Why I Abhor Family Portraits

My mother in law is a saint. She has a heart of gold and is overall just a good person. But like most saints and good-natured people, she is blind to the ugliness of this world. Whether it’s because these folks choose not to see it, or lack the ability to see the darkness coming, they lack the wherewithal to dodge the bolts of lighting that accompany these proverbial storms.  This darkness..this evil…extends to the long honored tradition of sitting for a  family portrait.

Christmas 2009, my mother-in-law gleefully announced that she would like all of us to sit for a portrait Sears. “All of us” includes her and her husband, me and my husband and our 3 kids, and my sister-in-law and her 9 month old son. (Her husband had to work Christmas and could not make it. He should count himself lucky.) That’s nine people in one photo. When she told me that she wanted a family portrait, I knew it was all going to go very badly. I knew this because my kids are crazy. But you can’t tell old people nothing, and you especially cannot dash a sweet old ladies hopes, so I dutifully trekked with my children to Ohio for what would have been a good Christmas, outside of the sh*t storm that I knew was coming.

Mrs. Grant happily got the girls ready for the photo.

“I haven’t decided if they have a press and curl or if we should get braids,” she mulled.

She had already purchased the most darling red dresses for them, and holiday sweaters for the boys.

“I’d like everyone to wear red/black/white for the picture,” she cooed. It was all very sweet.

The girls were ecstatic over their new hair-dos and everyone was showered and powdered for the portrait, which was scheduled at 4pm. Mistake number one.

We encountered Mrs. Grant’s best friend leaving the portrait studio with her family. They were all clad in jeans and white shirts, the pre-teen girls looking sassy with their press and curls. A look of envy swept over my mother-in-law’s face. After she and Henrietta (her best friend) exchanged pleasantries and family introductions and were out of earshot, she turned to me and said “We’re going to do jeans and white shirts for our next picture too!”

I could hardly wait.

As soon as we got into the portrait studio, Stone took a massive green dump. We had to wait 10 minutes while I wiped him down and made sure the stench of baby guano wasn’t clinging to either of us. When that was done, I found the family sitting sullenly, trying to choose the appropriate background for the shot. I stepped in and it was decided that it would be gray. The girls gasped when they walked in and saw all the props and toys in the portrait studio. Nadjah made a beeline to one of the stools and declared that that’s where she wanted to sit for the picture. When the photographer explained that Grannie had to sit there and she must stand in front, a torrential cascade of tears followed.

“Stop it,” I seethed.

The rest of the family was more compassionate, offering her praise and encouraging her to smile for the picture. Satisfied that the fate of this photo rested in her grubby 5 year old hands, my daughter the wannabe model smiled graciously for the picture. The next 20-30 minutes was spent taking several shots of the same pose, some with the babies looking elsewhere, some with my left eye half closed, some with Marshall refusing to smile. After much toil, we got the money shot!

“I’d like one with just the grand kids,” Mrs. Grant decreed. Oh how cute, we all agreed.

Suddenly, Aya began to cry.

“Why are you crying???” I asked, visibly irritated. Of course being 3 years old, she had no good explanation why. I supposed she might have been tired or hungry, but there was nothing to be done about either at that point.

As the photographer tried to convince her that the felt covered box she was sitting on was a princess bed or a magic carpet, Aya just began to shriek harder. Her cries only succeeded in irritating her otherwise peaceful baby brother whose watery grin transformed into a confused facade of terror.

“Aya,” said her grandmother. “Please smile. Don’t you want to make Grannie happy?”

Aya vigorously shook her head and screamed “No!!!”. Grannie sat forlornly on her stool, unsure whether to be angry or saddened by this announcement.

That little heathen.

With 2 shrieking children and Nadjah preening model-esk poses worth of Vogue, it was decided we would take the picture and capture the moment. This was the result:

After it was over, Pop-Pop took the kids out for ice-cream and the rest of us went home to recoup our streght, like weary soldiers bloodied from an uncalled-for battle.

And it is for this reason, folks, that you will never see a complete family portrait proudly portrayed anywhere in my home!