*warning: contains profanity. forgive me, it’s been a while…
A few weekends ago I went to a great talk by a woman who, by all standards of society, would be considered to have a successful career, life, kids – you know, ‘the works’. And as accomplished as she is, she admitted in her talk to sometimes doing that thing (that we ALL do) where you log onto Facebook late at night after a long day and look at other people’s profiles and think to yourself – wow they really are having WAY more fun than us/have WAY more money than us/eat WAY more organic vegetables than us (insert applicable insecurity)…
I then looked at my own Facebook profile and laughed at my cover image – see above – a smiling trio sitting in a field at a dairy farm in sunny South Africa last December. Anyone looking at the pic would think ‘ah what a happy family’ and of course we are. I chose it for my profile because it’s aspirational – the image of a smiling happy family. But there’s a story behind it.
First of all, my smile – is not a smile. I have a really convincing fake smile (I’ve been told this by professional photographers). I just open my mouth and tilt my head and narrow my eyes slightly and that looks like a smile. I feel nothing when I do it. When that shutter clicks, the image captured says ‘caucasian, 30-something woman with happy smile’. When I’m genuinely smiling it’s actually quite unattractive because this vein in the middle of my forehead bulges out, but I digress.
The reason for my fake smile is because of events leading up to this long awaited photo session with the brilliant Quintin Mills (who was our wedding photographer three years earlier, almost to the day). We hadn’t had much sleep at all because Gus was teething and had not settled into his change of location very well. Now, there is a specific number of lost REM sleep hours (cumulative) that makes you unable to deal with ‘real life’ in a rational manner. I had very much hit that number that day.
That morning I had gotten stuck in traffic for 5 hours on the way to the hairdresser because Nelson Mandela’s coffin was being driven through Pretoria’s streets for the last time before being flown to Qunu for the funeral. The country and the world was in mourning. It had been a really sad time. I felt inconvenienced by the traffic, and guilty for feeling more ‘sad’ about what had really happened. And then I ended up going to the ‘wrong’ hairdresser. We then drove with my parents to the planned venue for the photoshoot – and got stuck in some more traffic. Then we went to the ‘wrong’ place and had to get directions from the photographer to the ‘right’ place. Time was ticking because there was a real storm on the way. If you notice those dark clouds looming in the photo – yeah, you don’t mess around with a highveld storm like that. We need to get out of there quickly.
So we were all feeling a little bit TENSE at this stage. And Gus WOULD NOT smile. This was a problem. He was the starring role. We were just extras. We could pretend but he couldn’t. We tried giving him food, singing songs, jumping up and down, throwing him in the air – anything to get a smile. He cried and mostly sucked his thumb throughout. This photo was one of the few where he actually smiled. And this was thanks to my parents trying their best to be entertaining behind the camera.
And behind my fake smile, if I’m being totally honest, I was thinking “FML I am so f***ing tired right now what the f**k am I even doing here and I really wish I hadn’t made this elaborate plan to take family photos and this whole day has been a disaster and I’m so f***ing tired and for the love of this spiky kikuyu grass that will make my legs itch for days after this please can Gus just take his thumb out of his mouth and just SMILE or I’m seriously going to lose my sh*t right now and can he please do it before we get stuck in the f***king storm. This is so awkward I just want to go home, eat a tub of ice cream alone and cry myself to sleep”.
So that’s the background of the photo And to maintain the illusion of the perfect family, these photos below did NOT make the edit for the Facebook album. Looking at these again has reminded that of course the reality of a family is this: it’s sometimes tense, sometimes awkward, rushed, exhausted, confused, unsmiling, fake smiling, crying, arguing, forgetting, exaggerating, unscripted and constantly improvised…and oddly beautiful.
These photos are a credit to Quintin’s professionalism and his ability to take great photos despite nothing going as planned