Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Say Cheese!!! by Jenny Gardiner

All I wanted was a family picture. Seemed a simple enough concept. All the kids were home for the summer for the first time in years; the time was right. So I contacted a photographer friend, who does wonderful work, and set up a date. In hindsight, two things for which I am grateful regarding this photo session: that this photographer is a miracle worker, and that we didn't bring the rabbit. More on that later.

With my family's complicated schedules, we could fix on exactly one time that would work for all. Because I also needed a promo shot of me with my dogs for a dog anthology in which I am a contributor, I suggested we bring the dogs along. After all, how much trouble could they be?

The last time I had the kids' pictures taken together, my then-middle school-aged son sported straggly long hair à la Leif Garrett in Tiger Beat Magazine, circa 1977, only straighter. Our warnings he'd one day regret that hairstyle (like his father had his) fell on deaf ears. Don’t you know that he's never forgiven us for photographically preserving (on the living room wall, no less) the world's lamest hairdo?

This year he returned home after living overseas for half a year with a buzz cut. Argh. Meantime everyone was worried about coordinating outfits. Now, I'm no fashionista. I have the design sense of a toddler and would be best left with matching Garanimals clothing on a good day. So for me to be at the helm of matching the clothes for my gang was downright laughable. Yet they (daughters in particular) kept pressing me for what to wear. What to wear? For me, when all else fails, throw on a sweatshirt or something pink. Works for slopping around the house, but not so much for a family portrait (or for the guys in the group). Plus, not like we could all have donned pink and been done with it--we'd have looked like a bad attempt at resurrecting the Partridge Family.

So rather than commit, I stalled, thus generating more stress than making a choice would have caused. As the appointment grew nearer my older daughter got downright ornery with my lack of command of the situation. It wasn't till I had one foot in the car to go to the shoot that we finalized our "look", if you can call it that: A mishmash of near-clashing colors that could possibly coordinate if people wearing them stood far, far away from each other. If I didn't look so dreadfully bad in a t-shirt I'd have made an executive decision for us all to wear Hanes white T's. Thank goodness I saw a family doing this at the beach only a week earlier; they looked downright ridiculous.

Which brings me to the beach. We'd just returned from a last-minute seashore respite. Long days in the ocean meant we were all tanned, me in particular. Mayhaps too tan? My husband called me Magda, the overfried, leather-fleshed old gal from the movie There's Something About Mary. If you've not seen this flick, just know that this was not said with flattery in mind. Despite my vigilant application of #50 sunscreen, I looked like one of those decrepit Florida trailer park retirees who sprawl out in rusty-hinged nylon-webbed chaise lounges holding a reflector pan beneath their chin to assure even sun coverage. I imagined someone unearthing our family picture in 100 years and wondering what was wrong with me. Or why the photographer screwed up the coloring on just one person.

Okay, so the over-tan was a done deal, nothing I could do about it. Yet another thing I hadn't considered was I'd be at work all day, not having time to shower and fix myself up again. Which meant I had that end-of-the-day life-sag working against me. Plus my mascara seeped in rivulets from the rims of my eyes just from the sweaty trek to my parked car, some six blocks from work. I tried to do the half-baked make-up repair job to no avail, only succeeding in stabbing my brow with tweezers, leaving a bleeding red mark behind.

Next, my son and husband neglected to mention they needed to have clothes ironed at the last minute. Which meant me ironing in a Hades-esque sewing room (on a 100-degree day), causing the sheen of perspiration on my face to turn into a stream. Sweat dripped into my eyes, and my clothes wilted like a dead bouquet. I felt much like the dehydrated stink bug I kept staring at, which had clearly taken its last dying gasp stuck in a piece of fabric hanging from the wall of my sewing room.
In our race to get out the door, we forgot to feed the dogs. Bad idea. The only good idea was nixing my daughter's pleas to bring her pet rabbit. I could only imagine the trauma that would have ensued if that skittish creature had fled her clutches for the danger of a giant open field. He'd have been a Twinkie treat for a hovering hawk.

When we arrived at Jen's gorgeous farm, she reminded Kyle of his previous 'do. "Weren't you the one with the bad Tom Petty hair?" she asked. He was not amused, though we all laughed. From Tom Petty to Sargeant Carter (Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.) in one fell swoop. At least the buzz looked way better than the old Irish Setter look. Speaking of dogs…

As luck would have it, both dogs were blowing their coats, meaning they were shedding enough fur to make up two more complete dogs. You could barely see the black in my shorts through the haze of dog fur left on me.

The dogs loved the farm. Especially the photographer's cat, which they only wanted to chase to kill. That is when they weren't pulling at their leashes to get at any other number of exciting things a farm offers unfamiliar canines. And cooperation wasn't at its finest with the two of them starving for that kibble they wanted. A hungry dog is not a compliant dog, I've learned. So we jammed together as best we could for various shots, dogs climbing over us, drooling, pausing to leave, um, deposits, nearby (forcing us to shift further away). One dog pointed one way, the other pointed the other. At one point I had dog fur in my mouth and eyes.
And yet when we got the proofs back, miracle of miracles, there were hundreds of lovely photographs. And the great thing is, we'll end up laughing for years to come about the fiasco of a photo shoot that turned out well after all.

Please join me in celebrating the launch of Wade Rouse's humorous dog anthology I'M NOT THE BIGGEST BITCH IN THIS RELATIONSHIP, a fundraiser for which 50% goes to the Humane Society of the US. It features a top-tier list of author-humorists and a foreword by Chelsea Handler's dog Chunk.


  1. Too funny! Glad you were able to get some great shots after all that. And a funny story for your family to reminisce about. :)

    I've decided that this is the year we're going to get a family picture done (I say this every fall, but it never happens). LOL I was thinking it might be fun to include the cat, but now I'm thinking maybe not!

  2. Oh I think you should definitely include the cat! then let me know how it turns out! thanks for stopping by!

  3. Jenny, such a cute story! And one you'll remember fondly, I'm sure, every time you look at your beautiful family photographs. :-)

  4. I love the new cover. The pic of you with the pups is cute too!

  5. As the wife of a veterinarian who works for a local animal shelter, I so appreciate your fundraising.The dogs seem to be having great fun!