One recent early summer morning, we gathered on my father's deck in New Jersey for a family photo. We wore the requisite white shirts and tan pants or skirts in order to minimize distractions and create the perfect family keepsake.
Gathering nine people for a photo is no easy task when they are traveling from three different states. But the biggest challenge was yet to come: my 21-month-old nephew. Blue-eyed with a head full of blond curls and a mischievous smile, his boundless energy and curiosity could not be tamed by a camera lens. As I looked at my girls - now seven and ten - I flashed back to many difficult photo sessions over the years that reduced us all to tears.
On this day, my nephew was immediately attracted to a large purple brush that I had just used on my girls' hair. As the photographer snapped away, my nephew struggled furiously in my sister's arms and reached in the direction of the brush.
His desperate attempts were punctuated by a series of grunts and cries. Finally, my sister let him walk around for a moment, and he honed in on the yellow spray nozzle on the garden hose. Neither seemed appropriate for the photo, and were sure to stand out amidst our monochromatic outfits. We settled on a little stuffed dog named Douglas.
The photographer alternately threw the dog up in the air and let my nephew throw the dog back at him. In the exact moment when the dog was airborne, the photographer snapped away, hoping to catch the fleeting second when my nephew was smiling at the stuffed animal just before his visible disappointment as it hit the ground. Finally, after nearly an hour of this, the photographer pronounced that he was sure he had gotten something.
When it came time to break out and do individual family photos, my sister and brother-in-law smiled tensely and held him on their laps as the rest of us jumped up and down like monkeys behind the camera trying to make the little guy laugh. Finally, we started to play "peek-a-boo" with him. He covered his eyes, and then opened his arms wide, flashing a beautiful smile. It was a technique that worked over and over again, until the photographer was sure he had gotten a great shot.
After all our wrangling, it was the simplest of traditional childhood games that brought joy to his face, not to mention peace to his parents.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including one on motherhood called "Smotherhood." Find her here every Monday.