There is something about the Christmas tradition of watching It’s a Wonderful Life on TV that brings out all of the warm and fuzzy feelings of the holiday season. I envision a modern-day family of 4 all snuggled on the couch together next to a cozy fire, decked out in matching green, plaid Hearth & Hand pajamas, sipping hot cocoa out of chunky mugs wrapped in woven "ugly-sweater" cozies while eating Christmas cookies from holiday-themed Fiestaware.
Then there is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the version of Christmas that rings much truer to many families’ real lives and the one that highlights the inevitable obstacles that can present themselves when we hold on to idealistic images of family gatherings from our childhood and try to re-create them for our kids—or more honestly—for ourselves.
I see this dichotomy play out a lot in family photography too. There is the Wonderful Life version of a family photograph and the Christmas Vacation version of a family session—both of which hold a place and a significance in our lives. We all try to shove enormous trees into too-small living rooms at times—and that's when nothing seems to go as planned, people don't cooperate and things—and kids— just simply fall apart (AKA trying to get a 4-year-old boy—or even a 10-year-old boy—to wear jeans for your family photo). You might as well prepare now for an inevitable meltdown or an utter rebellion.
It's very easy to slip into a crazed quest to recreate the family Christmas (or a particular family photo) we remember from our childhood, have seen on Pinterest, or have received in our mailbox during the weeks leading up to the holidays.
But is that what your family really feels like in your day-to-day? —Probably not.
Some of my favorite images from my family sessions or of my own kids, are the ones where the shit hits the fan, the silliness erupts and the big emotions start to emerge. Those are memories that can quickly be wiped away with cheesy smiles and matching PJ's. I want to remember how quickly they grew and how hard it was to keep up. I want to remember them in high-water knit pijama pants with mismatch, mid-drift tops with their bellies hanging out because they grew out of them overnight and we were nowhere near a holiday or birthday to take advantage of a re-stock from the grandparents.
It's ok if there are tears, signs of annoyance, families joking and having fun together, kids picking noses and making silly, laughter-inducing faces in our photographs. I mean—I don't know about you, but that pretty much sums up life at my house these days with two young boys. The only thing missing would be conversations and jokes with Siri and Alexa about poop.
On that note... I will leave you with this series of out-takes from this season's family sessions (set to the tune of Christmas Vacation quotes, of course). These are the images that made me chuckle as I edited them and gave me—and the families these moments belong to—all the warm and fuzzy feels of this crazy and wonderful life we live with kids.
Clark: "Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere, leave you for dead?"
Eddie: "Naw, I'm doing just fine, Clark."
Art: "The little lights aren't twinkling."
Clark: "I know, Art. And thanks for noticing."