The Family Portrait

We don’t have many pictures of the whole family. The most obvious reason is that one of us has to hold the camera. A nearly as obvious reason is the near impossibility of getting two silly, energetic kids to look at the camera at the same time. But every once in a while, we make a concerted effort to document our existence as a nuclear family.

The usual impetus is either a new church directory or a school fundraiser auction prize. This time around it was the latter. We scored big at the last silent auction. We strolled in and put our name down on a half a dozen items straight away. It would be recorded that we had dutifully attempted to contribute to the cause, only to be outbid.


An instant later, we saw the volunteers starting to collect the bidding sheets. Confused, we checked our watches (okay, our phones). Aaack! We had come in late. The silent portion of the auction was already closing.

It was a costly night. We consoled ourselves by reminding ourselves that it was for a good cause. That, and we had procured half a dozen Christmas presents — and it was only Spring. A new record for us.

The family portrait we had “won,” we reasoned, could actually boost our Christmas total to more than half a dozen presents if we bought extra prints for grandparents, aunts and uncles. So maybe the charge card bill wouldn’t be so unsettling after all.

Flash forward many months to a weekend or two ago. The time for the sitting had arrived. The week prior involved many preparations. There were haircuts to be had, wardrobes to be organized, baths to be orchestrated so as not to ruin the haircuts. Everything was working out neatly.


My older daughter got a stye in her eye. And, of course, it had to be on the side opposite where she combs the bangs she is growing out. So we couldn’t just cover it up by letting her go with the Veronica Lake* look (if you’re young, look it up).

But the shoot was in the early morning, so maybe the puffy eye could fit the overall look of not having fully woken up yet. Morning face.

I’d have morning face too, after all. Or, rather, not-enough-sleep face. My wife and I were awakened at an ungodly hour with the tale of a bad dream about a favorite stuffed animal looking strange and tattered. (For you armchair psychoanalysts, yes, this was the daughter with the stye.) Perhaps we were too insensitive, but the “horror” of that dream did not seem worth our sacrificing what was left of our sleep by letting her crawl into bed with us. Our children, you see, are very athletic sleepers and manage to wield more than their presumed allotment of elbows and knees if you happen to be sharing a bed with them. You’d rest more peacefully in the mosh pit at CBGB’s.

Anyway, she did not take her rejection well. There was wailing and sobbing, which of course she woke her sister, who started wailing. Sleep was now a lost cause. Her stye would look like a stray pixel in the photo compared to the Black Friday Sale-size bags under my eyes.

Contrasting my zombie energy would be my younger daughter, whose reaction to insufficient sleep is a severe case of the crazies. Now, she’s pretty crazy to begin with, so what do I mean by “crazies?” Picture Red Skelton on meth. (Again, if you’re young…)

My wife, on the other hand, blossoms under extreme pressure. She radiates grace. Add that to the fact that the only dress she had that coordinated with everyone else’s colors was a new one that looks hubba-hubba-wowie-kazowie on her, and…

Well, let’s just say I’ll be brushing up my Photoshop skills once the prints come in. I’ve always wanted a really nice portrait of my wife.


* When I first posted this, I boneheadedly wrote “Victoria,” as in the actual lake, instead of “Veronica.” Even though I read it out loud as “Veronica.” (Sigh.) But thanks to an astute reader for catching it and correcting me.

5 thoughts on “The Family Portrait

  1. Many moons ago, when my son was 5 months old, his mother and I took him to a professional photographer for a Christmas photo. He was a cute baby, but try as we might, we couldn’t get him to smile. Rubber duckies, teddy bears, puppets–nothing worked. His mother pleaded with him, “Come on, JP–smile for Mommy!” He was a little Method actor, staring at her with a blank look that clearly stated, “Why? What’s my motivation?”

    Finally, Dad had a moment of genius. I was propping up my son in a sitting position (my hand carefully concealed beneath a blanket). I extended my fingers and tickled his ribs. He immediately squealed and started laughing. The photographer moved like lightning and–CLICK!–my little Christmas elf was immortalized.

    By the way, I’ve gotten major embarrassment mileage out of that photo. I’ve shown it to every girl my son has dated. The girls all agreed how cute my son was. He, of course, died a thousand deaths.

  2. Pat, sorry, captain dad, I really like your blog. As a stay-at-home dad and internet marketer, I am always looking for opportunities to connect with other SAHDs.

  3. Forgive me taking a bow, but last night my wife wore the aforementioned dress to an event, and someone came up to her and said, “I just read about that dress today.”

    She hadn’t read the post yet, but when she got home, I assured her it was a compliment — to go along with the thousand other compliments she got on that dress. Anyway, my point is, I don’t just make this stuff up.

    • I read your comment and wondered why you were repeating that name. Then it occurred to me that I might have goofed somehow. I looked. I did. I am so embarrassed. But I am grateful for the correction.

      I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to proofread for me.

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