Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Picture this

Our grocery store has a dry cleaner, a café, a tobacconist and a women’s gym on site. They have a portrait studio as well.

Each time I’m in there, which is about three times a week, I stand in the checkout line and admire the oversized portraits of cheeky babies posed with adorable props - fluffy white teddy bears, giant daisies, stainless steel tubs. And I look at those pictures and wonder why I never get around to getting professional portraits done of our boys.

My sister-in-law brings my 14-month old nephew in to her local version of the same grocery-store/portrait studio every few months, and we have a series of exquisite photos of him, from sleeping peacefully on a pillow (barely a days hours old) to sitting proudly on a rocking chair (his one-year-old portraits.)

One day, all the tumblers clicked into place, and I had an epiphany. My boys are plenty photogenic. They are growing like weeds. They have sweet dispositions and are natural hams. We are in the grocery store every two days anyway - while we’re in there, we should get some portraits done! (cue ominous music)

For weeks, I was excited. Despite a complete lack of foresight on my part, the portrait sitting happened be the week before my mother’s birthday. What grandmother wouldn’t love a framed 8x10 of her beauties as a gift?

I spent idle hours minutes considering which outfits the boys should wear. I made sure all the laundry was done so we would have my first choices plus full back-up outfits to wear. The day of the sitting, I waited until 15 minutes before we went out the door to dress them, to avoid any potential unpleasantness with half-chewed goldfish or mashed-banana bits. We made it to the grocery store with just the perfect amount of time to spare - not late enough to be frazzled, not early enough to have to spend excessive effort corralling idle preschoolers.

And that’s when the dream of the perfect family portrait began to fade away like raw images exposed to bright sunlight.

The session before ours ran late, so we waited in an alcove in tantalizingly full but unreachable view of the toy section. Oversized babies leaning on giant blocks looked down on us as the boys went from disinterested to impatient to agitated in the span of minutes. Simon heard the voices behind the black curtain and became obsessed with getting into the studio. Tristan whined that it was taking too long. The oversized babies began to look less cherubic and more sanctimonious with every passing moment.

After a tense quarter hour of waiting, which included some of our lesser moments in public parenting, we were finally allowed into the studio. The photographer was a seasoned professional, likely old enough to drive but certainly not to drink. Which was unfortunate, because I could have used a drink by that point.

There were no giant daisies, no rocking chairs, and no big steel tubs. We chose the fake rock as a prop. (We could have gone with the paint-chipping-off wooden blocks. Maybe there is a reason professional photography studios charge more than $24.99 a package?)

Naïvely clinging to the idea that the picture-taking itself would go smoothly, we had Tristan lean on the (fake) rock while trying to entice Simon out from behind the curtain, where he was playing peeky-boo with himself. Tristan discovered that the (fake) rock was not level, and in fact could act as a catapult, should an unsuspecting brother be placed near it.

Neither boy would look anywhere in the vicinity of the camera.

Tristan was suddenly and chronically afflicted with an inability to smile in anything other than an ironic grimace.

Simon would.not. sit. still.

Eventually, Beloved and I hopped into the picture, hoping at least to confine the boys within boundaries of the frame for the length of a shutter-click. We poked, we begged, we implored, we ordered, we tickled. Finally, regretfully albeit successfully, we made fart noises.

After what seemed like mere moments, our session time was up. Beloved shepherded the boys back out into the alcove while the photographer (I am making air quotes around the word photographer as I type - I can't help myself) showed me the scant few images she had deigned to capture.

With every passing image of painfully forced smiles, blurry toddler escapes and maternal hairy eyeballs (nobody should have to look at a picture of themselves giving the hairy eyeball), I felt my standards lowering from perfectly composed, beautifully realized portraits that captured the complex but ultimately sweet essence of their personalities and the magic of being a parent to one marginally acceptable pose that didn't feature someone with a finger up his nose or looking like (s)he had been recently lobotomized.

And then I saw these.

(Oh, and the bit about the fart noises and that throbbing vein over my clenched jaw muscles? Let's just keep that as our little secret, okay?)