Friday, July 17, 2015

My best family picture advice: Talking poopy

Last night we dressed ourselves up and submitted ourselves to the authority of a blazing hot, humid evening in the grass fields by our home. This means only one thing: family picture time. 

Or, as I like to refer to it: family/fatty picture time. Because my belly is definitely not getting any smaller. 

Our pics were taken by Ziegler Photography. If you are in the Southwest MO area, you should DEFINITELY check them out. Esther is the sweetest thing ever, and Nathan did most of or grunt work for us by carrying chairs outside into the blazing sun and even entering our scary bathroom remodeling zone to search for my husband's wedding ring. He even played with our boys to keep them occupied while we took some fatty-daddy pics. 

Here's something you should know about us as a family. Of the four of us, two of us of are insanely picture-awkward. We can't smile in front of a camera like normal civilians, nor do we have an inkling of an idea what it means to "act natural" in front of a lens. One of us is insanely cute (my personal opinion, of course) and ornery but hates smiling for a camera. One of us is a cocktail of cute, photogenic smiles with twinkling blue eyes and beautifully bronzed skin that would make a model of any age drool with jealousy. He's got it (and our genes can't take any credit for it; he was adopted).

That said, on the rare occasion when we try to get a "cute brothers picture" we end up with something like this: 


Rather than pressing the issue and forcing smiles just because the boys were both dressed up and in front of a cameras a Christmas tree, I gave up on any notion that we would get a cute picture out if them for at least the next 15 years. Fortunately, we don't take ourselves very seriously around here, so we rocked that picture on our Christmas cards with a message like, "With more joy than enthusiasm, the Lotz family." (I'm pretty sure that Christmas card got more play and ended up on more refrigerators than all of our previous cards, so I think we might just be onto something with the awkward pic motif.)

With that info and past picture experiences in mind, I had an inkling we'd have an especially tricky time getting smiles out of our tiniest (but not for long) household member. Not because he doesn't like to smile or laugh--he is an absolute goofball in his own element--but mostly because he likes to do things in HIS own way and in HIS own timing. 

Consider: Last summer when we took pictures with my whole family, the ONLY smile we got out of Brecken came when Paw Paw (my dad) held him. Otherwise, he looked like a stone-cold killer who'd rather be eating ice cream. 

He looked bit like this, actually: 

(So thrilled. Little do you know that he BEGGED to put those goggles on.)

Or, in a cuter variety of the stone-cold face, this: 


(Although I must admit that these are two of my absolute favorite pictures of Brecken.)

Therefore, knowing the challenge that loomed ahead with family pictures last night, we set to work on a plan. 

(My parents were out of town for the week, this making Paw Paw's presence and positive picture influence impossible.)

First of all, we threw out a nice incentive for completing pictures happily: "We will smile nice and big for pictures, then we will spend the night at MeMaw and Paw Paw's house (even though they weren't home...it's still special) and go swimming tomorrow, then we will go pick out Brecken's birthday cake!" That got some grins, and we hoped we were on the right track. (Yes, this could be referred to as bribery, but bribery works and can be considered somewhat appropriate if used sparingly.)

Second, we took the kids to the pool before pics to wear them out (and conveniently, we all got some slightly sun-kissed cheeks while we were there). Then we came home to take long late naps right before pics. Having tired kids during pics is NEVER a good idea.

Third, upon awakening from naps, I slipped Brecken some ice cream with chocolate syrup. Ice cream, to Brecken, is the preschool equivalent to a couple of sips of Bacardi for an average adult. (Ice cream has the same effect on me, by the way, which is why my brothers BEGGED my parents to steer clear of it throughout my childhood and why I haven't had much use for alcohol in adulthood.)

After the ice cream hit the bottom of  Brecken's belly, I assumed we were as happy and ready for pictures as we'd ever be. Brecken appeared to be feeling the ice cream buzz as soon as Nathan and Esther Ziegler showed up at our house; he gave Nathan a high-five upon entrance. This is unheard of, and it slightly contradicts my proclamations of his aversion to new social situations (mentioned in this post...more on this predicament to come next week). 

Ok, ice cream was doing its thing, we had the prospect of a night at MeMaw and Paw Paw's on the table, and a day of swimming and cake-choosing loomed on the horizon. I thought we would do ok. 

But then we began posing, and that camera lens took over the focus of Brecken's mind. Things started going downhill. First, it was the unaffected stare. He stared at that camera with zero emotions, like it was a blank white wall. We tried talking about his favorite things: ice cream, chocolate, monkeys, swimming, jumping, MeMaw and Paw Paw. But all to no avail. (If anything, this kid's game face will come in handy when he's older, making his opponents sure he's serious about competition.)

Next, we tickled. I tickled his belly, whispered funny things into his ear, made silly faces. Still nothing. Brad took over, siting Brecken on his lap and reminding him of the fun things that we got to do after pictures. When Brecken started realizing all of the focus was on him, I saw a glimpse of chin-quiver. 

Uh-oh. We are done. 

We switched positions and placed Brecken on Brad's neck while continuing to talk about good smiles and a future of staying at MeMaw and Paw Paw's and swimming and Batman cake. 

Still stone-cold.

Then I remembered it. That word that worked for the smiling-boy pictures I took on Easter when I was getting nothing but blank stares and wrinkled noses before. The word that, at all other times, we say is inappropriate. 

"Poopy."

He broke. He tried holding back a smile, but apparently poopy is not a word that he can ignore. There is just something way too awesome about bathroom humor for him to handle. 

This is the first picture I've received as a sneak peak from the session. I believe it was taken at the very moment after Brecken's game face began to break. Not too shabby! 


We all joined in. "Poopy! Poopy! Poopy!" (Did Esther know what she was getting herself into with us?) He was smiling his biggest, brightest smile now, and the light in his eyes intensified with every exclamation of the word. 

Once his game face broke, we were home free. He relaxed and smiled for the camera. He kissed my forehead. He and Brody laughed and hugged. 

And then the ice cream buzz kicked in. His joy was in full effect. Angels sang. The heavens rejoiced. 

Pics were actually really fun after the initial stress of the question, "How will he react?" was factored out. Although we were all sweating ("glowing") from our heads to our toes, we enjoyed some good fun as a family, and I am quite sure that Esther captured great pics, despite our still-awkward selves. 

My advice to you, if you have a tricky picture-kid/socially anxious kiddo/stone-cold killer-face: Feed him ice cream and then talk poopy. Extend the conversation to tooting, if needed.**

As Esther said last night, we will never be in this stage of life again; everything is about to change. Our kids will not be this little long, and we will have others joining us soon. We want to remember life as it is now, even if it isn't always pretty. If nothing else, a good old ol' crying pic will serve as a good (sometimes even cute) reminder of life as we sometimes knew it. 

**This poop-related advice may or may not work for girls. I will try it out in a year or two and get back to you.