Deb Kelly’s posting this at press time…

In other words, I’m sitting on my sofa watching the news with one eyeball and the computer screen with the other. I’ve been glued to the news quite a lot lately, between Sandy and the election. Though the first is a tragedy and the second is a privilege, I’ve been watching the coverage of both with trepidation.

The good news is, by the time you read this tomorrow we’ll be starting to move on from the election, make new plans, recover old ones. Some people will be excited, some disappointed. From past experience I know that whether I feel like a winner or loser tomorrow morning, the sensation will soften and then fade in time. Maybe in time there will even be a laugh to be had over the whole mess. But right now it’s hard to remember that. It’s hard to have any perspective at all. This must be what it feels like to be my toddler when I tell him he cannot watch Stompy The Bear while eating lunch.

To my mind there is only one day more dreaded, more angst-ridden, more painfully protracted than Election Day. And that day is the day my parents take our annual holiday family photo. The run-up is pretty similar. There are repeated mentions, veiled threats, scare tactics, and reminders that it is our duty to show up. And, like Election Day, there is also colossally bad planning on the actual day, despite the fact that we’ve been able to see it coming for months. For every fried server in New Jersey or broken ballot machine in Ohio, our family has had a tripod missing one of its pods, a camera with no memory card, a flash with a burned out bulb, or a Cocker Spaniel who will not, under any circumstances, stop showing his butt to the camera.

But the worst part of the family photo has to be the The Timer.

You all know about the timer. On one camera, once upon a time, many hundreds of years ago, the timer blinked for exactly 30 seconds followed by a beeping sound and a bright redeye-reduction light before just the shutter clicked and four family members of varying heights stood ten feet from a tripod and all smiled at the exact same time with their eyes open. And the perfect holiday photo was taken.

That is the legend.

Since that fabled day, no camera timer has ever, in the history of manufacturing, worked the same way twice. Sometimes it blinks for ten seconds and then goes off while the camera person is still trotting over to the rest of his family. This happens approximately ten THOUSAND times before the camera person starts moving faster. During this time batteries will need to be replaced twice. Digital cards will need to be cleared of three hundred consecutive photos of the backside of the camera person.

The family will be willing to stand there for exactly one more photo, and in that photo, I can give you a one hundred percent guarantee, the hauntingly beautiful if perhaps overly light-sensitive daughter’s eyes will be closed.

The next year the timer will not blink. This will cause the camera person to continue to try to set the timer even after it’s already set. She will unknowingly take twenty pictures of three-fourths of her family with their mouths open, and then call over the camera person from the year before and the ten-second blink will resume. See above for results.

The year after that, the patriarch of the family will decide that, what with two feet of snow on the ground and everyone in their best dresses or slacks, this is a good time for to mix it up with an outdoor shot. Everyone will go outside. They will complain. A lot. The tripod will be lost in the basement, and then collapse in the snow, and someone will say a word that the hauntingly beautiful daughter has only heard once before. She will ask several times what it means. Later, when guests are over.

I think only the dog could be classified as hauntingly beautiful in this one.

This is the year that the camera timer will break. After some calmly discussed contingency options, and then some screaming and tears, each family member will have a turn taking photos of the other three members with various degrees of focus, and the mother will be tasked with the job of photoshopping them all together so it looks like the timer worked.

The mother will choose a photo of the daughter with her eyes closed–probably because that is the only kind available. She will use her still experimental photoshopping skills to draw eyeballs on the girl. The girl will vow to never speak to the mother again. (A punishment that will last for three hours at which point the daughter will desire a ride to the mall.)

And so on, and so forth. For thirty plus years.

Who can say what delights the family photo will bring this year? I know for sure there will be a camera with more features than anyone in the family knows how to use, and a rambunctious toddler who will surely add that extra challenge these occasions have so sorely missed. Will the timer fail to blink? Flash too early? Make an ominious beeping sound that gets faster and faster until the camera explodes? Will someone throw up or cry or do both at the same time?


Probably yes. And whatever happens, I know we’ll be laughing about it soon enough.


9 Replies to “Deb Kelly’s posting this at press time…”

  1. LOL! I feel your picture pain. But at least, with the advent of digital cameras, we no longer have to wait for the film to be developed to see the disasters. We can agonize over them immediately. 😉

  2. Such a great post, Kelly!

    And what’s so wonderful about the family photos is that it is the ones that were far less than perfect that we come to cherish…

    When my husband and I had our beloved pups I would always insist on ALL of us in the picture–and rightly so! It isn’t a family portrait without everyone in the family. But of course, dogs and toddlers rarely want to sit still so every holiday season the result was a wonderful entry in the blurriest family photo contest. Looking back now, I treasure every outtake and am grateful we kept trying.

    (Your pup in that pic, however, Kelly, shows fine form. What was your secret??)

  3. Thank you Linda and Erika! Linda, the digital thing is such a double-edged sword. Used to be after the second roll of film we just gave up and hoped for the best. Now we can just keep taking, and taking, and taking…

    Erika, I’m with you. A family photo without the family dog(s) could never be complete! I think the secret to getting Timber to sit sweetly in this photo was that my brother the athlete NEVER sat still, so the loyal pup knew if his master was seated, it must be important.

    Or we were sitting on him.

  4. Wait…your mom drew eyeballs on you??? OMG. I have to see that photo. Immediately.

    Also, your childhood dog? Adorable!! Is (was?) Timber a cocker spaniel? I’m in love!

  5. No eyeballs, but there was the year you were in Australia so we added you in shorts and sandals, holding a koala, to the family picture (with snowy trees and everyone else in winter coats). At least ten friends or relatives asked about the koala. “Are those native to Iowa?” “I didn’t know those could be pets.” “so nice that Kelly could be home for the holidays, and bring her pet.”

  6. This totally cracked me up. My childhood family photos were so stressful that I swore I wouldn’t force them upon my offspring…and for once I actually managed to remember one of those vows. Actually, I remembered a little too well. We took one posed family photo – at Christmas, the year my son was one. That photo still sits on my mother’s mantel – alongside progressively changing ones of my brother’s family.

    We didn’t even attempt posed photos again until last year (my son is now 17, you do the math), when my husband’s grandmother (we love Grandma Mac) let us know that she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and wanted family photos of everyone’s families to help her keep her memory as long as possible. Ironically, we went to a studio rather than trying it ourselves for most of the reasons you mentioned here. Amazingly, the photo turned out great! (And yes, one of those photos will be showing up on this blog some time this year.)

    Thank you so much for this morning laugh…you NAILED the family photo ritual.

  7. Rituals rock. Loved learning a little bit more about you. And I will totally be imagining you and your family on Thanksgiving! SAY CHEESE!! xo

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