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Lynn Hudoba: Photo Finished

I was a mall photographer addict until I got scared straight.

It’s the time of the year for portrait sittings. My daughter’s school picture has already been purchased, taken, and received. In that order. I hate having to commit to buying it before I see it. I’ve learned by now to always go for the bottom-of-the-line $14 package of a class photo and eight wallets. And I could still wallpaper a small bathroom with the leftover wallets that I’ve collected.

School pictures really have no chance of turning out well, for the obvious reason that I am not present for them. See, I’m kind of a crazed-lunatic-stage-mom about portrait sittings. Think Toddlers & Tiaras minus the false eyelashes. I’ve been hauling my daughter’s tiny butt to JC Penney and (when I’m feeling particularly nutty) Picture People since she was three months old. I have portraits of her at three months, six months, one year, 18 months, two years, and every year after that. These are in addition to Christmas portraits, which land roughly at her half-year mark.

From her 18-month portrait onward I knew that my daughter had autism. She wasn’t standing or walking until her two-year portraits. For her second Christmas portrait, she was about 20 months old. The pimple-faced “professional” photographer said “What? She can’t walk?” Uh, no. “Can she at least stand?” NO. He put her in this wooden armchair with velvet cushions that, combined with her stiff posture, made her look for all the world like li’l FDR. And that was one of our more successful sittings.

There’s no getting away from the sensory overload of having your picture taken. Flash bulbs popping, uncomfortable clothes, kids screaming and crying in the waiting room, and the woman formerly known as your mother who has suddenly turned into SpongeFace ClownPants trying to get you to smile for the camera.

And that’s not even counting the primping and prepping that goes into it beforehand. First, there’s the pre-portrait haircut, which is another project in and of itself. Then, getting bathed, coiffed, and into the outfit which has been meticulously put together to be festive, yet unique from all previous years, while at the same time complementary to the color scheme of the Christmas card design that you’ve already chosen.

It is a sickness. Why do I put us through this? Why is it so important to me? I had myself just about convinced that it was because of her autism. That I was latching on with both hands to something that could give us some sense of normalcy. I could be like everyone else at least in this one particular sense. I too could have to-die-for cuteness hanging from my walls and in all my friends’ mailboxes at Christmas time.

And then just a couple of months ago, my sister and teenage nieces were visiting from California and the girls wanted to see home movies from when we were growing up. We popped in a video that my father had made from the old Super 8 films. There were several Christmas mornings spliced
together in a row -- my sisters and I in our matching Lanz nightgowns and pixie haircuts, my mother's bleary eyes hidden behind cat-eye glasses.

As soon as she saw my father with the camera, my mother rushed out of frame and returned with a comb. She grabbed me and madly combed my hair, stuck a bow from one of the presents on my chest, fastened the top button on the nightgown, smoothed down the Peter Pan collar, and said something to cajole me into smiling for the camera.

Oh Lord. It’s not that I’m an overcompensating special needs mother. I’m just MY mother. And just like that, I’m done.

                                                 ***************

Well, almost. Through my writing, I had the pleasure of cyber-meeting the wonderful Rebecca Healy. Not only does she have great taste in bloggers, she is also an ace photographer who graciously offered to take pictures of my daughter. Our in-real-life meetup at Lincoln Park Zoo produced the most beautiful, non-pose-y shots that capture my daughter's spirit far beyond what any mall photographer ever has. She is a local Chicago-based artist, and, if you're on Facebook, you can find more of her work here. Thanks to Becky for helping me put off turning into my mother for a few more years.

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