At Thanksgiving Matt and I decided that the Bean had waited long enough to meet her nine California cousins, EIGHT of whom are girls, so we flew out to Sacramento for turkey and sisterhood. I loved seeing my baby daughter passed around and celebrated by all these young women in our West Coast family. There’s something about TOTAL FEMALE DOMINATION that makes for a fantastic holiday.
And now here we are in Charlottesville, Virginia! C’ville is my motherland, but it’s a foreign world to Matt, who’s never lived below the Mason-Dixon. And EVERYTHING is new to the Bean. But we’re thrilled to be here and we can’t wait to start taking on local clients. We’re also expanding our child photo business to include weddings and more commercial photography. You can check out Matt’s ever-expanding portfolio on his personal website.
Our first weekend in Virginia was spent on the Cowpasture River in Bath County. This has always been my family’s favorite summer vacation spot, and Matt and I were happy to see our offspring take to the water like a jesus bug.
Okay, “young” and “virginal” might be a stretch, but Matt did take me to Coney Island for a maternity photo shoot that he promised wouldn’t involve endless yards of wispy fabric catching the breeze on the beach. Not that there’s anything wrong with those glamazon maternity shoots. They’re just not me.
But I love beaches! Especially those with boardwalks, roller coasters, and freak shows (we take what we can get here in Brooklyn, so far from the Cote d’Azur). So Matt and I hopped on the F train and rode to Coney Island.
Our first stop was Coney Art Walls, a fabulous new outdoor art museum on Stillwell Avenue. We used to love visiting the Wynwood Walls when we lived in Miami last year, so we both felt right at home amidst Coney’s urban graffiti. At least one of us felt comfortable enough to remove her shirt and pose as the Pillsbury Doughgirl in front of a Buff Monster mural.
We assumed that I’d be refused entry to the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, so Matt took some photos of me with my feet firmly planted on the boardwalk.
By the time we reached the freak show gates, we found them locked up for the evening. Good thing I feel like a bit of a freak myself at 38+ weeks pregnant. I may not be able to swallow swords, but some kind of rare creature is definitely bustling around in my stomach. Maybe it’s a mermaid.
If you’re pregnant and in the mood for a non-cheesy photo session, give us a shout! We are more than equipped to shoot you and your bump, wrapped in a curtain, looking ethereal against a background of sand dunes and dolphins at sunset, but you *might* have something weirder in mind.
My mother has many arcane Christmas traditions, but one of my favorites is her annual cookie-painting party, when our young relations come over to consume unlimited quantities of sugar in dough, icing, and sprinkle form. Then the kids run shrieking around the house, ripping candy canes from the Advent calendar and festively knocking things over, while Mom and I chug mimosas in the kitchen.
I seem to remember the cookie-painting party being less chaotic in previous years. Now that we’re training the older kids to look after the younger kids, however, Mom and I are under a mandate to do whatever the opposite of helicopter parenting is, for the sake of teaching the children self-sufficiency. You know, like they do in France. (The opposite of helicopter parenting might be champagne.)
Despite the rampage that ensued shortly after the disappearance of the first reindeer cookies (barely recognizable as iconic animals under their puddles of green and pink icing), Matt still managed to capture some tender moments. Then I think he fled to the garage, where my brothers were also wisely hiding from the children.
When I go home to my parents’ house to celebrate Christmas, I first loot the fridge and freezer, and then I locate the basket where my mom keeps all the holiday cards she’s received to-date. I am a sucker for these cards. I think I know more of my parents’ friends through their holiday mailings than I know through live association. I grew up studying the faces of their children in Christmas card photographs, and now that many of these friends are grandparents like my mom, I study the faces of their grandchildren. If my mom receives a mailing without a photo, I usually return it to the basket from whence it came with theatrical disgust. Don’t people know that the whole purpose of holiday cards is to harness the power of the postal service to broadcast the current state of their kids so that other people in random households across the country can delight for a moment in the innocence of children before falling into their seasonal depressions? Does this need spelling out? (Fine, I will spell it out.)
My mom has one friend from Georgia who always mailed her seasons greetings with breathtakingly beautiful, black & white photos of her stunning daughters. (My brothers were especially vocal about how much they appreciated the artistry of these particular shots.) The photos were clearly taken by a professional, and so they stood out from the rest of the cards, which usually featured a photo that some father had barely managed to achieve after balancing his camera on a fencepost, setting up a 10-second timer, dashing toward his tightly-grouped family, and hoping for the best.
My parents didn’t like to be featured in our own family Christmas cards. Instead they’d get creative/sadistic with their children, stacking us on ladder rungs or dispersing us across the branches of a magnolia tree. Any fun family gathering in late fall was liable to be converted into an impromptu Christmas card photo session, so we kids scattered accordingly whenever we saw a camera. But I am certainly glad that we have those pictures now. We might have been artificially posed and genuinely bitter, but dammit we looked good. Or at least together.
I’ve never sent my own holiday card, but it pleases me that my siblings have adopted the tradition. I’ve spent a fortune on magnets trying to keep up with the amount of niece and nephew photos I feel compelled to adhere to my refrigerator door. My mom is the same way. If you give her a photo and it makes it onto the fridge, you know you’re special. She saves a ton of money on electric bills because her food is so well insulated behind years of children’s smiling faces.
Every year the holiday card basket is less full. This makes me sad, and not just because I’m technically in the holiday card business now. People share pictures on Facebook and Instagram. People share pictures on their iPhones. Images are predominantly digital and passed from one cloud to another. I don’t mean to sound like a Luddite, but I truly appreciate a stamp, an envelope, a brief handwritten note, a pile of photos that I can hold in my hand and compare to last year’s. I have fond memories of my mom and my late father sitting around the card table in the living room with a fire blazing in the fireplace, writing cheerful messages to their friends on the backs of identical photographs. Somewhere out there are people who have known our faces through the years. Somewhere out there are people who have said about us, “That looks like a happy family.”
In one of my favorite childhood photos, my mom is holding my two-year-old self by the hand as we make our way down the narrow dock of a lake marina. She is tall and lean; I am short and stumpy. She is relaxed and smiling; I am clutching a blankie and concentrating fiercely on an imperious mallard that seems to be leading us toward shore.
The photo is in black and white. I’m not sure why that is, because our other family pictures from the ’80s are in color. But the layered hills around the glassy harbor are so peaceful in their shades of gray, and the sailboat masts reflected on the water have the same tone as those needling the snow-white sky, and the lack of color seems to complement the still beauty of the scene.
Matt likes this amateur image from a technical standpoint because the trajectory of the dock draws the eye directly to the photo’s subjects. He says it’s as if “all the lines are leading to the future.” I suppose that when you look at any photo, you’re inevitably looking at it from the future. That is where every frozen image takes us. And for me, because I don’t remember this summer stroll along the dock with my mother, the future is all I have of the moment. In twenty years I will still be gazing at the photo, thinking “How exquisite to be a little girl, holding my mother’s hand.”
My mom tells me that I fell into the lake shortly after this picture was taken. That does not surprise me. I was following a duck instead of heeding my mother. I went where the duck went. Somehow he led me here.