It’s that time of year again. Fall. Family. Photos. And this year is a big one for us, okay me. It’s our last Fall photo session as a family of 4. It’s my last opportunity to get maternity photos. Not pregnant-me in candid shots hiding behind someone, and not look-how-big-I’m-getting photos, but pregnancy photos that I can someday look back on with pride and self-esteem rather than horror – you know, posed, photoshopped, outfit painstakingly chosen photos. The Fall photos are the yearly photos for our family, the ones that usually end up framed, even if I don’t get around to it until Spring. It’s my one thing that I ask, ok require, of my family for a year’s worth of thankless blood, sweat, and tears otherwise known as motherhood. If the family photos are good, I feel worthy as a mom. I have photographic evidence that I’ve kept everyone alive and relatively well-fed, and certainly well-clothed, even if only on this particular occasion where a photographer was present. And since I’m the family photographer, it’s the one photo session I get to actually be in, more than the one or two shots where I bemoan my extra chin or have a weird look on my face because I smell a poopy diaper.
So this year I was especially stressed with the preparation for our photo shoot. You know how it goes: Weeks of surfing Pinterest for location ideas and cute poses that say “we are a super-cute and loving family who didn’t just argue in the car over someone’s top shirt button.” Monitoring the weather for the best Fall-color timing and temperature range that’s appropriate to wear the sweaters you bought specifically for the photos without dying of heatstroke halfway through the photo shoot. Shopping for outfits for 4 people that don’t look matchy-matchy but coordinate enough that you look put-together but didn’t plan it that way, and that also make Mommy look like she rides horses. Now add maternity clothing and hormones to that process. Ha. Now you’re pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down, right?
The day of the session, I woke up pretty sure I should have stayed in bed. I started my day in tears before I’d even had my decaf coffee and I can’t even remember why, except that I’m 31 weeks pregnant and I’m drinking decaf coffee. The day went on as usual with preschool drop-offs and pickups and errands, but I built in plenty of time for a shower before the session. After practically begging my kids to please do this one thing for Mommy, then giving up and bribing them with the promise of hot chocolate after the photos, we got dressed and out the door 30 minutes behind schedule. My hair was still damp in the back but the front looked just the right amount of disheveled so that I wouldn’t look overmade.
When we arrived at our chosen fall-color location, the kids were of course uncooperative. They loosened up as we walked around and I think we managed to get some great shots. We were believably in harmony with each other, and the weather was perfect. And then it happened. We sat the kids on a concrete historical marker, and cuddled up together for the perfect family shot with a backdrop of evergreens that didn’t look too much like Christmas trees but would set off our matching gray-blue-green eyes for the photo. My 4 year old started to wail. “What now?!” thought this mother-of-the-year. Then my husband, in a voice that was at once commanding and calm and didn’t quite register its direction, said “WASP.” Everything seemed to happen in slow motion from there. We scattered like the swarm of yellow jackets that poured out of their underground nest toward us. We grabbed kids and slung diaper bags. Shoes fell off and clothing went flying as we desperately tried to get the little black and yellow spawns of satan off of our children, and ourselves. All I could think, between painful stings, was how many yellow jackets I could see on my kids and whether my 4 year old was screaming because he was still being stung or because he was scared, or both. Despite the adrenaline and confusion of the moment, I fully grasped the gravity of the situation. My 2 year old was wearing a thick cardigan and it was bedazzled with yellow jackets. I knew if half of them stung him, we’d have to get him to the hospital right away, even if he didn’t turn out to be allergic to the stings. The more we swatted and ran, the more they pursued us, each wasp getting stuck in our clothing and stinging over and over. When we finally got away, still brushing off a wasp or two from a pant leg or shoe, we could fully assess the damage. My 4 year old was still crying and screaming, and wearing only one shoe. My 2 year old had cried briefly, but was now just along for the crazy ride. We made it back to the car and counted the stings. My husband had 10 or more, my mother and I each had 3 or 4, the photographer 2, and thank God the kids seemed only to have 1 sting between them. My 4 year old, who’d alerted us with his crying, had received that single first sting on his shoeless foot. He was shaken but calming down. My 2 year-old’s thick cardigan had acted as a barrier, keeping him from being stung. His wardrobe choice ended up being the only thing I felt I’d gotten right that day, but I was just damned thankful the situation hadn’t been worse. I couldn’t shake the image of so many wasps on that cardigan. I’m not sure how my 4 year old, who’d refused to wear his sweater, had gotten away with only one sting. I watched the kids like a hawk all night to make sure they didn’t have any reaction or stings I might have missed. I couldn’t stop thinking ‘what if.’
We haven’t gotten the pictures back from the photographer, although I’m less concerned about how they look, just that I have an image to put with the story that will go down in our family’s history. And I didn’t get my maternity photos, despite having brought 3 outfit changes for the session. But at least I can laugh about our adventure, and mostly myself for getting so wrapped up in a picture. Despite all my preparation and stressing, I couldn’t improve on the picture that mattered most, the big one.