It’s a well-documented truth of family portraiture that after you have a family portrait taken, the thing you want to do most is NOT be with your family. This is certainly true for me, right now, as I lie in bed with carefully coiffed hair and a tear-stained face, counting the minutes ‘til naptime so I can escape to Starbucks. That’s right: I have reached that point in my adulthood where Starbucks is considered an escape, and it’s a grocery store kiosk Starbucks, where no one actually knows how to make any of the drinks. You understand what a grave situation this is.
I prepared for this family portrait session. I cleaned the dog shit from the lawn, so that the photographer coming to our house would think I was nice, normal, clean wife who never launches passive-aggressive tirades against her husband (if somebody wants another dog, then maybe somebody should take better care of the one he already has—and by the way, a special “f you” to somebody’s ex-wife for wanting that dog in the first place).
I scrubbed the countertops to a shine so the photographer wouldn’t know about Little Miss Binge-and-Purge, our bulimic cat who decorates the kitchen with cylinders of regurgitated cat food, or about my veiled threats of euthanasia: “That’s it! I’ve had it! I’m two seconds from taking these damn animals to ‘the farm’!”
I polished the sliding glass door so she wouldn’t see the thick film of snot that was rubbed at toddler height by a two-year-old who was weeping in agony because we were out of fruit snacks.
I cleaned the entire kitchen so she would think that we have orderly meals instead of circuses where my toddler throws food—like last night’s dinner, when I got hit on the vulva with an Arby’s Prime-Cut Chicken Tender. Yes, vulva. That’s the word. Women are constantly using “vagina” when they clearly mean “vulva.” You don’t shave your vagina; you shave your vulva. “Vagina” is Latin for “sheath”; it’s a canal into which no sane woman would try to put a razor. Whenever I hear a woman say “I always shave my vagina,” I want to punch her in the face several times and then drag her inert body to a sterilization clinic to have her tubes tied. I see no problem with this because I live in my own world where you can drop off a carload of unconscious women for tubal ligation and no one asks any questions. Just, “Would you like a receipt, ma’am?” And I reply, “That will not be necessary.” Well, this went to an interesting place. Anyway, I don’t know what made that chicken tender “prime cut,” but it was breaded as all hell and very heavy when it struck me directly on my pubic mound.
I bought a new dress. I had my hair done. I even caved to gender expectations and bought new makeup to replace the four-year-old palettes from my wedding that I’m told you can’t keep forever. (Who knew? What a waste of money.) The eye shadow was even that new matte sparkly kind that looks like a fairy shit on your eyelids.
I bought an Oxford shirt and bowtie and new shorts for Jack.
Jack tried to put the bow tie in his hair. Then he wouldn’t wear it at all. He took direction for about five minutes, after which he whined and cried for his iPad. He resisted all of our attempts to keep him in the picturesque, shady spots and finally flung his body onto the ground and rolled down the hill. So, there may be some shots of him crying and rolling down the hill. SOME PICTURES THAT COST SEVERAL HUNDRED DOLLARS.
So yeah, I cried too, after the photographer left, because apparently all my efforts at normalcy covered the crazy with but a thin veneer. And even though I swear I’ve seen this in other people’s family portraits, apparently there’s no perfect picture of a perfect moment of perfect love. I just wanted a high-resolution, perfect picture of perfection—with that blurry stuff in the background.
I guess I wanted that perfect photo to do the impossible: to prove something exists, and to make it last forever. So now I’m writing this post, getting everything down to assuage that awful feeling of trying to hold on to a thing as it falls through your hands.