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Say Cheese Dammit

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The perfect photo for our annual Christmas card is my seasonal Holy Grail. And by “perfect” I lower the bar to mean a photo that’s in focus, perhaps one in which all subjects are looking at the camera and not picking their noses, and smiling (smiling is a bonus).


For the past two years, I have taken my two young daughters to get their pictures made by a professional photographer. Just pinpointing a date when the weather was nice and when the baby didn’t have a runny nose or a scratch, scab, or other dinged up toddler gone wild mark on her face was a challenge. And let’s not talk about the ridiculous amount of energy I put into finding matching outfits for them. I know in a few years that red gingham outfits embroidered with their names and Santa’s smiling face will be about as cool as me dropping them off at the mall in my mama mobile and shouting, “I love you girls! Chicken and rice casserole at six!” within earshot of their friends.


Two years ago we hiked down to a creek bed near the photographer’s home because what better photo shoot location for a seven-month-old baby than a creek bed? Seriously, what was I thinking? My youngest daughter was more interested in scraping mossy filth with her fingernails, shoving leaves in her mouth, and flinging herself into the creek then in demurely sitting and smiling. Literally one photo turned out to be Christmas card worthy and my oldest daughter is hanging on to baby sister to keep her from wiggling away. Last year I decided to skip the creek bed nightmare and the photographer shot pictures of the girls playing in a big pile of colorful fall leaves. Is it any wonder that this year we used an indoor photo? I think I’ve learned my lesson about creek beds and leaves.


Here are a few tricks deployed by myself and the photographer to entice the girls to look at the camera:


Poke your kids with a feather duster on a long pole (otherwise deemed by the clever photographer as a tickle stick that is first demonstrated on mommy to show its harmlessness), the kind you’d use to clean a ceiling fan, to get them to laugh or at least smile in bemusement over the never-ending weirdness of adults.


Toss leaves joyfully in the air while maniacally screaming, “Leaves! Pretty leaves! Look at the pretty leaves!”


Shrilly repeat your child’s name in a high-pitched voice that scares every dog within a five-mile radius, while wildly waving your hands above your head and hopping up and down.


When all else fails, just plead “Say Cheese” while flashing the biggest, goofiest grin you can muster. And again, the wild waving of hands is recommended. And if “cheese” elicits a really goofy grin, you can try something original like, “show me the money! or “we love PopTarts!”


When the whole exhausting photo shoot is over, you’ll look at your watch and swear that at least twelve hours of your life have ticked away, not just one. Reward yourself with plenty of chocolate and perhaps a margarita or three. The satisfaction will come later when you see the end result—a beautiful photo. No one has to know the hell you went through to get there.

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