Today was Benny’s second professional portrait sitting, his 1-year photo only three months late. I’d scheduled this appointment four times, canceling the first three because of illness, and Benny’s busted lip from a fall at the park.
But today I had the perfect kid in the perfect outfit and his wonderful toothy smile. I curled Benny’s wet hair around my fingers for that Hot Disco Cherub look. I packed his sippy cup, favorite toy and extra outfit. We were ready.
Benny smiled and giggled in the car, in the store, at the portrait reception area. He loved the world and the world loved him. Then I pulled him out of the stroller and placed him on the white-draped table before the camera.
Benny fell to his knees, limp, moaning. Then he just sat, hunched, defeated, like an abandoned puppet. He pushed his lower lip out and the tears started.
Baffled, I picked him up. He smiled. I put him down again. He slumped. I tried to stand him up. He cried. The photographer touched his hand and he just went bananas.
“Um, do you have any toys?” I asked, cradling a hiccupping Ben in my arms.
The photographer’s brow furrowed. Toys? In a family portrait studio? How odd.
“I think so,” she said doubtfully. Her assistant dug out a jar of soap bubbles, which elicited a few polite smiles from Benny.
“He LOVES them!” The photographer cried.
“Yuck, I’m getting bubble stuff on my shirt,” the assistant said.
“Yeah, those aren’t the good bubbles,” said the photographer. “Can you get him to look this way?”
“Ick, that bubble popped in my face! I’m covered in bubble goop!”
By now, Benny was sagging again, looking pitiful.
“Oh, what a sweet face!” cried the photographer.
“I can’t do those bubbles anymore,” the assistant announced. She pulled out a big fluffy thing on a stick, like those tools used to dust cobwebs off ceilings.
“Tickle tickle tickle!” she cackled, poking the end at Benny’s feet, then his face. Benny lunged for the door.
“Maybe he could sit on that bench,” I said. pointing.
The assistant sniffed. “That’s a stool.”
“But he could theoretically sit on it,” I said.
They allowed that might be possible.
Benny did like the stool, and even smiled a little when the assistant dropped the fluffy stick. Then he cried.
Defeated, we went back to the reception area to see the half-dozen shots produced in a 30-minute session. The gray blob on the monitor was either a baby or a bottle-nosed dolphin.
“Is there any way we could see this better?” I asked the photographer.
Her brow furrowed again. “What do you mean?”
“Is there a way to see the picture more clearly?”
“No, this is a really bad monitor,” she said, as if it was something to be proud of.
I sighed. “I’ll take a few 5x7s of that one.” I hoped the actual pictures looked better; on the display, Benny looked like he’d just crawled out of coal mine.
She rang up our order, while Benny screamed from his stroller and the studio manager told me about her Sunday: “… A beautiful day and SIX people cancelled sessions and I was SO BORED …”
“$68.70,” said the photographer.
“WHAT?” I cried.
She repeated the shocking number.
‘I can’t pay that!” I said before I could stop myself. Benny threw his sippy cup and screamed.
I apologized and ordered their cheapest package -- $32 for three sheets. Benny was now bent in half from the waist, trying to dive headfirst onto the floor. I paid quickly and we raced out of the mall for a restorative snack in the McDonald’s parking lot.
Wolfing a cheeseburger, I twisted around in my Jeep’s front seat to look at a now-beaming Benny, clad only in a diaper and shorts, munching a French fry.
“We’ll make Daddy pick up the pictures,” I said.
Talked to my mother tonight and we think we can account for Benny’s behavior. Perhaps the white-draped walls and table and shiny equipment reminded Benny of the doctor’s office, where he recently received some painful shots. The bubble-hating assistant was wearing white, too. Mom said my story reminded her of when Andy was the same age, getting new shoes after his surgery. The shoe saleslady wore a white uniform, and poor Andy just fell apart.