when life gives you lemons… frame them


Some stories only become legend long after the event has occurred and you can look back and laugh at the whole situation.  Occasionally a story can become legend even when your currently living it.  Over at my other more professional website secretly-important, I said something to this ilk while discussing Tig Notaro, a comedian who went on stage just a day after learning she had breast cancer.  The more I write these types of articles the more I become hyper aware of the story I will tell, even as I experience an event.  Needless to say, as the event of this story was occurring I’d basically already written the article.

Not long after my daughter Jackson was born my wife Jaime and I had the idea to get professional pictures taken for each month of Jackson’s first year.  It would fill out one of those little oval shaped picture frame mattes perfectly.  As the first month drew near, Jaime came across a Groupon deal for Sears.  Before we get too far into this story let me acknowledge that yes, we knew that Sears wasn’t a top notch photo studio.  Sears seemed like a good option because it was cheap (we’re doing this 12 times) and easy.

We went at Jackson’s first month and things went great. As the second month approached Jaime was preparing to return to work from her maternity leave and we dropped the ball, completely forgetting to get her 2nd month pictures.  Instead we chose to look forward to her three month pictures which would double as her Christmas pictures.  These were a big deal, involving a fancy dress and an entire family photo shoot.  A beautiful and expensive dress was chosen, I got my hair cut and Jaime had her hair styled for the occasion.

We were looking good on time when Jackson shit four times in 10 minutes.  Mind you that we dressed her fully each time.  It’s a miracle that we kept her dress and tights clean through the entire ordeal.  But as a result by the time we got on the road we were already 10 minutes late.

Jaime called Sears and after a lengthy phone conversation we were informed that customers were given a 20 minute grace period (it didn’t go nearly as smooth as I just made it sound).  We arrived at Sears with a minute to spare and raced through the store to get there within our allotted 20 minute window.  Let me remind you that Sears photo studio accepts walk-ins.

We were there in time, but the two women in front of us spent five minutes retelling the story of their lives right up to them arriving at Sears and having this conversation.  When we got up to the counter it was 25 after and we were informed that we wouldn’t be able to get our picture taken that day.  Yes we were late, but come on, the stars had aligned we had to get our picture taken that day, even if we had to wait.

Eventually the manager arrived and we explained that we didn’t mind waiting (because they fucking take walk-ins). Let me remind you that the first employee told us that we couldn’t be seen, but when the manager checked, there was neither a 2:30 or 3:00 appointment.  So we signed up for a 2:30 appointment which we were one minute early for.  We would still have to wait fifteen minutes before we could be seen.

In the waiting room Jackson was all smiles, to her the walls were hilarious.  It looked like we had the happiest most well behaved baby in the world.  That all changed when our photographer brought us in the studio.  Basically he looked like a child molester, uncomfortable and sweaty, I’m positive he had a white windowless van in the parking lot.  In his bag of tricks he had a rattle toy that looked like it had been removed from a bomb crater in a Bosnian village, and a demented Donald Duck voice that he used so timidly it hardly seemed that he was even doing it to cheer Jackson up.

Jackson cried.  She cried when we set her in the little chair, she cried when we laid her on a little pillow.  She cried when I held her, she cried when Jaime held her.  She cried, she cried, she cried.  There were fleeting moments of peace where we tried our best to take a decent picture, but in the end Jackson just cried.  Eventually Jaime and I reached a point where we were done, there was no cheering Jackson up.  She wanted no part of this photographer and neither did we.  But guess what?

We couldn’t leave.  It was explained to us that more pictures had to be taken in order to meet Sears Quality Standard.  So we took more awkward pictures as a family with a three month old screaming and flailing about.  Eventually Guantanamo was closed and we were allowed to leave.

We didn’t even have to see the pictures to know they were terrible.  Even the ones of us as a family felt stiff and unfamiliar.  For a brief time we contemplated walking out, but we’d already paid for the pictures.  When finally we did see them, they were just as bad as we expected.  The few of Jackson not crying looked as if she was being held captive by the Taliban.  Those of the entire family were a total mess.  Sears photographers are trained only in the basics of getting a shot, and this photographer never saw fit to adjust us once we were in position.  In a number of shots I could be seen creepily leering over Jaime my hands barely touching her shoulders.  At other times I was hunched over like Quasimodo, while Jaime stared distantly past the camera lens like a robotic Stepford wife, and in every picture Jackson was desperately trying to flee.

Even the best picture of the family looks uncomfortably forced.

In the end this was the photo of Jackson we chose.

I can’t tell you how strange it is to select a half dozen photo packages of a bawling baby, and creepy family portraits, but that’s exactly what we did.  There was nothing even remotely usable as a serious picture so we decided to just go for it and take the worst of the worst.  If you’re on our Holiday Christmas list you can expect to see the above photo as a Holiday card in your mailbox.

The thing of it all was that at home we have a fancy camera that I bought to use on my own website.  Why didn’t I take the pictures?  In fact while we all looked nice why didn’t I take pictures of us that night?

We went up to my parents house where they had a nice stone fireplace for us to sit in front of, and I scoured their house for every available light to get the room as bright as possible.  I framed the picture and set the auto-timer hurrying to find my place.  After 30 tries Jackson hadn’t produced a single shot where she was calm and/or looking in the direction of the camera.  So I put Sesame Street on the computer.

Here is Jackson and our dog Olive watching Sesame Street.

Then I moved sesame street underneath the camera.

in the end we went with this picture where Jackson and Olive are looking not at the camera but at each other… close enough.

Then I took about a million shots of Jackson alone.  Unlike earlier in the day where the creepy photographer tried feebly to get Jackson to smile, we knew all the tricks.  Mainly they involved Jaime dancing around singing I Wanna Dance with Somebody and Like a Virgin.  The pictures we took with our camera were far more “us”.  They capture Jackson at her best and us as a family flaws and all.

It could have been so easy to get upset and write the whole day off as a total failure.  We could have walked out of Sears without any pictures and just harbored ill feelings.  Instead we had fun with the horrible pictures we did get, and moved on to take our own pictures.  There are going to be many days like this ahead, and rather than long to be elsewhere else in some other fictional situation where life is perfect, you have to live inside the moment and make the best of it.  After all had the day gone perfect I never would have written about it.


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