Life with little kids simply isn’t picture perfect.
My daughter Lucy (three) and my son Will (nine months) are screechingly loud, often inexplicably sticky, and always up to something. With faces red from exertion and hair tousled from play, they certainly don’t look like the coiffed and controlled children in my Pottery Barn Kids catalogue.
And my house, strewn with toys no matter how many times a day I pick them up, isn’t the ideal setting for formal photographs.
Still, I’m always taking pictures. I keep my camera close by, so I won’t miss those all-too-quick moments that make the chaos of everyday worth bearing: Lucy twirling like a ballerina, Will’s snaggle-toothed smile, her covered with chalk from a sidewalk masterpiece, his first wobbly steps. I want to remember every single crazy detail about them. I have hundreds of thousands of candid images, saved and filed on my computer.
But not always printed.
I look at the frames hung throughout our house, filled with posed, professionally shot images. We hired a photographer to take family photos after our first baby was born and have continued the tradition every year since. Our walls reflect a record of our growing family as seen through another lens: Lucy and Will, sitting still and gazing angelically at the camera; Lucy grinning in her preschool photos; our family this past Christmas, resplendent in our matching clothes and smiles.
They are all beautiful pictures of us, and they are certainly staged to capture our best selves at the time — but our actual selves are left somewhere outside of the frame.
I remember our previous photo shoots and cringe a little. Even though they’ve been with photographers I love and respect, those shoots are stressful experiences for me. If you’ve got little kids and have taken family portraits, you’ll know it can be like herding feral cats — but in front of a flashing camera. Flustered and frustrated by the end of the hour, I always find myself praying that the photographer was wily enough to snap just one “frame-worthy” picture (out of the hundreds taken) of my impatient brood. One photograph that obscures with shadow and light what was really happening or how I really felt.
So, while those photos on my walls are definitely important keepsakes, they aren’t necessarily true reflections of my family as we are in “real life” or of the genuine memories we cherish. Which begs the questions: Why then are they the ONLY ones in frames? Should professional pictures get all of the wall space, simply by virtue of the time and money invested in them? Where does that leave the snapshots?
And, even more unsettling to consider, do I subconsciously think that my Picture-Perfect Family is better than the real one, as my walls not-too-subtly suggest?
Because, in my house, real isn’t always photogenic.
Real is Cheerios on the floor and Legos underfoot. Real is when Will pulls his sister’s hair and her meltdown in response. Real is swim lessons, dance class, preschool, and play dates taking over our calendar. For me, it’s not enough showers and too many rounds of “Wheels on the Bus.” Real is frizzy hair and frazzled nerves.
However, real is also the tender moment when Lucy leans over to kiss her little brother on his baby-soft hair. It’s the way Will giggles when I tickle his tummy. It’s all of us snuggling together on the couch during a thunderstorm. It’s the immense pride and joy I feel when I look at my amazing kids. It’s the knowledge that they won’t be this little forever — and that childhood is over all too fast.
I want to remember the reality of our days together. The good and the bad. I don’t want my memories of them to get lost in the pursuit of some contrived image of perfection.
So, I’m going to redefine what “frame-worthy” means in this house.
From now on, I will do a better job of printing and displaying the everyday snapshots on my camera. While we’ll still have our formal family portrait taken each year, that photo will find its place as just one moment in our lives — but as not THE one that defines us. Our home holds so many precious memories; the walls should reflect their truth.
Here’s the first photo that’s heading for a frame, a quick sibling squeeze on a Monday morning:
And this one of Will playing during a recent trip to the children’s museum:
And this one of Lucy, proudly displaying her first drawing of a “person”:
And, hopefully, many more photos to come that will tell the true story of the messy, sweaty, sticky, silly, and perfectly-imperfect life we share.