I recently sat down to look through our photo files from the past year to put together one of those holiday cards with family pictures on it. As I looked through the files, I realized how many pictures we had of our son, yet how few we had of me or my husband.
You parents out there know it’s easy to let that happen. Mom and Dad always seem to be the ones holding the camera. And kids are so darn photogenic, aren’t they? It’s easy to hide behind the camera and let them be the stars of the show. But we can’t let life pass us by unrecorded. One way or another, we have to stay in the picture.
That’s not always easy to do. I’ve read studies that say we use different muscles in our face when making a natural smile rather than a forced smile. In my case, I think I have a particular picture-ruining muscle as well. It pops out whenever there’s a camera nearby, even if it isn’t aimed at me.
So yes, I am motivated to hide behind the camera rather than come out in front of it. I come by this tendency naturally due to early traumatic experiences with photography.
Consider, for instance, one family photo taken in a professional studio, when our eventual family of seven was still a family of five. There we are: My parents look so young and attractive. My two younger sisters are smiling like little angels. Meanwhile, there I am, with such a scowl on my face that you’d think I was plotting an attack on Whoville.
And who can forget school pictures? Thank God for retakes. For one of my classmates, however, even retakes wouldn’t have helped. Every picture day, her mother put her in a beehive hairdo – never mind that the style was at least a decade past its prime by then. When it came to class pictures, if I could just have slid into the row behind my unfortunate classmate, I would have been invisible. But no such chance; as one of the short kids, I spent grade school in the front row.
In my early 30s I decided that I probably looked about as good as I ever would, so I got brave and decided to go into one of those vanity photo studios where they do your hair and makeup and presumably make you look absolutely fabulous. Well, I had to have retakes.
No kidding; apparently they’re not just for school pictures anymore. I think they were glad to do it to save their own reputation.
But card companies have latched onto those first-round photos, the ones that should have had retakes, and created a line of gift cards called “Awkward Family Photos.”
You may have seen them, and like me, you may have been relieved that neither your own face nor anyone you know is pictured there. I hope they got signed permission from all those unfortunate people! How would you like to be shopping one day, thinking “Life is good,” and then suddenly see yourself on an “awkward” card?
No, life isn’t always pretty. There are Christmas mornings without makeup. There are days at the beach where we wear (yikes!) swimsuits. There are goofy photos of all kinds that shouldn’t end up on the Internet, but should still be kept as part of the family album. But some day you will treasure those pictures – and friends, we’re not getting any younger.
So Moms and Dads out there, you can’t have it any worse than I do. Find your way out from behind the camera and make some memories. It will help when you sit down next year to make your holiday card.
Of course, avoid the ugly sweaters and all that when there’s a camera around. But if anyone out there wants to bring the beehive back, I’m all in.Catherine Forte, Ph.D., is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on these pages. She lives in Lakewood with her husband and 11- year-old son. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.