Once again, we have reached the time of year when families send out holiday cards that are more polished and professional that anything you’d get from your friendly local State Farm or even a national political campaign.

Each family is usually posed in a wooded lot or nestled among some artfully placed leaves. They all wear coordinating outfits: something classy, maybe monochrome J.Crew sweaters, perhaps those outfits with the matching ruffled leggings that I imagine involve borderline child abuse to get a 9-year-old into. Definitely not a too-small Elsa shirt with chocolate milk stains. Perhaps they hold balloons or a twee little handcrafted sign that reads “Happy New Year, Love the Pinteresters!”

I didn’t sit for pictures like this when I was younger, probably because I was one of eight. The sheer enormity of just getting us all to sit down for dinner was a miracle enough—much less put us all in matching outfits, much less make us hold some sign without using it to beat up a little sibling. I’m not going to say my mom didn’t try: we had many Easters in matching fluffy dresses. But once our numbers reached five, we were legion. My older sister opted out, and like Katniss, inspired a rebellion of siblings. We rose up to cast off the shackles of such sartorial oppression.

Instead, my mom sent Christmas letters. Most of my parents’ friends in that era simply sent letters; it was a simpler time. There was one family, who sent a picture of them on a beach every year all dressed in white. They were blonde and blue-eyed, and all of their three initials started with K. They seemed blissfully unaware of the hegemony in the photos. We hated them.

I had no intention of ever sending family pictures for Christmas cards. But somewhere along the way, all my friends started having kids—and they did. And the pictures were cute. Those babies! And the mom still looked fit! I wanted that too. I mean, my babies are adorable, and I’m very, very Photoshoppable.

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And now we live in the age of the holiday card wars, which can be blamed on digital photography, or Instagram, or the cheap cost of printing, or the fact that every parent somehow seems to morph into a professional photographer once they manage to get their paws on some squalling Gorbachev look-alike. Either way, every year we face the annual onslaught of of photographic proof that your high school friend and her three girls Plaid, Paisley and Polka are all blessed. So, very blessed. Can’t you tell they are blessed? They are wearing coordinating sweater dresses and holding hands near a tree with goddamn red leaves! So, very blessed. It’s like Facebook in your mailbox. Falalalala freaking la.

It took cranking out a baby for me to want to be one of those people. I imagined my family photos, which would be fun, not awkward, I told myself. My hair would be perfectly curled. I’d wear lipstick and probably pants. “So thin,” that girl from college sophomore year who told me I was lame would say as she clutched the picture: “She just had a baby and she looks so thin!”

My baby would nestle in my arm peacefully. We’d be like Madonna and child, but in Toms and and really great hair. My husband would of course be in the background—smiling, as if he enjoyed all of this. Perhaps it was his idea. “Oh, my husband loves taking pictures,” I’d say to friends, “The coordinating gold and blue was completely his idea.” The fall foliage in the background would be perfectly on point.

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The first year I tried Christmas pictures, I achieved good results with relative ease. My baby was six months old and not old enough to do much but drool all over her sweater dress, but she looked cute when I held her in front of my stretched-out belly, and truthfully, the foliage was pretty great. The second year involved a lot of tantrums, bribery and wheedling, but we still got our goddamn card.

The third year, it all fell to shit. I had two kids then, a baby who was six months old and my daughter was two and a half. I scheduled a professional session at the last possible minute because I procrastinated and everyone was booked. A friend of mine took pity on us and squeezed us into a mini-session. I got us all coordinating outfits (after clearing them with everyone first, because we are a team! A FAMILY TEAM!).

But, on the appointed day, my daughter patently refused to wear her outfit because Santa was on it and she didn’t “want dat guy on my belly!” She picked instead a plaid jumper from a hand-me-down bag and a teeny tiny baby bow that she stuck in her mess of blonde hair and declared herself “fashion.” My husband huffed that he didn’t look good in red and the baby shit on my skirt. Happy Holidays!

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Getting through that one half-hour minute session took all my energy and a good chunk of my money. Those holiday photos cost $300, and the photographer I used is on the affordable end of what seemed available. And that was before I even bought the cards from Tiny Prints. Being twee and hip sure does cost a lot of money.

So I gave up. Last year I had to crop out a trashcan of our holiday photo, which was taken at a cousin’s wedding. This year, our picture (from my sister’s wedding) was passable after I cropped out the guy smoking in the background and also another trashcan. Next year, the trashcan stays.

Why do we bother? Getting my kids to hold still for pictures they want to take (like posed next to bugs they stomped on or shaking their butts, which are two of their recent ideas) is hard enough. Getting my son, who is now two, to hold still for pictures in my sister’s wedding required two grandparents, two parents and approximately 20 Cars-themed fruit snacks. (I’m not kidding: my mom brought fruit snacks in bulk. They were all gone by the end of the wedding.) Getting kids to hold still for a holiday picture is starting to seemlike a waste from the jump.

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You wonder, or I wonder, how all those bloggers with those perfectly photographed kids do it. Are the kids really robots? Is there some sort of Mormon mommyblogger mind control that I don’t know about? Do they bribe them? With what? Let me know if you’re in on it, but at this point it would probably take a purple unicorn with the power to stop little brothers from wrecking things to convince my four-year-old to cooperate with instructions like “stand very still in that field” or “hold this hand-painted sign marked with the year.” And she’s the compliant one.

Sometimes I think I would really still like to have a real nice photo of all of us holding hands in a golden field, while we grin with our white teeth and wear moccasins sourced from grass-fed cows killed with swift, painless methods. But then I get exhausted and I just drink instead.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby, source image from Shutterstock

Lyz Lenz has written for The Hairpin, The Toast, The New York Time Motherlode, and other various and sundry internet entities. Find her on twitter @lyzl.

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