This past Thanksgiving weekend, we journeyed to visit Claire’s sister Jeanette’s family in Ottawa. To break up a busy weekend of napping and eating turkey, we had an appointment at the local Sears Portrait Studio to get pictures of Leo and his cousin Maia. This wasn’t their first time posing together for a photographer. However, the previous attempt had resulted in a session Lovely Claire likes to call the “Eastern European Refugee Pictures”. (Picture two very sullen-looking babies wearing bunny ears.)

But, we thought, our kids are a bit older now, and we clever parents have become highly skilled at making them laugh on cue. One well-timed Peek-A-Boo and they’re grinning their faces off. No problem.

The young woman at the studio set up the baby platform and a lovely backdrop of fall colours. She directed us to place the babies in a sitting position on the platform. We did. She then asked two of us to stand just outside the frame on either side of the platform to be there to catch the kids if the strayed. She must not have heard of parents’ lighting-quick reflexes and spectacular diving saves, but we dutifully complied.

She then grabbed a toy and shook it about, saying, “Booboobooboobooboo” or something to that effect. The kids were mildly amused by this. But she wanted big smiles, so she redoubled her efforts. “Hi, Leo! Hi, Maia,” she cooed. The cousins looked at each other began to study her with some concern.

Sensing trouble, the parents chimed in. “Peek-a-boo!” we cried. “Smile for the lady,” we cheered.

This worked a bit, and the kids cracked a smile. The studio lady –to call her a photographer would be a bit of a stretch, as she and her colleagues seemed barely out of high school– backed away to the camera and started fiddling with the framing and focus. A few moments of this and the kids were blankly staring at her again.

“Pookie pookie poo,” we intoned. “Look a the fuzzy thing! Isn’t it funny?”

Leo and Maia leveled grim gazes at the camera. The flashes flashed.

The studio lady grabbed the toy again and came back to the kids for more baby talk and silly faces. We did our best to help out. (Psst… Wanna hear a great idea for a TV show? Hide a few videocameras in a Sears Portrait studio and record families making complete fools of themselves trying to make their stoic kids smile for the picture.)

After a few more minutes of this, Maia smiled a bit, and once again the lady returned to the camera to fiddle with the controls. Precious seconds passed as she whirred the servos before she finally snapped a shot. Of course, when the preview screen rendered the photo, it showed two deadpan tots starting to lean out of the frame.

We cycled through this process several more times. At one point, Leo took hold of the camera’s wired remote and snapped a picture of the lady’s back as she was shaking the toy in his face. After a while, the problem was not so much the kids not smiling as their not staying still for the shot. As soon as we’d let go of them to get our arms out the frame, they’d start trying to crawl off the platform. Grandma Sautner, sporting jeans and sneakers, bravely volunteered to sit in the photo and hold the kids still. The kids could no longer run away, but we couldn’t seem to get a shot where everyone was looking at the camera at the same time. The shutter only seemed to open at the moment Grandma was looking down to check on Leo and Maia.

Claire was starting to get a bit irritated by the proceedings. “Maybe if you tried to have the camera ready for when they smile?” she asked the studio lady, with strained friendliness. Indeed, we were all wondering why she didn’t just stand ready by the camera and leave the smile-inducing to us.

I gave Leo my Visa card to play with. (Hey, the kid in the commercial liked it.) No dice.

Jeanette asked, “Are you usually more successful at getting toddlers to smile?”

“No,” the young camera operator replied.

Frustrated, weary and beaten, we gave up. We paid the sitting fee, but bought none of the pictures.

Leo smiled the whole way to the car.