If you're a parent who's attempted to create one of those adorable family-photo cards I get dozens of in the mail every holiday season, you recognize each one for what it really is: a tiny miracle. Because coordinating a group shot where everyone looks happy, stylish, and, let's face it, clean, isn't easy with any human subjects, but add some kids to the mix, and it's almost goddamn impossible.
I should know. Ever since my kids, now 5 and 8, were born, I've been slightly obsessed with getting professional photos taken of our growing family. This is partly because I am less than stellar about taking my own photos, often leaving entire vacations and family events without so much as a a single snap documenting the experience. Luckily for me, one of my best friends is a supertalented photographer, a fact that takes the whole photo shoot ordeal from torturous to just mildly stressful. So yeah, I'll take advantage of her skills to make up for my lack of them, even if it kills me. And sometimes it feels like it just might.
You see, having dozens of family photo shoots under my belt doesn't make each individual experience any less taxing. There's the scheduling process, finding the perfect time when everyone should be in a good mood and not ready for a nap. Don't forget to factor your husband in when making this decision. Mornings usually work best, but it can't be so early that you haven't allowed enough time for at least one temper tantrum, a wardrobe malfunction (i.e., yogurt-covered pants or a missing hair bow), and several cups of coffee for said husband.
Then there's the outfit planning (my favorite part in theory), always forgetting that my idea of what makes a chic, photo-ready outfit is worlds away from my daughter's — and she almost always wins. And there's the unpredictability of the weather. And the unpredictability of whether your child will decide to smile for the camera or throw up peace signs and dab the whole time instead (or is that just my son?).
It's all in an effort to find that one perfect holiday card picture, and I have a very specific idea of what that looks like. In a pinch, it can include only kids, but a photo that shows the whole family is preferable. My reasoning is selfish: as much as I enjoy seeing my friends' kids on their cards, I like seeing my friends even more. Therefore, I try to return the favor by showing them that I'm also aging fairly well and still occasionally wear something other than yoga pants. (For reference, Kate Middleton and Prince William's family portrait from 2018 is basically the dream.)
All of this struggle leads me to the most important part of my family photo shoots, the real reason why they've been so successful to date. It's also the one thing that I don't write in the short, mildly humorous update printed on the back of the as-close-to-perfect-as-we-could-get family photo card. Yes, if I was a more honest person, each holiday card would come with a disclaimer, and it would read, This card was Photoshopped. Because nine times out of 10, it absolutely was.
Maybe I just had my photographer friend amp up the color in our cheeks or remove the dark circles from under my eyes. Sometimes I have her lean out a weirdly smushed arm or leg. More than once, including this year, I've had her transpose a whole family member from one photo to another because of a closed-eye situation. (Exactly why you should make sure your husband isn't tired on photo shoot day.)
Am I ashamed of the post-processing done to get our photos Christmas card ready? Absolutely not. The holidays are hard enough when you're a parent. I don't need a photo fail to remind me of that. Digitally thinner arms, however? That I'll gladly take.