That magical time of year is upon us. Forget the hayrides, pumpkin picking, tall boots, and fire pits. I’m talking big-time here. I’m talking the kind of stuff that can send a mom into a temporary state of delusion.
I’m talking fall minis.
For those of you who are not in the know, fall minis are short sessions offered by your favorite photographer during the fall season with the aim of capturing best-photos-in-the-history-of-mankind-ever that you will turn around and use for your holiday cards. If you’re a mom, or if you are friends with any moms of young children, or if you’re friends with anyone who is friends with a mom , you’ve no doubt come across these shots on FB. They often feature an exquisitely dressed child in front of some architecturally-cool building or running around some gorgeous landscape. The lighting is as perfect as the hair and face and smile. If it’s a family shot, everyone is color-coordinated and sharp. If it’s a close-up of just the child, her eyes are shining and her cheeks feature just enough pink to qualify as glowing. They are often magnificent, so much so that it is hard not to want one of your precious little darling (aka the most beautiful child ever born).
Once the appointment is booked and the payment is submitted though, this is when the real self-deception begins. Despite all past experiences, you will actually believe that this year’s session is going to be nothing short of amazing, and you will keep up that illusion until you walk back to your car after it’s all over, clutching your squirming child in one arm and his shoes, your purse, cardigan, and all of your dignity in the other.
And yet, it’s the steadfast belief in the darn fantasy that ultimately ruins the whole experience. It’s like a silly extension of the even more preposterous notion that women must be “supermoms” or that they need to “have it all.”
“How so”, you say? Let’s illustrate, shall we?
You arrive fifteen minutes early for your fall mini with your adorably dressed child. This gives you plenty of time to get him acclimated to the environment. The weather is perfect, and you’re looking and feeling pretty great, too. Life is good. When the fifteen minute session begins, your child snaps into cooperation mode. He sits where he’s told and delivers the most natural, genuine smiles. He has fun. He dances to the music you brought, just like you practiced. What a ham! You can’t believe how quickly it’s over, and you have no idea how you’re going to choose one shot out of all the perfection the photographer seemed to capture. It might be time for one of those collage-holiday cards this year!
You arrive five minutes before your appointment because you’ve never been to this park and have no idea how to navigate the parking situation and, oh yeah, you are never on time for anything in your life. Your child is adorable, but he’s already complaining about his new boots, which are somehow grass-stained within thirty seconds of leaving the car. You thought you looked pretty cute until you realized that the t-shirt you’re wearing doesn’t match your cardigan because you got dressed in dim lighting. (That is what you get for not listening when your mother tells you to buy more lamps.)
When the session begins, your child immediately starts up with this weird, scrunchy “cheeeeeese” face that bears an almost exact resemblance to the one you made when you were his age. So, instead of telling him to smile, you have to keep saying things like, “No cheese face, baby,” in between takes. When it becomes clear that you won’t get a single, nice photo together, you move to another location.
Here, you bust out the secret weapon: the playlist with all his favorite songs. But unlike your living room, or the car, or the mall, these songs fail miserably. Your child keeps running over to you to hug your legs or turning his back to the camera to ask if he can ride the slide, or making that darn “cheeeeeese” face (GAH)! You move to another location, but it’s more of the same until finally, the photographer says, “Let’s try to get more of the two of you.” At this point, you toss your heavy toddler into the air, positive that all this is going to yield is several unflattering shots of your double chin and more “cheeeeese” face.
Just when fifteen minutes feels like it might be ten hours, your time is up. You ask your photographer if she got any shots, and she tries to be positive and says, “Well, we got a lot of the scrunchy face.” Sweaty and defeated, you peel off your cardigan, thank her profusely, and head off in the direction of the slide (because you promised), all the while wondering if you can send out “artful” photo cards this year, maybe with just a close up of a squinting eye?
Here I am, full “cheeeeese”.
No matter how messy the bubble when it bursts, it is the hope wrapped up inside the fantasy that keeps putting you back on the fall mini train over and over and over again.
You just can’t help yourself.
But when the planets align and you get THE photo of your dreams? Yeah, it’s all kind of worth it. Heck, even that scrunchy “cheeeeeese” face will be funny (and cute) later.
Perhaps the secret is to go into it fully embracing the reality, realizing that the most “imperfect” shots are the ones that capture your child or your family just being themselves in the moment–or reacting to the sort of unnatural act of carefully posing in a strange place with someone pointing a lens in their direction. Wouldn’t you rather have your energetic, wild, joyful child ten thousand times over than some fake, glossy version of him?
And can someone remind me about all of this next year?
Disclaimer: Let me just state that I love my photographer. She is not only super talented and ridiculously nice AND extra-patient, she is also a former student of mine, and I simply adore her.
I have a two-year-old, people.