Ugh. Family photos. You all know what I’m talking about: those posed group pictures you had to annually contend with growing up. If a matriarch presided over your particular family unit, they proved mandatory.
Here’s my problem with these suckers…they’re supposed to represent our childhoods, invoking long-sought-after nostalgia. In reality, they really don’t. Whenever I set eyes on one of those abominations, all I can remember is all the drama leading up to their creation.
For a full twenty-four hours, I’d be forced to wear curlers in my hair (and these were the old-fashioned hard kind that hurt like the dickens to sleep in). My mother was so adamant that I keep them in that I once even wore them to escort my Dad to his job. A secretary there attempted not to grin when she saw me. Then, of course, we had to wear appropriate outfits. Although we were never avid churchgoers, we donned “Sunday clothes.” For my brothers, this included khaki pants or corduroy trousers along with buttoned-down, long-sleeved shirts. For my younger sister and I, our apparel consisted of homemade dresses that were tight around the armpits and edged in excruciatingly itchy lace.
In other words, none of us even vaguely resembled our usual selves. I’ve never understood the reasoning behind this practice.
After loading our dashing selves into the car and trying not to wrinkle anything, we’d head over to Walmart’s portrait studio. We could have just gotten this whole thing over with during school pictures in the fall, but my parents refused to pay double or triple the usual price. (Privately, I’ve always thought that this gig must be pretty lucrative. Think about it: a single day’s work, and you’ve got hundreds of commissions from eager parents. Talk about $$$!)
Anyway, that’s why we always looked to alternatives, and Walmart was pretty much it for my hometown. Walmart, of course, is known for its wide variety of backgrounds: a weird haystack, black shadows, and perfectly symmetrical clouds that resembled nothing of the sort. Ooh, such choices!
Then, you have to suffer through the weird props and noises used by the photographer to get your one reluctant brother to finally crack a smile. Admit it—we all have that brother. Some of us even have two of those brothers. Trying not to roll your eyes, you allow the photographer to move your body and hands around to get the optimal appearance down.
After all this effort and invasion of your personal space by a perfect stranger, you parents receive the end result five or six weeks later. Let me tell you, though, that it doesn’t matter how much you cooperate or try to look your best. Your facial expression still turns out weird. In fact, the entire picture will be defined by one or more of you looking vacant or angry or disgusted. It’s a reality that all of us must face.
One year, I bit my bottom lip for every shot. This was perfectly unintentional, but my mother hasn’t let it go to this day.
Does any of this really matter, though? Even if every shot turned out to perfection, it still wouldn’t represent good memories or your actual childhood. My favorite picture of all time is right now on my desk: it consists of myself at the age of two with my Dad grinning down at me, his dimples loud and proud. My matching set of dimples are pretty obvious, too. This picture was taken spontaneously and captured a beautiful moment that still chokes me up. All of my favorites are like this: there’s one of my brother passed out on the bathroom floor, a cat sleeping on my sister’s rear end, my mother wearing an apron she made, my siblings and I sitting on the front porch swing…the list is endless. They represent the magic of my early days.
So, all you mothers out there, if you really want your kids to remember their childhood fondly, skip the posed crap. Buy your kids cameras (not camera phones—kids should not own cell phones) and give them free reign. They’ll take so many they’ll be swimming in memories by adulthood.
Don’t forget; you can always delete the pictures that make your butts look big