I enjoy getting Christmas cards from people. There is something uniquely memorable about getting a card from people you know, gathered together in one image and having the privilege of observing changes over time: kids getting bigger, parents getting older, significant milestones represented, pets added or subtracted.
Every year, I try to take a family photo with the intention of making and sending out Christmas cards. I have failed for at least two years now and possibly three. Oh, we make the effort to put on actual clothes and traipse to a semi-scenic spot with a tripod and camera in hand. And somewhere out there is a memory stick or card filled with an assortment of terrible pictures featuring 4 or 5 people in awkward poses with irritable expressions, taken during the second or third week of December. But the experience is always traumatic and hasn’t produced an image worth sharing in some time.
This year, given my drastically reduced evening and weekend schedules, the lack of any sports activities sucking up precious photo-taking time on the weekends, and the reclusive nature of our 2020 existence, I vowed to make it happen. I gave my household members a week’s worth of warning: “next Saturday, we are going to take a family picture.” Part ultimatum, part threat – my words were met with the expected sequence of groans and eyerolls.
Saturday arrived and we tended to our chores with one eye on the clock, knowing that the passing of every minute brought us closer to darkness. December daylight is a fleeting thing when you live this far north.
People put on clothes they had not slept in and combed their hair. “Are we bringing the dogs?” the boys begged.
Who wants to run back and forth between a tripod as the collective mood grows increasingly dire and barter with two canines suffering from an overactive prey drive to sit. For a photo.
I grabbed the camera (which hadn’t been used since February) – having had the forethought to charge the battery. I grabbed the tripod. And that’s when I realized the piece attaching camera to tripod was missing.
I could not recall the last time the tripod had been used or where the missing piece might be. We had moved the previous year and have been living in a state of perpetually-missing-things ever since.
It was a setback, to say the least.
I tried my best to rally, to turn things around. It was past 2pm and the sun had begun its descent. ”Let’s just stop at Wal-Mart on the way. Maybe they will have a tripod.”
Public Service Announcement: Wal-Mart does not carry tripods that attach to cameras. They carry selfie sticks that can be fashioned into tripods, that might bear the weight of a cell phone. So that is what I bought. Along with a bag of mint m&ms. Fully intending to purchase my children’s reasonable looking smiles with red and green candies.
It worked and it didn’t. One kid started saying “pass the menthe” or “I need more menthe” because we live in a land where food is labeled in English and French. You can have mint m&m’s or you can have menthe m&m’s and apparently we were having menthe that day. Except, in keeping with the questionable sense of humor that is overwhelmingly prevalent in the adolescent boy, they were saying it like ‘meth’.
You know, as in les drogues.
At least they were laughing, while the professor tried to figure out how to use our newly acquired selfie-tripod and the sun was sinking into the earth. We took approximately one hundred photos, certain that – given the law of averages – one of them would turn out.
Mais non. Despite my threats and pleas to keep eyes open, to forgo the smile that looks like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, still nearly all of them features one child with resolutely pursed lips. As though he’s trying to excise a piece of spinach from his teeth without the expediency of using his hands. As one might do, right before taking a picture.
Except the picture had already been taken.
Upon being shown photographic evidence of his strange habit, he yelled “I can’t help it, I have an overbite!” And, blame it on the menthe, I fell into unrestrainable laughter. And of course one brother contested, “doesn’t everyone have an overbite?” Obviously trying to curtail his brother’s floundering attempts at seeking pity about this life-altering disfigurement he’d been handed.
And I knew, as we walked back to the van and got stuck on the dreaded ice covered hill leaving Edworthy Park, that my Christmas card dreams would not come true. As I endured the humiliation of stopping traffic in both directions, and pushing the tire-spinning van to terra firma with the help of various strangers, I vowed to hire someone to take our photo in 2021. So that we would not have to endure this particular sequence of stress in our lifetimes. Ever again.
In the end, I held up my phone during a car ride on the way back from Banff. Five days before Christmas. “Look up,” I instructed the vehicle’s occupants. pressed the camera circle on my phone and posted it to Instagram. The dogs were in it too.