradition, one that began with the simple act of purchasing a miniature Santa suit.

Flashback to Fall 1996...We are the proud parents of an infant daughter, V. In what must be the same form of temporary insanity that leads some folks to put clothing on their dogs, I buy her a tiny velour Santa outfit, complete with beret.

Take one adorable baby & add Santa suit -- what more do you need for the perfect Christmas card photo?

Most (sane) parents would simply journey to a local department store and have their child posed in front of various fake-looking festive backgrounds. But we must take the photo ourselves. With the pseudo-paparazzo she knew as mommy, V. was already the most photographed non-celebrity child in the northern hemisphere.

That first Christmas photo was hugely popular. (Well, at least one recipient probably used the word "adorable" and that was all the encouragement needed.)

Thus, a tradition is born.

But, as with every family tradition worth its salt, there's more to this one than meets the eye. If this were an episode of E! True Hollywood Story it might be entitled: "Blood, Sweat, Tears, & Garland." OK, we generally stop short of bloodshed, but just barely.

The first step every year is to find the sole Barbie/Fisher-Price free corner in the house for our staging area. (All parents reading this know I have just lied. There is no part of the house that has escaped toy infestation. The real story -- we look through the viewfinder & kick visible playthings just out of frame.)

In addition to the ongoing clutter issues, each year has presented additional challenges:

1996: The aforementioned Santa outfit... Being a new parent, I was unaware that no self-respecting non-French infant wants to be seen in a beret. Even at the tender age of 4 1/2 months, V. must have realized that the beret is a silly and useless piece of headgear (unless you are halloweening as a beatnik.) She knew that no matter the consequences, she must remove the beret (repeatedly) or risk the ridicule of her fellow infants. Joyeux Noel!

1997: Does my camera have a setting for "whirling dervish"? Hi-jinx ensue as parents search frantically for props keep the darling toddler relatively still.

1998: Two years old & twice as energetic. Need faster film.

1999: Two-month-old S. enters the picture, and we discover a heretofore unknown law of mathematics: add one child and the odds against getting a decent photo are increased exponentially. To make matters worse, I decide to put my children in vintage 1960s dresses. This means ironing is involved, which is never good. I write a mental love letter to DuPont (for inventing Lycra) and vow to go the artificial fiber route in future years.

2000: The least number of photos taken any year (8). Everything S. does (her mere existence?) upsets V. We sent out the last shot taken -- a darling photo of the girls seated at the piano. An untrained eye would attribute V's flushed cheeks & shining eyes to holiday anticipation. In reality, her eyes are glistening with remnants of the tears shed during a bitter dispute over piano bench position (after all, everyone knows the high keys are the best).

2001: Evidently, S. has a revelation. As the second child, it is her sworn duty to antagonize her elder sibling whenever possible. No opportunity must be missed, even if your image is being recorded for posterity. Who's crying now? Mommy.

2002: A new little bundle of joy joins our family -- a digital camera. I continue to pledge allegiance to 35mm while my husband shoots jpgs. Unfortunately, this means there are no free hands to child-wrangle. The girls sense our lessoned control & take advantage of the situation by doing their best Jerry Lee Lewis impersonations at the piano. It takes us 55 digital photos to get something usable. I give up on film.

2003: The girls are not bickering! Instead, they are united by a common goal -- a contest to see who can make the goofiest face. Extra added benefit -- this really annoys their parents. But the glee is short-lived and by the last picture V. is in tears & I am seriously contemplating putting an end to this tradition for good.

2004: I need a game plan. Perhaps the simple combination of crinoline & tights promotes an anarchy that the girls are helpless to resist? So, this year -- no tights. In their place: positive reinforcement (AKA bribery). If the girls behave, they will get to bake chocolate cookies when we're through. Brilliant!

I'd like to say it went off without a hitch. In reality, it went...OK. The tears were brief, and we learned that hanging upside down from a piano bench does a wonderful job of making hair look fluffier. Add a couple of chocolate chips, and all is right with the world.

If a professional photographer were taking the photos, the girls would probably be so angelic they'd sprout halos. But where's the challenge? The drama? The muttering of expletives below one's breath? And that's what I call a family tradition.


At November 25, 2005 10:55 PM, Blogger Merujo said...

I had to forward this to one of my friends - every year when she gets her kids dressed to go to have their Xmas picture taken, one of her sons manages to cut himself/smack his head on something/do any number of things that requires a large bandage or makeup across his forehead.

I have come to love seeing this kid with a huge grin on his face and big bandaid in the middle of his head. It's as if he loves torturing his mother, and the smile is just the kicker at the end of the day.

At November 28, 2005 7:10 PM, Blogger Cyn said...

I am honored by the forward -- and hopefully your friend can relate...come to think of it, I'm sure she can!


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