Dear Santa, Please Make My Children Smile On Command Just Once!

It is really not the holiday season until someone has cried. This can always be accomplished at the annual Christmas card photo session. Within a mere matter of moments, usually. Ah, the holidays are so magical.  This post is as timely now as it was when we originally ran it last year…

Yesterday was the day we had our annual photo shoot in hopes of capturing one decent picture of the kids for our Christmas card. The perfect holiday photo is always seemingly within our grasp if we’d just pick the right time, the right setting, and start with the right attitude! (Three things that we almost never have at the same time)

In past years, I have experimented with different times of day and different days of the week hoping to hit upon the perfect formula for success. I discovered that after school was not a good time because they have almost no ability to fake holiday cheer after a long day. I discovered right before bed is not a good time because, although they are generally game to do anything that prolongs their entry into bed, I felt rushed. I knew with every readjusted head tilt and arm positioning, they would be crankier and crankier the next day. It was then we switched to the weekend photo shoot. Surely over two days we could find one thirty minute time block where attitudes, lighting atmosphere, energy levels, and hair beauty were maximized, right?

Then there is also the background to contemplate. This is difficult at my house because there is no place inside my house that is camera ready. Our furniture is too lived in to photograph well and most of my walls have scuffs marks of some sort (yes, that is the Sharpie marker on the stair riser I’ve been meaning to paint over). When I procrastinate (which was every year until last year), there’s always right in front of the tree itself. It’s perfect! It’s festive and, as long as you use enough zoom, I don’t have to worry about moving piles of junk around so they can’t be seen in the background.

The first year I tried the tree as a background it was such a disaster that we’ve never attempted it again. Unfortunately, Elfy (our stupid Elf on the Shelf guy) had chosen to creepily spy on my family from a perch in our Christmas tree that day. In my zeal for the perfect photo, I inadvertently reached up and moved the Elf with my hand to get him out of the corner of one shot. This was met with blood curdling screams by a then 7 year old Lucy because now his magic was gone. (Or something. I don’t like the Elf or his story and do just the bare minimum that is necessary to keep him and his stupid myth alive).

Well, that photo session ended abruptly. Don’t worry. We worked out a deal with the North Pole. One glitter glue note later, they restored his mojo to her satisfaction. Whew.

The final key is the pep talk for the photo shoot. The first thing my kids do upon hearing that it’s photo time is to reflexively groan. They know they will have to sit within close proximity to each other and actually smile for some period of time. This is time that you can’t be playing X-box or listening to One Direction and dancing in your room, as the case may be. This is why a pep talk is so important. They need to be in an upbeat state of mind so they will feel happy and carefree. This allows their inner joy to shine out through their eyes as they smile.

Naturally, I accomplish this with a complicated series of threats. Although I always start out peppy and positive (You look so nice! These cards are going to be so great!), my pep talk always devolves into promises of punishments once the photo shoot begins. (If you don’t stop irritating her, I’m going to ground you. Please quit making those crazy eyes or you are going to have to go to bed early.) If they would only do EXACTLY as I say and smile on cue (but naturally!) and freeze when I tell them to (but don’t look wooden!), then we would have the perfect picture in no time flat!

Our family photo session generally ends when any one of the three of us bursts into tears and is too stressed out to go on any longer. (You may notice that I said “three” when there are actually four human members in our family. My beloved husband always comes up with some task that he HAS to do the minute I begin holiday card photo sessions. It’s a total coincidence, I’m sure.)

But last year, I discovered the greatest thing. There are people you can pay to take your children’s photos. They are good at it, and your kids don’t know them well enough to misbehave in front of them!!! Ashley introduced me to the most wonderful photographer, and she did the whole thing. They got dressed, we drove to a park, and in 45 minutes it was completely done. The kids were actually happy having their picture taken. It was pure bliss!! The photos were fantastic. I actually had several card’s worth of wonderful photos to choose from—something that had never happened to me before!!

I’m no dummy! I scheduled with her again this year! Perfect solution, right?!!  Well..almost. Right about bed time the night before the photo shoot, Bobby rubbed some sort of allergen in his eye. He’s allergic to a lot of things: dust, pollen, dander, some foods…and probably many other things I don’t even know of yet. That’s just how he comes to the table. He came up to me and said, “My eye is itchy.” So, a mere 12 hours or so before our stress free photo shoot, I looked up to see him with one normal looking eye and one freakishly swollen deformed looking eye.

Of course I respond the way any loving and concerned parent would respond by shouting, “OH, MY GOD! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO YOURSELF? DON’T YOU KNOW YOU ARE HAVING YOUR PICTURE TAKEN TOMORROW???!!!”

Don’t be alarmed. He didn’t run to the corner and cry after my outburst, nor is he scarred for life. He thought my allergy eye freak out was hysterically funny. (Like any person with a  Y chromosome at our house, making me freak out is thought to be the height of hilarity.) I promptly gave him Benadryl, eye drops, and made him take a shower in case whatever was causing it was still lingering somewhere on his t-shirt.

Luckily the next morning his eye was back to normal and our stress free photo session was on! We met the photographer—this time downtown instead of at the park so we’d have a different feel to the pictures from last year. She was completely sweet, energetic, and fantastic just like last year. My kids, however, were not. You see, I think they felt more comfortable with her this year because they knew her. Instead of being on their best behavior as they are around strangers, they decided to be THEMSELVES. Ugh.

It started off great. I almost cried with happiness at the adorable things she had them doing. Smiles were genuine. It was too good to be true…again! But it *was* too good to be true. About half way through, it all changed. Lucy decided she had to put her hand on Bobby’s shoulder which pulled him over and almost made him fall. He then pinched the back of her arm to show his irritation. Before you knew it, they were going at it like two alley cats. This time I wanted to cry with frustration that they were incapable of behaving nicely for a mere 30 minutes.

But it all worked out in the end. Our wonderful photographer was a total pro and got them back on track quickly, and we finished up the session without further incident. She even assured me that they were not the worst behaved kids she’d ever photographed and she thought they were adorable. (A total lie, I’m sure, but it was very sweet of her to say.)

I love her and our new system. I can’t wait to see this year’s photographs! I’m just praying she doesn’t blackball us when it comes time for next year’s photo session.

Some of my favorite photos from last year. I can't believe how much Bobby has changed since then! Now you can see why I'm so excited to see this year's photos. Please agree to work with us again, Christina!

Some of my favorite photos from last year. I can’t believe how much Bobby has changed since then! Now you can see why I’m so excited to see this year’s photos. Please agree to work with us again, Christina!



Dear Santa, Please Make My Children Smile On Command Just Once! — 95 Comments

  1. OMG the picture after the Elf incident is priceless!!! Poor Lucy. I know you probably wanted to strangle her but ugh – such a hard thing for kids AND moms!! I gave up trying to get the “perfect” picture of the boys pretty much after their first Christmas. I guess I just don’t care that much and I don’t want to make them and me miserable. However, my genius friend, you have found the perfect solution!! I hope you post this years pic for us all to see!!

    • I actually wrote this last year and Christina came through in spades!! Her pictures are simply wonderful. I didn’t contact her in time to get a card photo for this year…so I had to take the photos again this year. It was excruciating as usual. We’ll definitely post them! They’re the WORST!!!

    • I’m *so* impressed!! I’ve never been in the photo shoot before. One of these days we have to break down and get the entire family!! Not this year, though. I’m not doing our first family photo in ages with me in braces. YUCK!! 😀

  2. This is why I take the kids to Target. Yes, it was a two hour wait (which stunk), but the photographer was amazing when we finally saw her and our pictures came out awesome. Seriously, this year the longest wait ever, we got the best pictures (go figure)! But seriously feel you pain from the very first Christmas with a screaming colicky baby, I truly loathe the annual Christmas card picture, but thank god for the pros every day!

    • Oh, the pros are DEFINITELY the way to go. It’s amazing how much better it goes with them than when you are trying to get a picture yourself. It’s worth every penny!!

  3. The end result is awesome! My house sounds similar to yours, so there is no hope of taking a picture inside. Also, my three kids are seldom home at the same time which does not help matters (and someone always makes a face or bothers one of the others to the point of an argument). I need to take my Christmas picture in the summer or over a vacation!

    • I have always wanted to be the kind of person that had the summer vacay picture on their Christmas card where everyone is wearing white and looking awesome. Unfortunately that’s not in my wheelhouse, but I could maybe get a photo of both the kids doing a cannon ball into the pool together.

  4. OMG, poor thing. I am glad the elf got his MoJo back. Those pictures from last year were completely amazing! They look PERFECT! You will have to share this year’s when you get them in! I totally understand crazy chaotic pictures. Try having 4 kids doing “all of the above”. I keep waiting on my photographer to quit.

    • Oh, Lawd!! Exactly!! You totally get it! You have twice as many kids to have looking in the camera and smiling and not bugging each other. If I can’t accomplish that with 2, I’d be totally out of my league with 4. I salute you!!

  5. I can totally relate. With my oldest off at college and working there all summer, I can’t even get the whole family together to try for a photo. I gave up this year and did a series of photos about putting a wreath on our house – owell!

  6. I have lived through very similar stories myself. Mine used to include attempts at setting up a self-timer and running into the shot at the last minute so the whole family could be in it. This year I got smart and had my sister-in-law snap a few shots while were at at my father-in-law’s (much cleaner) house over Thanksgiving.

    • Oh, MAN!!! I never tried the timer set up thing, but I can only imagine that ups the ante for misery!! Hahahaha. Good move getting your sister-in-law to get photos at your father-in-law’s house. Brilliant!!

  7. First of all, I am cracking up at the ones from when they were little. It was just like my kids at Easter! And the tears from the Elf…we had so many breakdowns caused by the Elf that I can relate. I hate that thing. I cannot wait to see this year’s pictures because I remember how cool it was to see how much Nico had changed. I loved the ones from last year and I totally agree that going with a pro is the way to go. Your kids have the most infectious smiles! Hmmm…wonder where they get that from? 🙂

    • YES! I HATE that Elf. He is nothing but trouble. Grrrr.
      I wrote this piece last year, so the card at the bottom is from 2 years ago. I cannot BELIEVE how much Bobby has changed. He seriously looks like a different kid! Freaky!!

  8. I agree with you totally! Christmas pictures are hard to get right, but your kids look adorable! One year I was trying to get the perfect picture of my two kids in front of the tree in their new Christmas outfits, I think the kids were 7 and 3 at the time. They didn’t want to stop playing long enough to put on their new Christmas outfits so I said fine, just put on the sweater without the pants. That’s all you are going to see anyway (you know they say anchorman do that, they wear a suit on top and shorts on the bottom). Anyway took the pictures, did not use a digital camera, so when the photos came back I had great pictures of the kids with their holiday sweaters and their underwear showing. No, that card did not go out!

    • O..M..Geeeeeee!!! That is the funniest thing I’ve read all day!! Bwahahahahaha. The anchorman approach did NOT work for you. I’ll keep that in mind if I ever try that. Oh, I love it!! Bwahhahahahaha!!

  9. What beautiful photos! Professional photographers, especially those who work well with children are worth their weight in gold. Actually, the ones that work with kids are worth their weight in vodka – which is what I’d have to consume before even thinking about making that my profession!

    • Hahaha! You and me BOTH, Mo!! I could never do it. I don’t have the patience (or alcohol tolerance) that would make me fit for that work!

  10. Wow, gorgeous photos! Now you know why photographers get paid to do what they do. My son always says “cheese!” when I take his picture, then plasters on the, er, cheesiest smile on his face. I usually try to snap a pic right after he thinks it’s done because then he’s actually more natural-looking lol.

    • Hahahahaha!! Lucy is a great smiler for pictures. She’s a natural. Bobby, on the other hand, generally looks like he’s about to have a root canal when he is “smiling” for pictures. It’s a nightmare. The only way to get a good smile out of him is to make him actually laugh. It’s excruciating.

  11. Haha. Things I get to look forward to with our first child on the way. We tried once to do a photo with our 3 dogs. We used a ladder and a timer on the camera. Yup, it turned out as bad as you imagine.

    • That sounds like the set up for a fantastic joke, Mike….
      What happens when you have three dogs, a ladder, and a camera on a timer….
      That experience definitely prepared you for the fun of the Christmas card photo sessions in your future!! ;D

  12. You would never know there were any issues based on those final pictures – they turned out great. The memories you have with all the previous ones though? Hopefully they will bring you laughter. Someday. Because they are pretty adorable in their own right. I’ve still got to do ours, wish me luck!!

    • Good luck, Stephanie!! May you have better luck that I’ve always had!! (and yes, these will be great memories in the future…far, far, far in the future! 😀 )

  13. This needs to be like a Youtube show..I would watch!
    I’m not into holiday pictures or cards so my kids are exempt from the torture..cause I’m sure i would torture them!

    Love the pics …
    Your kids are gorgeous!


    • Omg…NOBODY would watch that YouTube show. Blech!! It would be the lowest rated channel EVAH!! Listening to my kids bicker and whine for 30 minutes would test the patience of even the calmest soul.

  14. Of course. Now I read this – when my two are grown and flown. Yes, they are coming home soon but do I really want a photo of two-exam-exhausted-paler- than-pale-under-nourished-students? Uh no.
    “All the crossables are crossed” for you though. May these photo shoot results be the best ever.

    • hahahahahaha. I think you need to get the exhausted and pale student pictures, Kelly!! At least your kids are old enough not to whine (too much, anyway). 😀

  15. My two year old is not a big fan of the holiday portrait either. We’ve been trying for weeks. It’s simply not happening. My husband is an amateur photographer and has the deadly combination of being a perfectionistic and not a realistic when it comes to toddler patience. I would love to hire this task out to the real professionals, but I’m afraid that my husband would never speak to me again.

    • Hahahahahaha! I have to admit, I’m like your husband. I crave perfection in immortalizing the kids for these cards, but they do not appreciate it like I do. Go figure. Luckily I am *not* and amateur photographer and will gladly hand over the task!! I hope this year’s card is a success for you guys!!

  16. Now I wish I hadn’t read this because UGH it IS that time of year again and I am so busy I’m thinking of scrapping the whole idea of having an Xmas card at all. The lighting is always wrong, the house is always messy… and getting a baby and a 4yo to smile at the same time is a nightmare…

    • It’s a TOTAL nightmare, isn’t it Christa!! And time is just ticking away. I honestly almost did bag the whole thing, but then my Mother in law told me how much my husband’s aunt enjoys the cards…and I relented. I’m a sucker.

  17. I’ve stopped attempting to get my kids to pose for Christmas photos. G has the worst fake smile and Biz just makes crazy faces to ruin the picture. I look back on photos from the year and pick decent ones and create from there. Good luck with your photo shoot!

    p.s. That photo after the Elfy incident is card-worthy if you ask me. 🙂

    • That is the smartest way to do it, Jennifer. Unfortunately Bobby has a fake smile to rival G’s and most of his pictures look that same weird way. Ugh.

      I totally should have gone with the crying after the elf incident card. I am attempting a “funny” card this year. We’ll see how it goes!

  18. Really funny recap, Lisa. You have nice-looking kids, you’d think it would be easier to get a good shot. Glad it all worked out with the professional.

    • You are too kind, John. Bring out a camera and it’s a total nightmare scenario. Bobby has exactly two faces for the camera: “I must be constipated but smiling anyway” and “I am making a goofy face so you won’t see my fake smile constipated face”. Anything else is almost unattainable with him.

  19. Good one Lisa, I like that it can be any one of the three that cry.
    Got a question, if you had several from last year why not just use one of them this year? Wouldn’t that be more efficient plus save money?

    • I like the way you think, Bill!! I should just recycle the photos. Most people wouldn’t even realize the children don’t ever seem to age. I might go with this plan next year!

  20. Be kind to photographers. You just never know when you might really need them 😉 I’ve got a couple of photos like that when mine were little. Now as adults I don’t even try! Looking forward to seeing the cuties pics when you get them.

    • A good photographer who will put up with your kids and make them look decent is a FIND!! She is GOLD in my book!! I’d do anything for her!!

  21. Your description of your photo session was hilarious–though not for you, I’m sure. You have two beautiful kids, though, so be grateful! You could have perfectly behaved, ugly ones!

    • Bwahahahahaha. Oh, EVA!! I’m laughing so hard I can hardly breathe!!
      I guess I will be grateful for what I’ve got when you put it that way!! 😀

    • I really need to take a break from cards for a year. That sounds SO nice. Or maybe I just need to put my dog on the card. She never minds when I take her picture and she doesn’t argue with me at all!

  22. OHMYGOSH you CRACK me up Lisa!!!! And yes- those pictures from last year are BRILLIANT and GORGEOUS!!! Lucy’s dimples…. sigh.

    I can’t wait to see this years!!! (We don’t do family picture/portraits of the kids at. ALL. It’s awful. I feel awful about it! We tend to go with- uh, nothing but phone pictures we grab as we go on our every day’s events and activities.

    Does it really work for us? Well, we are doing it, so we have set the bar low enough to deal. LOL

    Well, we do DO have their school pictures though!! Does that count? Ugh.

    • Hahahahahahaha!! I love your approach. I’m doing something similar this year.
      I actually wrote this post last year. The photos we got from Christina were FANTASTIC. Best photos of the kids ever. This year I was late and didn’t get an appointment. I took 7 pictures of the kids this past Saturday myself (it was a nightmare) and I picked one. The end. It is a VERY low bar, so there you go. (I’m actually doing a funny card this year because all the photos were so awful. so…LOW LOW BAR)

  23. We are lucky, lucky, lucky to have a photographer friend who takes annual shots for us for next to nothing – I wish I could afford to have someone follow my kids around and take pictures all the time. They are growing so fast!

    Poor Lucy – I’m glad your elf got his magic back. 🙂

    • Hahahaha! Thanks. But I assure you, it’s less adorable and funny Modern Family around my house on photo taking day. It’s more like a horror movie!! 😀

  24. A professional definitely makes things easier! This year I made my kids pose for a few “nice” shots, then I let them ham it up and act goofy. Our card has the nice photo in the middle, with four goofy shots surrounding it. I think it represents our family pretty well!

    • That is SUCH a cute idea, Dana!! I may have to try that for next year (although it the “nice” shot in the middle that will plague me!!)

  25. I have to say we have one child and we use his school photos good or bad for family overseas and other relatives. Oh and the Sharpie on the wall, use magic eraser, those suckers can remove anything, just rub gently. 😉

  26. hah! I often tell clients that of course their kids were great, and of course I have seen worse, but you know what? There had to be the worst one at some point! So there was probably one family that I lied to. The good part is that I don’t remember it. I only remember my own mistakes – or lighting errors or outdoors elements.
    You are definitely not blackballed.
    And isn’t it wonderful? You can pay people to do all the dirty work and they actually like it!!

    • Bwahahahaha. SEE!! SOMEONE actually WAS the worst family she’s ever worked with!! Hahahahaha. It’s probably us. But still…I would honestly pay her double what she charges, I’m so happy with what she is able to do–especially given her models!!

  27. I am so loving the pictures they got it right on the last one so cute. Mines never do right when it comes to pictures I normally use my photoshop to touch stuff up if I can.

    • I CRAVE photoshop, Kita. I don’t have it. I have to use PicMonkey for the blog. It’s great for stuff here, but for real photo editing, it just can’t compare. But until they create a “de-whining” wand for Photoshop, I’m stuck anyway!

  28. Hmmm… my mom never had my picture taken around Christmas to send in the Christmas cards. I wonder why? Surely it couldn’t have been because when I was baby and she wanted some portraits taken I wouldn’t stop crying the whole entire time. And nothing she, the photographer, or her friend did would stop me from crying. Nah. Surely that couldn’t be the reason.

    • Bwahahahahahahahaha. Oh, Kristen!! Your poor mom! You scarred her for life as a baby! You saved yourself hideous photo sessions for years! Well played, Baby Kristen.

  29. I LOVE the last pictures you posted. Wonderful.

    It’s so hard to get pictures of my kids together. One is always doing something weird. My son usually looks constipated.

    • hahahahaha! YES! My son always looks constipated or pained in some way. It’s SO annoying. Yelling at him to SMILE just makes it worse…imagine that! 😀

  30. oh my! you had in tears just reading this post! yes, the home photo shoots most often end in threats, yelling and tears…
    last year’s picture is amazing!

    • Thanks, Amber!! Our family photo shoots are a damn nightmare. We all agree on this. Even Lucy, who is the most camera ready participant, said, “Oh, no” when I told her we were having a session. Ugh.

  31. We have officially given up on the annual holiday card. They just don’t make enough medication. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy people stopping me at PTA meetings telling me that they couldn’t wait to get our cards because they always cracked them up but I figured I’d let another family have all the fun. You have a gorgeous family!!! xo

    • You know, I honestly think I could decrease my holiday stress by half if I dropped the holiday card. I need to get off the hamster wheel. I know I do. Maybe next year!!

  32. I’ve decided to just go with it – last year Jordan (at 14!) made goofy faces in every single picture we took (I was manning the timer with a cracked hip and therefore very short tempered). I showed him – I used one of the pictures that 3 out of the 4 of us smiled and looked as normal as possible while he looked silly – all 140ish of the people on our list got the card with him!!!
    Your kid’s picture from last year is super cute – I bet this year’s will be great!!

    • Hahahahaha. This post is actually from last year…and we did get great photos with the photographer. This year I had to take the photos myself and I *did* go with a goofy photo because that was all I had available to me…so I am doing the Kim method!!

  33. OMG the elf incident. I worry every night that T will come out of her room and see me moving our elf around. As far as family pictures go…I definitely gave up on taking our own…but we cheated and just went to the mall photographer. BUT I wish we lived near you because those pictures are adorable!!!

    • Touching that elf was THE WORST!! She was seriously devastated. Ugh. We recovered, but MAN…that Elf is a lot of trouble in a LOT of ways!! Grrrr…

  34. Poor Lucy… she looks like she’s trying so hard to smile through the tears! I love the photos taken last year!! We’ve never had crying but there was a lot impatience. The kids would just want to be done after just 2 or 3 shots. Now it’s a chore just trying to get both dogs in the same picture!

    • She was trying, Jeanne….but it’s hard to smile when your world is crumbling down and the magic of Christmas may be gone forever! 😀
      I love that you get the dogs in your picture…as it should be!! 😀

  35. This post was hilarious! I can kind of tell that Lucy was crying, but only because you pointed it out! Good thing you figured out that the pics turn out better when someone else takes their photos. I’m too cheap to go that route. So far, I’ve gotten 2 photo shoots out of my kids this year. The trick was to let them jump off an ottoman placed in front of a tree. I snap-snap-snapped right before they jumped!

    • Oooh, good thinking Gracielle!! What an excellent idea!! I may even give them the added incentive of letting them push each other off the ottoman. They might go for that.

  36. The photos are GORGEOUS! A great photographer is well worth the stress of trying to do it at home. And kids will always listen and pose better for an adult who is not mom!

  37. Ahh, this sounds so familiar! We have used a family friend the past couple of year to take our picture and they have gotten too comfortable with her (they act like themselves)! One year I foolishly took them to one of those studios in the mall, NEVER AGAIN! It was awful, we all drove home in silence and my husband made me promise to never schedule photos again, I agreed (until next year of course)… after a stern talking to and since they were all still dressed we sat them down in front of our tree and VOILA, we had a picture! Amazing! Can’t wait to see this years pics!!!!

  38. Just took the dreaded holiday pics…and I’m trying to fit them onto a card as we speak. (See how thrilled I am by the pics by my stalling tactics of reading blogs right now???)

    I seriously think it would be a better pic to have someone take my picture while I am trying to get 2 kids to look up, smile, stay still, and also have the dog in the picture. (By the way, the dog is the best one usually!)


  40. CRACKING UP! I have been in the whole “no one smiles together” phase with 2 little boys bc we can’t possibly look at the camera and sit still at the same time. NOW I am starting to enter this whole awkward/fighting phase. HA, this is hysterical. Love you ladies!

  41. OMIGOD, the four pictures you have captioned, trying to capture the perfect photo had me cracking up! a friend of mine spent hours trying to figure out which picture to send, then hours more getting it setup online. we are taking a break from all of the madness this year!

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