Create lasting memories with traumatic family portraits

image Welcome to Post Traumatic Sundays, which are posts written during my first marriage. None have appeared on this blog before, and only a couple were included in my book. What these posts aren’t about is venting or vindictiveness.

So what’s the point, you ask? Simply to offer reflections from someone dealing with an unhappy marriage in the best way he knew how:

With humor.

Eight years later, I am happily re-married to someone who inspires me each and every day to laugh for the right reasons. It’s good to laugh with you for the right reasons as well…

* * * * * * * *

Every year around this time, we have our family photo taken. This used to mean packing up the kids and going to a portrait studio, where we could always count on a trained professional to eventually hurl a stuffed animal at us and demand we leave — but not before making us look through our entire package of portrait options. We, of course, never actually purchased any of those packages because they all had the same sequence of photos:

My daughter sticking her tongue out.
My son picking his nose.
Me putting both kids in a Vulcan death grip.
My wife yelling into my ear.

All of this captured in front of a snowy backdrop and available in 8×10, 5×7 and wallet-sized prints.

For this reason we started taking our own family portraits a few years ago, utilizing the ease and mobility of digital photography to transport our children to a highly secluded area where, upon arrival, we informed them (1) we are not actually on our way to Disneyland, (2) no one can hear them scream, and (3) no matter how miserable they are, we’re not leaving until everyone in the picture LOOKS HAPPY!

Sure, our children may hate us now, but someday, when they have their own families, they’ll look back on these times and realize: Hey, I hate to admit it, but our parents were right — it’s probably too late for litigation.

Being miserable, of course, is the foundation of any memorable family tradition. While it’s true that actually going to Disneyland would certainly be fun, particularly if I found a way to include it on my expense report, the question remains: Would it be as memorable as watching Dad trying to beat the automatic shutter-release, only to snap yet another shot of what appears to be our family under attack from a giant, blurry buttocks?

I don’t think so.


Because in the time we would have spent waiting to get on ONE ride at Disneyland I will have photographed my rear end — on average — 30 times. Therefore, through sheer repetition alone, I have already dug a deeper groove in my children’s memory than anything they’ll experience at the Magic Kingdom. That, of course, doesn’t count accidentally stumbling into an employee break area where a headless Mickey and Pluto are yelling at each other in Korean.

My point is, each family has an obligation to instill at least one tradition everyone hates. That way, no matter who’s mad at whom, when it comes time to participate in the annual Tofurky toss, everyone can put aside their differences and agree as a family, “This is really stupid.”

It’s also important to remember that as children get older they can find comfort in these traditions, particularly when deciding between (a) continuing to live at home after graduation or (b) exiting the stage with their diploma and immediately driving to an apartment locator service.

Possibly in Sioux Falls.

Because of this, we will once again be heading off to take our family portrait, and in the process creating the kind of memories our children will have for a lifetime.

Assuming, of course, my butt doesn’t get in the way.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

29 thoughts on “Create lasting memories with traumatic family portraits”

  1. The family I grew up in is very warm and loving precisely because of such traditions. Also because, as soon as physically possible, we moved thousands of miles apart.

  2. best of luck and i understand the tradition of incredibly horrible family portraits. my family has been practicing this for years and we are quite accomplished in this arena.

  3. I think the best family photos are the ones that do not have the fake smile in them. Those are the ones, the children will remember fondly when they have their own families.

  4. Now I understand your affection for Skippy, the rabid squirrel. No doubt you had transported your family into the bush to capture an authentic forest background while doing the yearly pics and Skippy had accidently beome a part of the tableau. He, of course, was forced to adopt the face and attitude of your family in order to be allowed to escape as soon as possible. And he began to feel particularly attached to you and yours for the natural resonance and followed you back to town. It was here that he discovered a natural affinity for your editor’s demeanor and so settled into his final home at your office. It all makes sense now.

  5. This is truly funny, We did in the past but we don’t do “Portraits” anymore, we use the phone, to take pics, all the time, forever and ever. Amen. 😀

  6. wow… you just made me really thankful for my family… and the fact that my dad’s a photographer so all our pics are awesome… but it was always a blast to have the get togethers… telling the same old stories… everyone laughing… good times… that’s what family is all about… I know this was supposed to be humorous… but it kind of just makes me want to give you a hug… though I guess it’s a good thing to know now you’re happier…

    1. Thanks for the hug, RG. I’m definitely happier, and so are our family portrait experiences. I think those early years just prepared me for truly appreciating this time in my life 😉

  7. Aaah sweet family memories of trips together and outings, all etched deep into the pshyche. Your witty recollections have me hearing the echos through the ages, you know Ned, the old “If I have to stop this car…” and “Don’t make me reach back there!”, oh, and who could forget the ubiquitous “I will bloody well tie you to the roof rack if you don’t pipe down!!!” and that’s just on the way to the photos…

  8. Family trips are something special, its true, Ned. Most of the families I see these days simply don’t realize that they’re not just getting themselves into debt that will takes years to clear, they’re also making memories that will linger/haunt their kids for years.

  9. For our family it was hairpin turns on mountain roads while Mom and I begged to return to the hotel by using the argument that excessive vomiting put a real damper on vacation. Dad loved to explore, and there was never enough Dramamine to combat some of the pig trails he chose.

  10. I guess family photos is somewhat of a North American tradition. At least, not a lot of my Dutch family members pose in front of an Alpine background once a year, to my knowledge at least.
    I spent the first few years of my life in Canada, where I got to feature on one family portrait featuring me, my mother and my father. I think it was taken about two or three weeks before they separated;)

    1. I think many of us have at least one of those lovely family portraits taken within a few days or weeks of divorce. My wife has one of the kids, her and her ex climbing on big alphabet blocks. She told me “I was disappointed when they only had A thru D. I was really hoping to claim a spot with the kids on Z.” Haha!

  11. well said —
    i can remember the cursing on Christmas Morning as my father insisted he set up the tripod to video camera us opening our presents… the continued cursing as my mother told him it wasn’t necessary… that we needed to “get on with the ordeal…”
    but that it WAS however imperative my brother and I eat our respective bowls of cereal before we could so much as look sideways at our stockings…
    at which point I learned that it was NOT ok for me to utter like-fashioned curse words…

    Thanks to my dads idea of what’s important that entire Act 1 Scene 1 is forever captured on a dusty RCA Camcorder somewhere in the dregs of Ohio

  12. You’ve touched off another memory for me! When I was about 20, my grandmother was pining for a family portrait of us. She was living in an assisted living building & she was lonely. So we all agreed we would meet up at XYZ Photography studio on such & such a date to have said photo taken. When we arrived, we all found we had decided black was the color to wear (without anyone coordinating it). There we all were, dressed in black & looking decidedly like people auditioning for a part in the Addams family. The portrait was horrid, my grandmother was thrilled. Needless to say, after her death, the portrait mysteriously disappeared . . .

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