If you think the family portrait is hard to pull-off just try the intergenerational one. Here are the Ludwig kids and their Rahn cousins with Grandma and Grandpa Ludwig, summer of 1998.
The baby is Lilly. L to R: Atticus, Grace, Sarah, Brian, and Michael
"I don't see you on the schedule," I said frowning at my list of names.
It was church-directory picture-taking week last month and I had offered to help register families as they came in all shiny and well-combed and neat. I was talking to a long-time parishioner so I was confused as to why her family's label was missing.
She waved my concern away, "Oh that's because we were here earlier in the week and it didn't go well. The boys had a meltdown, my husband complained, and I ended up in tears so we had to just leave."
Ah, the family portrait. Good times.
If you want to see a middle-aged mom roll her eyes, just ask her about the last time she tried to get her family together for a formal photo.
As every mother knows, it is exceedingly challenging to wrangle all the members of your family for this seemingly simple task. Whether you are dealing with colicky babies, cranky toddlers, or busy, busy, teenagers, it is a Sisyphean chore to get them all in one spot at one time looking well-dressed and well-groomed and not crying.
I don't know why we even try.
Yes I do. It's because one of our jobs is to curate an archive of the family history and a formal family portrait every few years is a big part of the exhibit.
When the kids were little I went for the old dress-em-all-alike look which involved weeks of scouring Target for similar outfits. What a colossal waste of time.
Even after making sure I had something that fit each and every one of us (sometime this process took so long someone outgrew something) and finding a time when no one was napping and dad was home, I would still meet with resistance from the crowd.
Really? Is it so much to ask that you people put the outfit on that I laid out for you on your bed and go smile at the camera for half an hour?
"Do I have to go get my picture taken! I don't wanna. I don't wanna wear jeans and a black t-shirt like everyone else," the whining would begin. The kids were worse.
So in recent years I've adopted the "I don't care what you're wearing, just comb your hair and let's go" policy. Which you think would take care of all the problems and resistance but no, just as you get to this point, the kids will be teenagers and have all kinds of school and after-school activities to conflict with a scheduled photo time.
This year I rescheduled our time slot three times to accommodate the work-choir-horseback riding commitments of my brood. I wasn't quite ready to adopt my friend Laura's policy-- "I just scheduled a time and figured it was like dinner on any given night--whoever shows up is in."
This time around I was introduced to a new wrinkle in the whole process--with kids headed off to college it is even less likely you will be able to pull off a complete family portrait.
Mom friends told me their college children had expressed disbelief and even outrage that they would not be in the church directory. One mom said she had a different shot of the family taken and submitted it to accommodate their college kid. Another one submitted their college student's picture separately.
So as we four who were once five stood fake smiling I said a little sadly, "This is weird without Atticus."
But Grace was more pragmatic, "This is who we are now. Let's just take the picture."
Which I think is the perfect sentiment of any formal family picture and a gentle reminder of the ever-changing nature of family.
This is who we are now.