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Challenge: Parent Fails

The Family Photo Shoot

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Our family on a couch in the desert. Austin and I looking at each other.

Photo credit: Lexi Jean Photography

We hadn't had a family photo professionally taken since the day Austin was born. A photo taken huddled in a hospital bed because it was assumed it would be our one and only chance. Since then, I have not made an effort to coordinate a family photo. It just seemed too daunting to find a photographer, set a date I could predict that everyone would be home and in a good mood, and select outfits that matched. It also doesn't help that I'm lazy and a professional procrastinator.

However around 2:00 p.m. on a sunny Sunday after Thanksgiving this year, we found ourselves cruising down Sun Valley Parkway, making a U-turn, pulling off onto the shoulder, and parking behind my brother's borrowed pickup truck. In the back of the truck was a large leather couch he and his wife had gotten on loan for this family photo shoot.

In the desert.

It was a cute idea, and when someone else has a cute idea, does all the work and planning, and invites me along, I'm there.

Originally, I figured I'd have all our outfits planned and picked out ahead of time. I figured I would have time to fix my hair and makeup just so. I figured my kids skin would miraculously be clear from teenage breakouts. I figured everyone would be cooperative and do exactly as I asked them. However, what I expect and think I want to happen rarely is what actually happens.

I remember not feeling 100% that morning before church, and so I slept in a bit. I remember running around panicking, trying to find clothes that somehow coordinated thinking we would all just wear them to church. I remember realizing that my hair needed to be washed, and I didn't have time to dry and fix it. I remember wanting to just cancel the whole thing because mine and my teenagers' attitudes were moody. I remember no one wanted to wear what I picked out. I remember everything seemed to be going exactly opposite of how I had pictured.

I eventually gave up on the "perfection" for the moment, and let everyone just wear what they wanted to church. I quickly ran the curling iron through my hair at the last minute.

After church and the rush of the morning, I almost forgot that we were meeting at 2:00. I had already envisioned a nice nap for the afternoon. So, when I realized I really did need to get people to change their clothes and out the door looking presentable, I almost cancelled again.

But somehow we managed. We arrived on time, dressed in somewhat coordinating clothes if jeans and random blues, greens, greys, and beiges count. We had shirts with stripes, patterns, plaids, and bold words across them. It was not a designer collection by any means.

Once we arrived on the side of the road, everyone started piling out of the cars except me and Austin. It was cold and windy out so we hung back until the last minute.

Transferring the couch from the truck bed to the desert location did not go without a hitch, of course. My husband, sons, and brother began the arduous process of unloading the heavy couch and carrying it to an appropriate desert-y location with mountains and cactus in the background chosen by the photographer and my sister-in-law. Unfortunately for the boys, this entailed lifting it over a couple of barbed wire fences. Fortunately for the girls, they were well trained to do what their women wanted them to do. My nieces and nephews carried the cushions.

Someone drove by and saw us unloading the couch and must have assumed we all got dressed up and brought our kids and a photographer to commemorate a desert-couch-dumping event. Within minutes of our arrival, we were also joined by a lone police officer asking us what we were up to. After taking a copy of my husband's driver's license, we must have alleviated his concerns because he kind of sadly laughed at us before jumping back into his vehicle and speeding away. Or he figured if he found a couch out there later, he'd know where to find us. I thought it was also kind of interesting that my brother conveniently didn't have his ID with him.

Once the couch was placed, my husband came back for me and Austin. We loaded him into his jogging stroller, and pushed and carried it over near the couch. He was the only one with a blanket, lucky booger.

The sun was bright and low and casting dark shadows here and there. We spent about an hour or two getting photos of each family, the kids by themselves, all the cousins together, etc. The kids were all being silly and running around, the photographer was friendly and fun, and the wind whipped our hair. I was actually glad I hadn't spent much time on it.

It was not a picture perfect day like I envisioned. However, it was a fun day. My sister-in-law informed me that because of the conditions, the photographer was offering another photo shoot for free at a different location and a different time of the day. The photographer confirmed the offer when the she delivered our photo CD a week later apologizing about the lighting in the photos. I was sufficiently prepared to be disappointed, and a bit distraught about needing to corral my family again.

I loaded the CD onto my laptop and began scrolling through the photos. At first, I was like, yeah, I see what they mean. There were dark areas and washed out areas in some of the photos. The glare of the low sun caused the lighting to not be balanced. Details and colors were lost in the shadows here and there or overexposed in other places. At first I thought, yeah, maybe they could be better.

But I kept looking at them. And yes, maybe this batch of photos were not gallery perfect, and we were not model subjects. However, they captured a moment in time that included lots of memories of that day spent with family, a cop showing up, hurdling barbed wire. The more I looked at them, the more I didn't want them to be different, changed, or replaced. They were, instead, perfectly editorial.

In some photos the kids were smiling and laughing. But in some a couple of us looked uncomfortable. Austin was happy and supported in his brace. And then he wasn't. Patrick and I were trying not to be swallowed up by the couch, our knees almost as high as our chins. But, we were all together in one place, in one photo, making it work.

Just like our life.

Sometimes life's difficult events seem so daunting that I want to call in and cancel. But even though life circumstances may not go just how I envision, the hard times always end up endurable at worst and surmountable at best. They may not be gallery-worthy and something pretty to look at, but they are definitely editorial and worth remembering.

Our family on a couch in the desert. All of us facing the camera this time.

Photo credit: Lexi Jean Photography

The Family Photo Shoot was originally published on Rachel's blog, "Where are my Mary Janes?"

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