I’m VERY excited to show you guys this feature in Rachael Ray Every Day this month about our family. It isn’t an entertaining story with recipes or drink ideas, more so decor ideas and ways that we involve our kids in both the help and the celebration. It was honestly so much fun. I’m going to do a deep dive into the tips and ideas later this week (we have so many more photos to show you) because as I was writing this post, it started taking a turn toward talking about my kids on camera.
When Rachael Ray reached out for a print feature about 4th of July with my family, I was VERY excited. It’s SUCH a great opportunity. They asked if the kids could be around to help tell this story and I was a little nervous, but one of the editors has small kids and she said “Listen, you do what you need to as a mom, and for your family. If the kids aren’t in it, we’ll change the story.”
She also had the brilliant idea of getting them involved and really working the shoot around them. We came up with some ideas that they would look forward to and activities that ensured they would smile and have fun.
But there is a backstory about our kids and photo shoots.
Years ago, when I was a prop stylist assistant in New York, I worked on a PSA about shaking your baby. Cindy, my former boss, and I created the set, but had nothing to do with the production and didn’t even know what it would entail. But in order to properly show what not to do to a crying baby, they needed the babies to be crying. So the moms would come to the set with their sweet happy 6-month-olds and once the camera was on them, the babies would need to cry. Sounds easy, babies cry all the time. But it was awful. The moms (whom I’m guessing really needed the $500) yelled at their babies, to scare them to cry while a strange actor held them. Cindy and I were HORRIFIED and we couldn’t watch. It kinda scarred me and that was way before I had kids and knew much about the development of the brain and what that could do to them (it’s been a hot topic lately). ANYWAY, yes they were “stage parents,” but it was so much worse (and I felt AWFUL for them, I doubt the moms really knew what they were getting into and I’m sure didn’t want to lose the job once they were there).
On the opposite side, this is why there is a whole job for baby and kid (and pet) wrangling that pays really well, actually. I’ve been on so many sets where they hire someone to come in and stand behind the camera and do these hilarious (to a child) things with puppets and props in their arsenal. With our kids, we generally just make a fart sound and I blame it on Brian and it works most of the time, but those wranglers are worth every penny.
But shooting at my house has changed over time. It used to be carte blanche—Sure! Come shoot! Charlie smiled and laughed so easily ‘til he was 3 as long as I was holding and engaging him. But as the kids got older (and multiplied), I had to reduce the amount of chaos around them (and me). I want them to see me work and when your mom is the boss and has to manage a lot of people (kindly), I think that’s a great thing to witness from birth. But I don’t want them to feel like A. they are working, EVER, and B. the mess, the chaos, the number of people can be overstimulating to kids (and me, duh). And it’s in their home, the place that should feel calm and they should be able to touch everything.
But a year ago when we shot the whole house, Charlie, all of a sudden that day, really didn’t want to be photographed and he was in the middle of his threes which were honestly pretty harrowing for us (FOURS ARE SO MUCH BETTER!!!). That shoot (with Real Simple) was all about how I designed this super kid-friendly house and we needed at least one family shot to tell that story. I tried to reduce the crew, and I asked that Tessa shoot it because she’s known my kids since birth. I even had a couple new family games to play (Lincoln Logs is a huge miss with small kids, by the way). But he refused and tantrummed and it was awful. To get him to stop tantrumming and screaming for TV, I did what any absolutely desperate parent would do, I turned on the TV. I was just mortified and ashamed of myself, not him, but I just needed him to stop screaming while so many strangers were at my house. UGH. What ended up happening is at the end of the day (after he napped and went to school), we bribed him with a milkshake and then Sara even brought out her new kitten—I’m not joking—to get “that shot.” TV, milkshakes, kittens…I cried for days about how awful of a parent I was…OMG, I just teared up again thinking about it. I was so ashamed of myself. Obviously, I had to learn from that. By the way, NOBODY remembers this other than me. My team doesn’t, the editors of the magazine barely noticed, I think I was just so sensitive to my own child and looking/feeling/being a good mom that I put so much weight on those 10 minutes that he freaked out and I gave in.
So since then, I have pared back what we photograph here (they are both in school full time so as long as we are done by 5, they don’t know it ever happened) and if a shoot request involves them, I usually pass on it (unless it’s completely on my terms, seems fun for them, or is worth it and going to help pay for college).
I learned a lot that day, but mostly this: never depend on getting the right shot from a 3-year-old that doesn’t want their picture taken. Or more importantly, if you want happy kids, be prepared and make things more on your terms, not their demands.
AND IT WORKED. We prepped them for weeks and invited them to be a huge part of the process, both behind the scenes and on-camera leading up to it. Charlie loves taking photos with Brian so we asked him if he wanted to assist the photographer and he BEAMED and was so excited. I was less concerned about Birdie because she hasn’t previously shown signs of hating her picture being taken. They were at school all day, then came home when we had finished all our other shots to “help with the photo shoot.”
I still had a little anxiety, don’t get me wrong. So here’s what we had loaded to help wrangle:
- Flower clipping, which they LOVE. And this would be part of the story. Great.
- A 4th of July-themed scavenger hunt, also part of the story. The big prize at the end were two kids digital cameras which I figured would be cute on camera, too.
- Games. They can’t really play corn hole properly but they still loved it and it got them interacting across the lawn.
- Juice and cherries. Okay, juice is fine, but cherries were a HUGE MISTAKE. Sure, they are that perfect pop of red for our summer holiday story but they have seeds, so the kids can choke, and they stain immediately. After their first one, both their shirts were stained in cherry juice which I think was photoshopped off. Scott, who helped me style it, brought them and I was just not thinking. It was more like “sure, so pretty.” Wrong.
- Sparklers. They did love them and we got the super long ones that are safer, but Charlie was done so we didn’t get very many shots of them. I was also worried about it being and looking dangerous so it wasn’t a big focus of the story, just something we did at the end.
We promised ourselves and told the photographer that the second they didn’t want to keep playing out in the yard, it would be over. But they did GREAT.
That’s all to say, I’m very sensitive to my kids ever feeling like they are “working” when they are in front of the camera and when it is a good opportunity for my career/business (which supports my family), I certainly want it to be something that is done in a way that makes them happy, where they have a lot of fun. It’s why Birdie is on my social feeds more than Charlie is—he gets shy.
So GOOD NEWS: Hanging out with their parents and doing a scavenger hunt in their backyard apparently made them happy. Thank goodness.
Those faces can’t lie. It was such a fun day, honestly, and the kids still talk about it and are excited for the “real 4th of July” to recreate the scavenger hunt :).
Also, feel free to steal any of these “wrangling” ideas for your family shoots. While it’s not normal to have photo shoots multiple times a year like us, we ALL want cute family photos with our kids. How else are we supposed to remember their sweet little faces in the future or when they are acting less than perfect?? I’m also sure that your kids probably don’t always care that you have HIRED a photographer and have only a few hours to get “that shot.” I hope my tips and tricks help.
Later this week, we’ll break down the decor/entertaining tips, ideas and show you way more outtakes that I can’t stop staring at. But until then, go pick up the July/August issue of Rachael Ray Every Day. A huge thanks to Danielle Blundell for pitching me the story and writing it. She is an editor who I have LOVED forever and every time I go to New York to meet with editors, I look forward to seeing her. Thank you, Danielle!
Thanks to the photographer, Jason Frank Rothenburg, for being so flexible and having so much fun with my kids. This wasn’t a big “set up a tripod and take time to adjust the light” sort of day, so he had to really be able to run around and capture the smiles and he did. THANK YOU.