A Picture Perfect Photo

Totes and Apple lay lovingly in the fall leaves at Woodland Park in Seattle, Washington.  Click to see the original photo and why the perfect photo isn't always what it seems! | By Totes and the City

If you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, should you also not judge another person by their social media content? 

We've all done it... 

You're browsing through Instagram or Facebook and you see a photo that immediately sets off your judgement-radar 

How is she so put together? How are her kids always so happy? Do they ever fight like mine always do? How is her hair always so perfect?  How is it possible that her house is always that clean?  How is her life really this perfect?!?

I have, we all have. 

I've come across so many Instagram accounts that leave me scratching my head.  Like the ones that every little square contains a white background.  How is that actually possible? I mean, our house is very light and airy and mostly white but I find it impossible to capture a photo of my kids with white background unless I have them stand up to a wall and coerce them into standing still with a forced smile.

I fall into the category that a majority of others do in being one that tends to only share the beautiful photos.  However, the last thing I want to convince anyone is that I have a perfect life. Because, simply said, I don't.  None of us do.  No one gets an easy pass into and through parenting.  It's hard for everyone and just because we choose to show only the good moments, the beautiful photos, doesn't mean those are the only times that exist and some people are just better at parenting than others.  

In reflecting on this post, I started thinking about why I started this blog and its accompanying Instagram account a few years ago.  It has been a journal of sorts.  An online journal that I share with the world, anyone interested in looking. A place to showcase my photos outside of the Facebook or Instagram galleries.  A place of inspiration to others on some of the fun places around Seattle that we visited and the kids loved. 

I also dug deeper into my life experiences and remembered one that took me to my style of journaling today.  I was a young girl in my late teens/early twenties and was in my first serious relationship.  The first time I had really contemplated a marriage, kids, the whole works. It was your typical adolescent relationship though.  We were always on the rocks, breaking up and getting back together constantly.  I didn't have many close friends at the time but the ones I did were sick of hearing about my relationship troubles.  I would call my mom after the breakups, every time, and cry to her about what a jerk he was.  Since she didn't live close to me at the time, and I never followed up with sharing any of the good experiences we had together, she developed a terrible opinion about him, naturally.  It wasn't until several months, or even years later, that I realized that the only things my mom knew about this person were his negative behaviors that I had unloaded on her.  Needless to say, he was never fully accepted by my family when I brought him around. Go figure.

I made a point to never use my mom, or any other friend/person, as a tool to vent again.  I turned to my journal.  When I was frustrated or upset, I wrote it down.  But then years later when I wanted to read back on some memories that had faded, I was discouraged to only find complaining and negative experiences. So again, I made it a point to write down more of the happy times, things I wanted to remember and carry with me into the future.  It's good to have both but I enjoy reading about the good times more than the bad

I say this to drive the point home that sharing the positive memories, via social media, photo books, or even just talking with friends, is not a bad thing. It's a really good thing.  It's karma in a way.  Put good out there and you'll receive good back.  I've distanced myself from people that continue to only share a negative perspective on life and their own experiences because I've realized over the years that if I let it, their attitudes wear off on me for the worse.   

So what's so wrong with sharing your happiness? Is it really a bad thing to show off the good times in your life?

I've noticed a movement going around that almost frowns upon this.  That because we only share the happy memories, we are promoting a 'fake' life and an unrealistic perception for others. 

What I find unrealistic is that you can possibly think you can know the ins and outs of my life because you see a few photos I post on a tiny 1x1 square each week.  

Look, I get that we all want to relate to each other.  That sometimes commiserating helps us feel more connected and a part of the same... thing. So you want to know my life and relate to me?  Get off your Instagram and come over to my house.  Visit with me. You'll see unwashed dishes in the sink, toys scattered across the living room and kitchen, an unmade bed and a cluttered desk. We'll talk about the parenting mistakes we've all made and compare stories of how *well behaved* our toddlers can be. You'll see that my 19 month old has mastered the iPad and uses it better than I do. She can adjust the volume upon request when we tell her to turn it down, switch between apps faster than you can blink, turn on music, start a video, the works.  And how does she know all this? Because my kids have more screen time than I care to admit

If you know me, you'll know that I'm usually behind the camera, yoga pants, hair unwashed in a messy bun, no make-up with bags under my eyes. It's nothing I want to share with you or even see myself but it is me and sometimes I peel away my shy layer long enough to pop on the camera's front side. Other times I accidentally hit the front camera and scare myself to death.

Truthfully though, I would really love to get in front of the camera more, for some of those beautiful raw moments of Momlife with my kids. But I haven’t figured out a way to to make the camera hold and click for itself. Asking my husband to take photos is like pulling teeth.

I'm a problem solver and truly find joy in spreading quality, researched advice, a listening ear and helping others when they need it.  I don't like to vent (errr... I guess I'm venting here, scratch that).  When I need advice, I have my resources I turn to that are a specific target audience.  My Facebook is filled with a variety of people that don't need to hear about my breastfeeding struggles or won't have a solution for me on how to get my toddler to sleep through the night. But that mom's group I'm part of? Yes, they know

The introduction of Instagram Stories has been a great tool into seeing a more 'organic' insight into my daily life, but I still only usually share a few seconds out of the day when we are having fun or my kids are doing something I deem as 'cute'. 

On average, I share about 60 seconds of my day on InstaStories... that's a whole one minute out of 1,440 minutes in a day, so you're only seeing .07% of my day. That's less than ONE PERCENT. Sorry to geek out on you there but numbers speak to me.

And good luck trying to piece together the rest of the day after seeing a brief shot because it's simply unpredictable. 

My last post on Instagram was a picture of Totes and his Papa.  We were at the Seattle Macy's parade in downtown Seattle the morning after Thanksgiving.  I shared some shots of the parade and the kids watching it on Stories.  They were very entertained by the parade itself but what really got Apple through it was a peppermint candy cane.  That kept her content for a good 20 minutes!  It was a really good and easy morning, which doesn't happen often when trying to get all of us out the house in a timely matter so, in my delusion, I thought I could do it again later that day.
That evening, I shared a quick 16 second video of myself, Totes and Apple.  We're all bundled up, just about to walk over to Westlake Center in Downtown Seattle. We had parked the car in a parking garage that cost more than the shoes I was wearing and got everything fully unloaded. I ask Totes: where we are going? and he excitedly rattles off something about a tree (we were going to the tree lighting festivities) and seeing his cousins.  I remind him of the fireworks. Yeah!!! he shouts, Apple claps her hands in glee.  Nothing but fun for us right? 

What you didn't see was the rest of the night.  You didn't see that it started raining and that we walked into a crowd of hundreds of people, trying to cram past them with our massive BOB stroller and getting dirty looks for bringing such a beast to such an event.  I had to put away my umbrella for fear of taking out someone's eyeball with the tip of it.  We found a small opening in the crowd where we parked ourselves to wait tree lighting.  I looked around at my surroundings at that moment and notice two street garbage cans about twenty feet away and immediately felt sick to my stomach.  I can't help but let my imagination go to a place of fear of what could potentially be planted at the bottom of them because that's just the world we live in today and part of the reason I have avoided these large gatherings for some time now.  And sadly, that's not just city life anymore, it's happening everywhere. I felt a huge amount of mom-guilt for bringing my children to such a place with that potential as the scene unfolded in my mind. 

After standing in the crowd, not moving, for over ten minutes, Apple starts to get restless in her stroller.  Totes wants in the stroller. I take her out and he jumps in.  I spend the next fifteen minutes fighting her intense attempts at getting down so she can walk around.  She'd be darting through legs and lost in less than thirty seconds so of course I can't let her. Totes falls asleep.  Apple is now screaming and throwing herself around. The tree was supposed to be lit 30 minutes ago. We've been standing here for almost 45 minutes and I just can't wait any longer.  My husband tries to take over the struggle with Apple but it only gets worse. So we left.  I wanted to even post a little video update to laugh at the experience later in the evening but the rest of the night was a battle and I never found the time. So there's what you didn't see in that instance. 

What ultimately prompted this post was an experience that happened to me recently on Instagram.  

I received a private message from a follower.  Without quoting, I'll just say that it was really cruel, a very personal attack and one that definitely rattled me. I see these kind of trolling messages happen to many of the Insta-Famous celebrities in the social media world, but it was my first personal experience that left me feeling extremely vulnerable and hurt. He/She accused me of being vain, showing off, among other worse things, which has never been my intent.  

But it still got me reflecting and gave me this opportunity to think about how I'm perceived.  So let me share with you how some of my days really go down for those of you that need to hear it.  And back to the 'perfect photo'. 

Take this photo above for example.  My adorable kids.  Apple reaching lovingly for Totes as he gives me a cute little half smile.  You might look at this photo and think, oh my gosh Elise! Your kids are always so adorable and so sweet to each other! 

Ha.  Well, (they really are most of the time), but let me tell you how this day and shot really went down

About a week before taking this photo, I took the kids out for a walk in our neighborhood. Near our house was a spot just off the street where the trees had just dumped a hoard of gorgeous fall leaves onto the sidewalk and surrounding areas.  At the right angle, I thought it would make for a perfect fall backdrop and great holiday photo card. 

I got the kids dressed up and set out for a quick walk to the spot in the early evening at sunset. I tried to coach them while I snapped from several feet away.  While shouting directions to one, the other would turn their back to me.  I kept having to pick up Apple and move her back to the spot I wanted to get the right background, but she kept trying to run back to me. Every time I got her posed, Totes was looking away or had the most bored expression on his face. 

None of the photos turned out (I may be exaggerating), I didn't get one smile from Apple and I was discouraged about using any of them.  

Now fast forward to this present day. It had been raining nonstop for the last several days and we had been cooped up in the house.  In the late afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds and I saw the potential for a gorgeous sunset.  With the forecast calling for another seven days straight of rain, I didn't think I'd get another chance. 

So again, I got the kids dressed and jumped in the car, headed for a new location that I have had my eye on for awhile.  Woodland Park.  

We had been to the Woodland Park Zoo plenty of times and nearby Green Lake, but never in the trails of Woodland Park.  But from driving by, I knew that it was where I wanted to be with acres of trees in all the right falls colors.  

Not knowing the surroundings or how far we'd have to walk, I took along our BOB stroller.  Luckily, the road loops, with plenty of parking, near all the trails so we didn't have to walk far to be in the thick of it all.  Note: it really is such a gorgeous place that is extremely accessible! A great place for a nature walk

The first shot I tried to get of the kids was in this really cool, tree, teepee structure that we came across (see below).  I tried to talk Apple into standing inside while Totes tossed leaves into the air but she was very hesitant.  Admittedly it was kind of creepy inside to me, I have a terrible phobia of spiders.  She kept running back to me like always. I tried to make it fun... throw leaves in the air! Nope.  

We moved up the trail a bit further.  I found an area just off the path where the ground was littered with untouched leaves so I talked Totes in to laying down.  The leaves and ground underneath the top layer were wet from the previous five days of rain.  His whole body was so tensed up; I had to unclench his hands several times and try to coax him into relaxing but you can see in his right hand and neck, he wouldn't rest against the ground.  

I tried to place Apple down next to him but she wouldn't even consider it.  

Desperately, I yelled out "I'll give you candy!" 

Apple's eyes lit up.  The key to this girl's heart is chocolate, just fyi.  She managed to lay down with her head on his stomach for a brief second, enough for me to snap two photos (below).  You can see in the originals how she's about to cry in one, then is in the process of rolling over to get up in the other, not lovingly reaching toward Totes as it seems.  

We tried to walk around and get a few more shots in different areas, but by now they have called my bluff and realized I don't have the promised candy so there's no chance at cooperation

It was then that I realized how miserable we ALL were. Not just me being sulky that my precious photos weren't turning out as planned.  My kids were not having any fun.  Did I really want to look back at a perfectly framed photos and remember how terrible of a day it was to get that shot? 

So I bagged it. Put the camera away and called it a day. We walked around the trails, across the foot bridges that cross above highway 99 that I've been so curious about since I moved here nine years ago.  Watched the dogs play and groups of kids run in the last hour before the sun went down.  We didn't stay much longer.  Totes was discouraged that this "park" didn't have a slide and Apple wanted her chocolate. So we packed up and went home, knowing Papa was there waiting for us... and so was chocolate.

A few days later I downloaded the photos to see what, if any I could make work.  And truth be told, there were a few in there that turned out well.  Moments when they were enjoying themselves naturally. But the two photos below, on their own, needed a little help.  I'm really new to Photoshop so I can't do much but I was able to merge these two together and got something that I liked. 

Would you ever know if I didn't tell you? 

Exactly the point.  

With so many apps out there such as FaceTune, Snapseed and other's I'm not even aware of, you can alter photos so much without many noticing!  I'm not here to endorse altering your photos, but I justified changing these since they'll made a cute holiday card.

I've invested a lot of time and money into my photography hobby.  I upgraded to a new camera system, a Fujifilm XT2, at the beginning of this year to REDUCE the amount of editing I was doing.  Because it's a wirelessly enabled camera, I can transfer photos from my camera straight to my iphone and upload right to Instagram.  I love this feature so much! It's forced me to get the images how I like them SOOC (Straight Out-Of-the Camera) so I can share a photo that showcases the memory we created in that moment.  And looking back over photos is something I do with my kids on a regular basis.  Simply said, I enjoy taking beautiful photos. 

We all need to keep in perspective that we are doing this to share happiness, rather than promote jealousy, I truly believe that.  So I'm just going to say it right now, I want to see your good times!  Over-post while you're on your vacations because I know how much work it took to get there.  Take a selfie in the car after you leave the hair stylist!  It's going to be awhile before your hair looks that good again.  And always document when the sun shines in Seattle because we all know how rough these winters are.  There is no such thing as a perfect photo, a perfect family, a perfect life.  We all struggle daily so just keep in mind that it's not always what it looks like.

My desk is cluttered, the laundry and kitchen sink overflowing, I haven't washed my hair in several days and I'm wearing my favorite yoga pants that I bought two of so I didn't have to rush to do the laundry when it was time to wash one pair.  I'm putting all these things off while I sit here and type this out because it's what I want to do right now and I won't apologize to anyone for it.  I'll spend the rest of the day doing what my kids want to do anyway.  

Thanks for reading friends.  END RANT.


BEFORE original photo 1 of Totes and Apple laying in the leaves at Woodland Park

BEFORE original photo 1 of Totes and Apple laying in the leaves at Woodland Park

BEFORE original photo 2 of Totes and Apple laying in the leaves at Woodland Park

BEFORE original photo 2 of Totes and Apple laying in the leaves at Woodland Park

Totes and Apple in a tree teepee at Woodland Park

Totes and Apple in a tree teepee at Woodland Park