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Tarja Parssinen

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The Family Photo Session

Posted: 11/20/2013 3:24 pm

Tarja Parssinen
Memory Lane Portraits

Is it so wrong to want an amazing photograph of my family with my extended family with everyone's eyes open? IS THAT SO WRONG?

As the great thinker Kim Kardashian once said, "You must go through Kris Humphries to get to Kanye West." Who knew that Kris Humphries was code for flesh-eating ants, blinding sun and screaming children?

Of course, as I now stare at these glorious, serene images of flaxen-haired angels and sunbeams, I know it was all so very worth it, especially come holiday time, when you'll be sitting in a snow drift and we'll be sitting on a beach on your fridge, gloating. But back to Kris Humphries and the 8th circle of hell.

The multi-generational family photo session is like walking over burning coals very, very slowly, 57 times, until everyone's mouths are stretched in grimaces that are less Hitchcock-ian and more Disney -- and this is once we've actually found the photographer, which takes a good half hour, because he's busy photographing 200 other families on the beach at the exact same time.

It's "Where's Waldo? The White and Khaki Edition" and that's when it dawns on me, as I await the return of my husband from the brave 2013 Photographer-Search-And-Recovery-Mission, that my family -- COLLECTIVE GASP! -- is also dressed in white and khaki!

Under normal circumstances, I would cackle like a hyena -- it's so Brownie Troop Leader, so Mid-1990's-Tech-Company! -- but these are not normal circumstances. These are circumstances in which my family is trying to painstakingly follow photo session clothing ordinances. We don't want to -- God forbid -- disrupt the nesting sea turtles with our brash colors and patterns! And also, these photographs need to be a testament to my family's superiority for decades -- nay, centuries -- to come! We tried so hard to be the Fresh Prince of the Family Photo Session, but alas, we're just another Carlton in a sea of Carltons.

It's too late for regrets. There is nothing ahead but sand in my poor choice of high heels.

Once the photographer has been spotted, we move as one clumsy, sweating mass to his nook near the cattails and there, I make the fatal error. The miscalculation that elevates the next 30 minutes from Code Red to Code Asteroid-Inferno-Apocalypse.

"Honey, watch where you put your feet, there are ants on the sand," I tell my 5-year-old, having sustained several bites myself.

ANTS ON THE SAND! ANTS ON THE SAND! ANTSANTSANTSANTS! SCREAMING! HYSTERIA!

I must get the situation under control! Which is difficult to do when my husband is hissing to me in low tones of accusation and distress and high tones of survival. Survival, I mutter, keep my eye on the prize! The holiday card! The holiday card! With the whimpering 5-year-old at last raised high in Papa's arms above the ants, I am feeling very final-season John & Kate Plus 8 as I steel myself for the flash of the camera.

And that's when the photographer requests that the ladies, THE WOMENFOLK-MINUS-NANA, sit down on the sand. On the sand filled with thousands of biting ants. In our dresses. With sweaty legs. While the dudes, THE MENFOLK, stand proprietarily behind, dapper, jovial, their asses not part of the ant al fresco. In a scene reminiscent of that high school drill team pep rally where I was forced to smile while wearing a unitard and doing the splits as the marching band played the school song, I force a smile that only the contestants of Survivor would recognize.

After seemingly hundreds of takes and choruses of "Look here, look here, open your eyes, stop squinting, look here, look up, ignore the sea gull, open your eyes, stop crying," we are instructed to hold hands and walk through the waves, in search of the elusive image of three generations perfectly reflected in the ocean. Please pause and imagine that moment in the movie Anchorman where the news team tries to turn around at the same time and look coyly at the camera, but can't do it.

Despite the aurora borealis of frizz haloing my head, there are no ants in the water, so my smile is slightly more genuine in those photos. Also, the end is near. Families are leaving, the beach is becoming less khakied, I can almost taste the margarita that my contract requires at the end of modeling sessions!

But the luck, it must be pushed. (As stated in the bylaws of life.)

Nana and Papa want a photo of themselves with all the grandchildren. Can you believe it? The sheer audacity! The gall! To want images of their grandchildren to treasure! (By the way, the key to treasured photographic memories of children is to ask everyone to look directly into the sun, while eardrums are lacerated by an inconsolable toddler.)

And then suddenly, it's done. The photographer never yells "Fin!" and throws his camera to his invisible assistant behind him or kisses me on both cheeks, but he starts talking about proofs and muttering "I hope I got the reflections," and I get the strange feeling he doesn't want to see any of us again. Or ever.

After taking a slow look around and assessing the damage -- both physical and emotional -- the family tumbleweed rolls back to the boardwalk, white shirts dingy, khakis resembling army fatigues. The PTSD will hit later, but at the moment everyone is giddy, elated, thrilled to have lived another day.

Survival! Survival!

The holiday card!

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