Family Photos Are A Nightmare -- But We Just Keep Taking Them

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

It’s that time of the year again—the time I plan our annual family photo shoot.

At first, I’m excited. I start browsing online stores to get inspiration for our outfits. What color combinations are trending this fall? Of course, I start with my toddler, because baby clothes are always the cutest. Once I find something perfect for her to wear, I move up the age-scale.

That’s when I remember, family photo shoots kind of suck. Well, that’s an understatement. They’re actually a freaking nightmare. But we just keep taking them.

There are six people in my family—two adults and four kids. Finding outfits for a group of our size is basically as fun as a pap smear. I order several articles of clothing, from several stores, in multiple sizes—hoping the pieces will fall into place.

But then the drama ensues and all my previous excitement gives way to frustration. My tween doesn’t like the way the seams feel on the shirt I’ve selected. My first grader’s shoes are too small—and, by the way, can he just wear his rainboots? My toddler won’t stop pulling on her hairbow. My middle daughter refuses to wear a skirt or dress—which is fine—but the romper choices are ruffled and floral. She’s not having it. So I finally find an approved romper–which costs three times more than what I wanted to spend.

After a month of ordering, trying on, and returning clothing, we finally have decent outfits. But then, two of my four kids hit major growth spurts, and I’m back to returning and reordering. But wait, that outfit I needed up a size for my daughter? It’s sold out. Sorry.

It’s a vicious cycle. Just two days before the shoot, we have our coordinating outfits. Then picture day arrives. Too bad though, because it’s pouring rain. Those outdoor pictures at the local gardens? Rescheduled.

We pick a new date three weeks away. And once that day arrives, and I get my kids into the minivan, imploring them not to even think about touching their clothing. I offer a bribe. Anyone who does a great job at the photo shoot will earn extra technology time that day. They excitedly agree, promising to be good listeners.

We arrive at our destination—a beautiful outdoor garden. I beg my kids to stay on the path and out of the damp grass. But one of them is already five feet off the paved sidewalk, the wet grass leaving water streaks all over his khaki pants.

I know that every stain, crumb, and stray hair can be edited out of the pictures. I need to chill out—but I can’t. Because my toddler starts insisting, very loudly, that she has to poop. Effective immediately. We aren’t within walking distance of a bathroom, so my husband straps her into the van and they zip off.

That leaves me, the photographer, and the other three kids. They begin complaining that they are so bored, tired, hot, cold. They then start running circles around me. Before I can issue a reminder about not getting dirty, one of them trips, getting dirt on the knees of her pants and hands. Great.

We squeeze in some individual shots of each of the older three kids—making use of the time. This goes okay, until my oldest starts non-stop sneezing. Thank you, seasonal allergies. She tries to smile, but it’s painfully forced. Then her eyes begin to turn red and water. The tissues and eye drops I pull from my purse don’t help. “Are we done yet?” she implores. We’ve been taking pictures for maybe four minutes—tops.

Fifteen minutes later, my husband returns with our toddler who is adamantly asking for a snack. Because when you empty your bowels, you get really hungry. We promise her a granola bar as soon as we’re done taking photos. Then we distract her by pointing out the beautiful flowers. Would she like to smell them? I then frantically gesture for the older three kids to follow. Finally. Let’s do this.

The photographer is amazing. She’s a dear friend of mine. A teacher during the week, a mom, and a photographer on the weekends. My kids adore her. My son darts out of the carefully created scene every few minutes to give my girlfriend what he calls “one-hundred kisses.”

I don’t want to squander his adoration for her, but I really want to wrap up the pics. My hips are aching from the booties I’m wearing—and hiking around nature in. My toddler has discovered the aforementioned hairbow, and now it’s in her sweaty hand. The kids’ smiles are becoming increasingly forced, and if I’m honest, mine is, too.

My husband is telling the kids, through clenched teeth and eyes on the camera, to please just sit still and smile for five hot seconds. But then a butterfly descends on a nearby flower, and my toddler can’t take her eyes off it. “I just want one decent family photo!” I sigh to no one in particular.

We move to a wooden bridge, and my friend arranges us. Sibling two doesn’t want to stand by sibling three and an argument ensues over personal space. But when you’re taking family photos, there’s no such thing as personal space. It’s all about draped arms and hand holding and leaning this way or that.

We settle enough to get a few pics when I look down to observe my son putting his hand in front of his face, carefully examining it. Because, why not? I ask him to please put his hand down, which to him means, please put both hands up. Then make muscle poses. Then proclaim he’s Ironman. Well, my middle daughter isn’t having it, since she wants to be Ironman in that same moment.

My friend offers to take a few pics of me and my hubby–and I’m grateful. Because we are almost never in the pictures we take day-to-day. The kids take the opportunity to act like they’re in gymnastics class. Bring on the cartwheels.

I’m trying to look like I legitimately adore my husband while inwardly seething.

That’s when I feel my blood sugar dropping from the exertion of walking around and herding the kids. I feel sweat trickle down my back and chest, and I pull out the fruit snacks, the ones I promised my kids. The life of a type 1 diabetic is constant. The kids spot me and began to protest. “Why are you eating my reward?” one of them asks. I have gooey fruit snack stuck between all my teeth and manage to say, “Because my blood sugar is low.”

The shoot is most definitely over. We try to get some more individual pics of the kids, but their smiles are absolutely terrible. They’re grimacing, at best. I claim “that’s a wrap,” chewing the last fruit snack.

On the walk back to the parking lot, my kids suddenly turn into angels. They hold my friend’s hand, tell her all about the new school year, and joke around with each other. Jekyll and Hyde style. All I can do is trail behind the group, wobbling in my shoes, and hoping my blood sugar will rise ASAP.

Weeks later, we get the photos back. My friend, who is a true miracle worker, sends me a few family photos where we are all mostly-naturally smiling and looking at the camera. Yes, my son’s hand is mid-air. Yes, the baby’s hair is a little wild on one side without her hairbow. Yes, I look like a tired mom, because I am one.

Family photos stress me out to the max. But the reality is, our family life is loud, chaotic, and messy and our photos reflect that. And even though I loathe taking family pictures, I’m still thankful I have them. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, telling the story of family.

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