Portrait of a (disheveled) family

. February 1, 2013.

“Please give me a nice family picture,” was my appeal to the photographer when I initially set up our family shoot.

I am part perfectionist, part idealist, all wrapped up in an impatient package. I want things to fit my ideal without delay. The family picture session was where these qualities, and the realities of my family, met to do battle.

The problem started weeks before the shoot when my wife found out how much the session would cost. In her mind, it was too expensive. I explained to her how important it was to have professional family pictures — my attempt to sway her made no impression. I told her that pictures would be nice to have for future Christmas cards (even though it was only summer). Once again, I was making no headway. To her, it was an unnecessary extravagance.

Due to this resistance, I stopped talking about the planned shoot, wrote it on the calendar and hoped all would smooth over. The day came and my hopes were dashed with her comment: “Are we still going ahead with this?” My wife would participate, but with a forced smile.

 Well at least the kids would be supportive, right? Not! I don’t want to be unfair to the kids — they just maintained their everyday enthusiasm. Which is to say, that if we were shooting a children’s clothing catalog, they’d be fired.

Our six-year-old daughter wanted to pose, just not with the rest of the family. She wanted to show the photographer her different gymnastics moves, what she could do on the swing and how fast she could run from mom and dad. Our two-year-old son wanted to squirm and run away to play.

Add to this situation the fact that it was hot. Not just summer hot, but one of those days when sweat forms without any kind of exertion. In this heat I was running around the yard trying to corral the kids, show my wife that this was not a boondoggle, while maintaining some kind of appearance of calm for the camera, as sweat gathered on my brow and back.

In this maelstrom, I was tempted to admit defeat  — “okay, this is all over.” The kids were acting up, my shirt was getting soaked with sweat, and my wife was giving me the look of “I told you this would not work.” In spite of these obstacles I pressed on for three reasons.

One, I did not want my wife to be right.

Two, I had a lot of faith in our photographer and I believed she could give us that perfect picture I desired.

Third, I (really) did not want my wife to be right.

A couple weeks later the pictures arrived. Out of several hundred shots, there were about 30 good ones. There was even one that would look good alongside other family pictures hung on the stairway wall. I looked at each beloved family member, remembering that day, and seeing something more. My daughter is kind, beautiful yet at times, so selfish. My son is gregarious, dutiful and prone to mischief. My wife is loving, helpful and so darn cheap. I am idealistic, energetic, and much too impatient.

Together we make a family. The picture on the wall preserves those good attributes and lets us forget the negatives.