Sunday, September 22, 2013

Picture [not so] Perfect

What is it about professional picture taking that sends shivers up my spine? Well, if you're a mom of more than one child you probably already know. As a matter of fact, you could probably write this blog for me.  You've been there, done that.  I have too, yet I choose to do this to myself once or twice a year. This year was no different.

Since the birth of my first child, I've been on a quest to have her picture professionally taken every few months and then later once a year.  I don't really know why I do this because with today's technology her every move has been documented in multiple formats. Trust me, if you want to know what she looked like at 16 months and 3 days, I have pictures.  It all started so innocently... a coupon to Sears (our closest portrait studio at the time) for a baby picture.  How could I say no? I bought a really cute outfit for her and made an appointment. During this experience I learned some things I never considered.

1. Babies puke (a lot). Outfits don't look so cute when they are stained with wet milk, so multiple outfits will be required and they can not be dressed until the last second.

2. Babies sleep (a lot). Waking up a sleepy baby is not good so from now on appointments would have to been timed very carefully.

3. Babies cry (a lot). They do not smile on cue no matter what faces you make or how much you plead.  They don't care how much effort you made to get there or how many people are waiting in line behind you. Speaking of that, even the most carefully timed appointment will never start on time chiefly because of the reasons stated above. 

All experienced mothers know these things yet something inside us [or maybe it's a grandparent's urging] compels us to seek out professional photography.  In a portrait studio the lighting is just right (no red eyes), the background is carefully chosen (no toys on the floor), the outfits are coordinated (no stains), and the hair is styled complete with curls, bows, etc. (rather than unkempt). We can attempt to control the environment, but the one thing we can not control is the image that gets captured on the screen.  That's the part which feels more like rolling the dice.  Will they smile naturally or will we get one of those 'forced' grins?  Will their personality shine through or will it look like someone we hardly recognize?  And that's the crux of it isn't it?  We want their pictures to genuinely reflect how we perceive our kids looking. I made several photographers cry when I've said, "No, that really doesn't look like them. Can we try it again?"

Emily's first professional picture. She set the bar high. This remains one of my all time favorite pictures.  What you don't see is how covered with spit up I was while getting ready for our turn.

As we moved through toddlerhood and then on to school-age, the photography events got easier in some ways (no more spitting up and napping) but much harder in others. I remember chasing Emily around the studio trying to get her to stand in one place, pleading with James to wear a nice shirt (and not use it as a napkin), and bribing Kat with ice cream, toys and many other things.

The top picture is Emily and bottom one is Kat.  Just to make things more difficult, I dressed them in the same dress. What you may not notice is that Emily would not stand still. This is the only picture actually in focus.

Complicating matters, now there was not only individual pictures but group photos as well.

In this picture James' sensitive area was literally being crushed. I had no idea until they stood up and he burst into tears. I can't even look at this picture without thinking of how much pain he was in. Poor boy!

Add in Christmas family pictures, cousins' pictures, and the ever dreaded school pictures (which we rarely purchased since there were too many variables out of my control - think closed eyes, goofy grins, hair standing up, etc.) and you have an event worth sheer dread/loathing/distain... take your pick.

I have no idea what James was thinking here, but clearly "say cheese" did not motive him to smile. The rest of us look decent, so this is the one we went with. Makes me laugh when I see it though.

A few weeks ago I purchased a Groupon to JC Penny's for one of their photo packages. I knew it'd be time for school pictures soon and given that at least two of my kids are teens now, I thought it would probably be easier than ever.  Wrong.  So wrong.  My first mistake was waiting till the day of to get my 14 year old's hair cut. Drama.  Mistake number two was not planning coordinating outfits (not matching... those days are long over). Drama.  Mistake number three was assuming I could just find something quickly at the store where the pictures were being taken. More drama. The studio kindly pushed my appointment time back so we could shop a little longer but that did not help at all. That just allowed time for more stress, a few tears (Emily's mascara running), hungry stomachs (James and I didn't eat lunch), and pouting about not having the right shoes (Kat wearing boots and Emily in sandals).  Ugggh!

In the end we did find something to wear and I must say the kids were very cooperative during the picture taking part.  Praise God for that!  They even waited patiently while the pictures uploaded and were also easy going about the selections.  That part is always harder for me.  The coupons never really give you exactly what you want.  Plus they're always so sneaky about putting collages together that look adorable but aren't part of the package.  And still a concern is whether the expression captured really reflects your child as you see them.  Add in a husband or grandparents' opinion and it really gets complicated.  I've been known to either walk away from pictures I wish I had purchased as well as purchased some I really shouldn't have.  It's not an easy task, at least for this mama. I've said "never again" more than once, but when I look back at each picture I'm not just remembering a moment in time, I'm really remembering an experience. Some of them more difficult than others, but definitely all worth while.

These pictures will represent their 9th, 8th, and 5th grade year. You may see typical kid smiles, but I see a whole afternoon worth of drama.  I wonder what they'll remember of this day when they grow up. My meltdown? Their new clothes? Being really hungry?


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Power of Friendship

When you think of things you hope for you kids during childhood at least one of them is probably good friends.  Friends can lift us up when we're feeling blue, they can entertain us when we're bored or alone, and they can challenge us to be gracious, charitable, and forgiving.  Just as this is all true, the wrong kind of friends can do just the opposite.  It's no wonder we've kept a close eye on our kids' friendships almost to the point of keep them from becoming too close to certain kids. 

Of course we've moved a few times which doesn't help the cause. The girls have a few close childhood friends back in Chicago and James has at least one friend he reconnected with last time we visited. As for local friendships, that's been a little tougher.  Well, maybe not for Katherine. She's my out-going personable fun-loving girl.  Kat makes friends wherever she goes and has a few nice girls she can hang out with that live close by. Emily has also connected with at least one other girl, and I'm so thankful because that has been a blessing.  James on the other hand has been a bit of a loner.  Although he attended public school for 6th grade, no real friendships developed out of that experience. As a matter of fact, after meeting some of the kids and hearing stories he's shared with me, I'm really glad he had the good sense not to become close with anyone from there. 

We thought getting him plugged into youth group at church would really help expose him to some quality guys, but that presented challenges too because even though the kids were nice they seem to have very different interests than James.  We've tried getting together with other homeschoolers as well, but that hasn't worked because they either live far away or the contact has been sporadic.  In addition to this, there is one factor we didn't consider... chemistry.  Having common interests and being of the same age is not enough to form a good friendship.  Simply put, they must like each other.  The quality that attracts one person to another whether it's in friendship or in a spouse is virtually undefinable.  Why do we prefer some people over others? I don't know, we just do.

Not too long ago our church hired a new children's pastor. The family has six kids, with four of them still at home.  They live very close by and they are homeschoolers. Their kids are slightly different ages from our kids, but they are very close.  Our family values line up and we genuinely like their kids.  And perhaps for the first time ever... there is chemistry with all three of our kids.

Last night all four of their kids came over to spend the night.  Normally having extra kids around would increase my stress level, but this time it was easier than if I had been alone with only my three.  They danced, swam, played Minecraft, painted pictures, played tag, and watched a Rated G movie. They laughed, told stories, and played harmless pranks.  Most importantly, they all got along and they all prayed together in the evening.  These are the kind of kids I want my kids to hang out with.  These are the kinds of friendships we've been praying for.  It does this mama's heart good to hear the laughter and see the smiles. I hope this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship for all the kids.