My son hates the camera like most people hate my cooking, Barney, the hideous purple dinosaur, and fruitcake. He’d opt for all of those before he’d sit for a photo.
After last year’s ambush-and-chase photo session, this Christmas I pulled out my entire bag of tricks. First, I approached the subject gently with guilt.
Me: Hey Jack, you know how I promised you I wouldn’t cook on your birthday?
Me: And you remember how I changed your sheets this month?
Me: Oh and remember how I didn’t ground you for a year when you picked up the other end of phone while I was interviewing someone and said, “Howdy, partner! This is Jack. Did you know my mother is wearing pajamas? Oh yes she is, the same ones from yesterday, people.”
Jack: Oh ya, that was soooo funny.
Me: Not really. And how about the fact that you got extra tofu last night? Doesn’t that count for something?
Jack: Why are you asking me all these questions?
Me: Well, how about you let me take the Christmas photo, as a way to thank me?
Jack: NO. I hate pictures.
Me: Come on, I’ll make it fun. I’ll tell you funny stories while we do it.
Jack: I’ve heard all your funny stories. STILL NO.
Me: I’ll do the pig face and make you laugh.
Jack: I’ve seen it. I’m 11. And STILL NO.
Me: Do you know how many relatives we have that are 3,000 miles away and never get to see you from year to year?
Jack: You can tell them all about me.
Me: What if there was money involved?
Me: Cold hard cash?
Me: Really? You don’t want money?
Jack: What are we talking about?
Me: (low-balling) Two bucks.
Jack: No deal.
Me: All right, three.
Me: Five. Final offer.
Wow, that was nothing. Fast forward through all the primping and staging, and my two, well-coiffed children are perched like China dolls in front of the Christmas tree.
Look at them. They’re smiling at each other. This will be cake.
Me: Okay, smile!
Click. Flash. Ally is looking at Jack. Jack is looking down.
Me: Let’s try that again.
Click. Flash. Ally’s smiling like a wax statue. Jack’s eyes are darting to the right in a scary, Chucky kind of way.
Me: This is not Halloween, people! Now look AT the camera. Not AWAY. Ready?
Click. Flash. The kids look at each other and giggle.
Click. Flash. Total mutiny. Jack tips his head back while Ally gives me an Elvis lipcurl.
Me: Okay! Apparently you want this to take all night! This could be over with and you could be off having fun. Look at the camera and just smile.
Click. Flash. Ally smiles sweetly while Jack puts his hand over his eyes.
Me: Jack! What are you doing?
Jack: I don’t like the flash.
Me: Well you need to like it for just one good photo and then it’s over. If you would just cooperate and EARN the five dollars I promised you, you wouldn’t have to look at the stupid flash anymore.
Ally: He gets FIVE dollars? What about me?
Me: You love the camera. If I start paying you to pose, I’ll go broke by this weekend. Now both of you, sit up straight and look happy.
Click. Flash. Ally’s brows are furrowed. Arms are folded. Jack is doing his ultra geek impression with the corners of his mouth turned in.
Me: Why can't you both just LOOK NORMAL?
Jack: What's NORMAL?
Click. Flash. Ally is sitting on Jack’s back cracking the imaginary rein and saying, “Ride’em cowboy!”
Me: LISTEN, YOU TWO. I GAVE UP MY CAREER TO STAY HOME AND MAKE SURE THAT EVERY NEED YOU HAVE GETS FILLED AND THIS IS WHAT I GET? I COULD SPEND THE DAY WITH ADULTS HAVING ADULT CONVERSATIONS AND WEARING COOL OUTFITS BUT NO. I'M HERE IN SWEAT PANTS WITH STAINS ON THEM FOR YOU. NOW SIT DOWN AND LOOK HAPPY!!!
Click. Flash. Ally is smiling with pain in her eyes. Jack is not in the frame.
Me: JACK, I CANNOT TAKE A PICTURE OF YOU WHEN YOU ARE BEHIND THE CHRISTMAS TREE.
Jack: Are we done yet? This is boring.
Ally: Ya, this is boring.
Me: Look at your mother! I AM NOW CRYING. Are you happy? These are real tears. Does this amuse you?
Ally: Nice going, Jack. You made her cry.
Jack: How did I do that?
Me: That’s it. You either smile or I’m leaving.
Ally: NO, MOM!
Jack: Where are you going? Can I come? Hey, can we get an ice cream?
Me: NO YOU CANNOT COME WITH ME. I HAVE HAD IT. [grabbing my bag and keys] I ASKED YOU TO DO A SIMPLE FAVOR FOR ME AND YOU CANNOT DO THAT FOR ME? YOU CANNOT SMILE? HOW HARD IS IT TO SMILE? DOES IT HURT YOU? DO YOU THINK THE CAMERA IS A GUN? WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? WHY CAN’T YOU JUST SIT THERE AND ACT HAPPY?
Jack: Stop yelling, Mom! It’s just a stupid photo.
Me: Then if it’s just a stupid photo, then let’s just DO IT ALREADY!
Jack: Okay. Geez. I can’t believe how important this is to you. You love the photo more than us.
Me: You’re right. I want to marry the photo. Now look at me. You don’t even have to smile. No, not you, Ally. You need to smile. But Jack does not need to smile.
Jack: Why does she need to smile but not me?
Me: Because you have proven that you CANNOT or WILL NOT smile! I am letting you off the hook!
Jack: What hook?
Me: It’s just an expression. Now, please, just look up at the camera the way you look at me normally.
Jack: Mom, I have no idea how I look at you. For your information, I can’t see myself.
Me: For your information, all I’m saying is just look at the camera and DON’T smile.
Click. Flash. Jack is talking to Ally. His head is turned and his mouth is open.
Me: ONE MORE TIME. LET’S DO THIS BEFORE JANUARY.
Click. Flash. Ally is picture perfect. Jack is now looking at the camera [good!] with his mouth open [not good!].
Me: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, just do it for Nana. Do it for all the relatives who live so far away and miss you so much.
Jack: Mom, you are NOT sending this out to anyone but Nana and Grandma. That’s it.
Me: Rrrrright. Now here we go one last time.
Now that was easy.