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When ‘Snap to it!’ is just no use

by Julian Ryall

Patience. Parents need it by the bucketload; teachers, doctors and nurses must be able to summon it by the truckload. But where do other people get their reserves of patience?

I, for one, am not sure I could pull it off. Indeed, now that my son Alex is well into his “terrible twos,” I’ve come close to slinging all his toys off the balcony — which is why I was dreading imposing him on a complete stranger when Mutsuko, my wife, suggested having a family portrait done by a professional photographer.

“Fantastic idea,” I said out loud. Nightmare scenario, I thought to myself.

Up until then, grandparents and doting aunts had put up with grainy digital-camera images sent via e-mail, so it seemed that a framed photo would go nicely with their other Christmas presents from us this time around. But the entire plan hinged on one incalculable variable: Alex.

Allow me to briefly introduce you to my 2 1/2-year-old son. He can be an angel. And he can be a monster. He can do as he’s told first time round, no questions. And the next day he’ll defy you — all day. You get the idea.

I left the arrangements in the hands of Mutsuko — though a part of me hoped she might forget the entire plan. Then, returning from work one evening, I was told that Monday was to be our date with destiny down at Studio Sogni d’Oro in the nearby Motomachi district of Yokohama.

Sunday was spent shopping for a smart new outfit for the star of the show (I was going to have to make do with what I already had). In the evening we double-teamed him to trim some of the most unruly hairs on his mischievous head.

The omens, however, were not good. Alex squirmed like an eel the whole time.

The next day, we arrived at the studio in fairly decent order. Mutsuko had told the photographer what kinds of photos we wanted.

The studio had a range of backdrops, including a child’s bedroom with books, teddy bears and other toys, a living room with a white rug, fireplace and candles, and a painted washbasin and mirror. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Alex taking in his new surroundings while we talked with the photographer. You could almost hear the thoughts forming in his mind. Then he went to town.

The tidily stacked books came off the shelves and the mirror got a good licking. The bed was dragged away from the wall (to make it easier to crawl under, naturally), and the stuffed animals were dropped on their heads. The blankets became a tent, the curtains became a hiding place, and the photographic equipment was prodded and poked before being urgently moved out of his reach.

All the while we were trying — and failing — to get him to sit on my knee on an antique chair in front of the flickering artificial fire.

The “stern voice” and the “you’ve disappointed your Mum” look didn’t work. The promise (the word “bribe” is so vulgar) of a trip to the toyshop came closest — but failed, too.

It was at this point that Kazunaga Kato, a photographer who deserves a mention for his display of heroism in the face of the enemy, suggested that perhaps Alex wasn’t really the formal-photo type. He suggested that we simply play with our delinquent offspring; do what he wanted us to do and see what (if you’ll excuse the pun) developed.

So we did. Under the bed, blowing out the candles and relighting them, listening to teddy’s chest with a toy stethoscope, jumping off the chest of drawers, discovering how a torch works (and how the batteries fall out when you unscrew the base), and on and on and on.

And all the while, there was the faint click and whir of a camera in the background.

When we got the photos back, I was stunned. There was no hint of staid poses or forced grins, no Victorian-era formality — just the three of us having fun.

Sometimes you don’t need to have patience; you just have to put yourself in the hands of patient professionals.