Summer Family Photos: The Good, The Bad, The Truth

Jun 25 2013

If I have to cajole my kids into a hundred fake smiles and a thousand photos that depict a completely unrealistic amount of family fun this summer, by God, I will do it. I will.

IMG_0910-003I am not above bribery, and I am not above inducing guilt. Some of our best family photos have come from a few well-placed jelly beans or a gentle reminder that I’m under no obligation to take them to the ______ (park, zoo, pool, bathroom… you pick) if they won’t reciprocate with a couple counterfeit grins.

I do believe that the smile to the right, in fact — one of my favorite pictures of that punky kid — was the result of promising him a burger for dinner with a side of chicken. For a carnivore, it was a dream come true. And a win/win; meat for him, a sparkle in the eye for me. I regret that bribe zero percent.

But I’m not doing any of this false framing for the purpose of Fakebooking.

Nope. That’s not it at all.

Quite frankly — and I do believe I’ve established a level of trust here where you’ll believe me when I say this — I don’t have any desire for you to think my family and I are perfect. Absolutely none. Honestly, I can’t take the pressure of perfection because I can’t find the time to maintain the required facade.

So why the manufactured family photo plan? Simple:

I stage happy photos so I can remember our happy family.

I mean, sure; we’re not all happy every minute. I have plenty of photos of that. And I think I can speak for all seven of us when I say we’re a family full of well-meaning, irritating people who excel at making each other crazy. We’re loud and messy, weird and kind, selfish, generous, wonky, painful people who love each other.

Thing is, while candid pictures capture the chaos well, they rarely catch the sweet and the sacred. And I’m no professional photographer, reaching for my camera to snap the most magical memories. I’m more likely at any given moment to be reaching for some kid’s discarded, threadbare pants to sop up the gallon of milk that just tumbled to the floor.

So we recreate the magical moments for film.

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And that’s OK.

It’s like a sacrament. An outward symbol of an inward reality.

We’re just telling a deeper truth.

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I’m also a fan, though, of the whole truth. So here’s the other side:

It’s rainy in Oregon this first week of summer and we all have tiny, little colds.

We’re the kind of sick that’s not really sick sick, but is annoying and persistent and makes us all feel generally blah.

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My middle kid, in particular, is extremely angry that we haven’t been able to stop her nose from running. She came into our bedroom at 11:00pm and yelled, “IT WON’T STOP. WHY WON’T IT STOP?! I CAN’T SLEEP and ALDHGAIUHREWKFLDS!” That last, of course, being some sort of nonsensical depiction of all-consuming rage and so perfectly imitating my own feelings about sleeplessness that my loving husband wondered aloud if she’d learned that expression from me.

The last several nights, I abdicated responsibility for dinner; last I knew, there was candy in the candy basket, a few old bananas in a bowl on the sideboard, and a remnant of cheese in the fridge, so it all worked out.

During the days, we’re snuggling down, under our well-loved, somewhat gross, shredded blankets to watch unlimited television.

That’s right. It’s the first week of summer, and we’re celebrating with a truly unreasonable amount of screens.

So the next time you see fun staged summer photos of laughing kids frolicking in the sunshine, you can remember that’s part of the truth. A deeper truth, even. But not the whole thing.

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What’s your summer photo strategy?
Do you stage them?
Is bribery involved?
Or is it just me?

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Family photo credits to Joel Bock Photography