We recently took advantage of the mild fall weather in Minnesota and had a good friend take some family photos for us. They turned out wonderfully. Just the shots I needed to adorn our Christmas cards, living room walls and the "About" section of this blog (I washed my hair for the occasion). However, lurking behind those bright smiles and tender candid moments lies the truth about that day and our life in general.
A few days before the photo shoot I realized that I had NO idea what our family would wear. Not only did I need to figure out my own outfit (about 5% of my clothes fit at the moment) but I also needed to find semi-coordinating ensembles for all three boys (big and little). I immediately started to freak out, because for some reason picking outfits for family photo shoots is one of the most anxiety-inducing activities in my life right now. I don't know why, but I start getting so stressed out that my sleep suffers (first world problems, I know, but try telling that to my stupid brain). Luckily a quick trip to Target and some frantic rifling through the boys' dressers provided me with a few options.
The morning of the photos I was still trying to finalize outfit choices while at the same time breastfeeding, showering, making breakfast, wresting children into uncomfortable clothes and stressing about the fact that I'm about 20 lbs heavier than I was this time last year. I had bought jeans in an outrageously large (for me) size a few months before which I discovered that morning were still way too small. So I also had to make time to search the dirty laundry mountain in the basement to find a pair of leggings that weren't covered in barf. I'm pretty sure I also picked a fight with my husband and told him we would take family photos without him, but at that point the day gets blurry.
We finally got out the door and thank goodness our friend was also running late. We got slightly lost, but made it to the correct location looking relatively put together and I even remembered a bag of spare clothes in case of blow-out diapers or mud puddles. At this point you would think I might start to calm down, but my anxiety only increased because my toddler was in an especially "spirited" mood (for all my non-parent readers, spirited is a code word for asshole) and I knew we were in for a fight to get him to stay still and smile.
And wow, was I right. We took the photos on some hiking trails in a nearby park. My son, who is a confirmed runner, would see the trails disappearing into the distance and take off without warning. Sometimes he would wait until our backs were turned trying to get a shot with his baby brother, but most of the time he would just rip himself away from us mid-picture taking and sprint into the forest. When we did get him to stand still long enough for a photo or two, he generally refused to smile or look at the camera. Or, he would smile beautifully without warning at the exact moment our friend put the camera down.
I spent a lot of that day threatening my toddler and giving my husband exasperated looks. The baby fussed incessantly until finally falling asleep (he is passed out in about half the pictures). I quietly started doing labor breathing because I was afraid I was going to freak out and try to scream my children into submission. I think the only saving grace, and the reason we did end up getting some good shots, is because our photographer wasn't a stranger and has a daughter the same age as our son. She told him Daniel Tiger lived in her camera. Genius.
When we got our photo CD in the mail this week, I was secretly relieved that outwardly I didn't look like a crazed, over-tired, stress monster. Despite his best efforts, there were some pretty cute shots of our older son, and the pictures with the baby sleeping are adorable. I don't quite look like my old self, but maybe I'm not as far away as it feels like I am most days. My husband looks great because he is infuriatingly photogenic and didn't just grow two children in his body.
I posted the photos online today, and couldn't help but feel like a bit of a liar. Everyone knows family photos don't necessarily represent reality, but I think when young children are involved the disparity is even more pronounced. Maybe I should have included an asterisk, or disclaimer of some sort, and listed all the bribes of sugar and screen time that were used to illicit those smiles. Or perhaps we should have gotten a candid shot of me chasing my son down a beautiful forest trail, my face twisted in rage as he screams with delight.