The Photo Gift

By Diane Stark

“Jules, make sure you take a lot of pictures today, OK?” I told my 14-year-old daughter on a recent family outing.

“I will,” she promised without hesitation. She knew how important the pictures were to me.

They were very important to me, but they weren’t actually for me. No, I needed lots of pictures of our family or Christmas this year would be a bust.

You see, there is only one acceptable type of gift to give to my children’s grandparents: The Photo Gift.

The Photo Gift is often less expensive than other types of gifts, but it is much more labor-intensive. It also requires planning year-round.

My in-laws’ favorite photo gift is a calendar with pictures of our family throughout the year. They live several hours away, and we don’t see them often, so they love to see pictures of what the kids did throughout the year.

But that means I have to remember to actually take the pictures. If I forget – and I have – the calendar winds up with pictures of my kids in their swimsuits on the January calendar page. I also try to include pictures of each child in their birthday month, but this doesn’t always happen either.

On more than one late December night, I have been at the Walgreens photo kiosk, silently berating myself for not taking more pictures throughout the year. On most of these occasions, Julia has been with me, frantically, but unsuccessfully searching through the pictures on her phone as well.

“Why is this so hard for me?” I ask every year. “Why can’t I plan ahead? I know I have to make these calendars every December and yet, every year, I stress out because I don’t have any good pictures of our family.”

“Why don’t you just skip it, Mom?” Julia would ask. “Just buy everyone a candle and a gift certificate.”

“I can’t do that, Honey,” I’d say. “Your grandparents are all in the stage of their lives that if they want something, they can just go and buy it. If Grandma wants a candle or a new outfit, she can just get it herself. But the one thing they can’t buy is pictures of you guys. And that’s why it means so much to them that we do this every year.”

“You could buy them something really nice though.”

“Honey, the goal at Christmas time is to make Grandma Nancy cry,” I explained. “If you give her a store-bought gift, she thinks it didn’t really come from your heart. But if you make something for her, she gets all teary-eyed and emotional, and that’s when you know you did well. Photo gifts are what the grandparents want for Christmas.”

“But it stresses you out.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t have to. Just a little bit of planning ahead could make this so much easier. If I could just remember to snap a few pictures each month, the calendars would be a piece of cake.”

Julia laughed. “I take about 50 selfies a day, but I don’t think that’s what you mean.”

It wasn’t what I meant, but Jules was still on to something. “Maybe you could help me,” I said. “Maybe you could include Nathan in some of your selfies. If we’re both taking pictures, maybe we’ll have enough come Christmas time, and this won’t be so stressful next year.”

Julia has taken my suggestion and run with it. In previous years, I’ve always ended up using photos that weren’t really that great, just because they were all that I had.

But since Julia has started helping with this, we’ve had so many photos that it was tough to choose the best ones. Last Christmas was our first year of stress-free calendar-making.

We also made coffee mugs, cell phone cases and blankets with the kids’ pictures on them. It was quite the windfall of photo gifts. (There were also lots of happy tears!)

It was actually fun for the first time. In previous years, I’d made the calendars by myself, usually at the last minute, always stressing over the lack of good photos.

But last year, Julia and I made them together. It was still at the last minute, but instead of stress, the time was full of laughter and reminiscing over the photos. I could hardly believe the difference and I kicked myself for not asking for her help sooner.

During 2016, Julia has become quite the photographer. I know we have tons of photos from our family vacation, a wedding we attended together and just every day events. Most of these pictures are on her phone, ready to be downloaded for our annual calendars.

For the first time ever, I am looking forward to Christmas shopping for my parents and my in-laws. I already know what I’m getting them – heck, they already know! But thanks to Julia, making their gifts might actually be fun.

This year, I’m going to take it a step further. I’m going to make one more photo calendar, this one for our family to keep and enjoy ourselves.

I know it’s Christmas, and we’re supposed to be giving gifts to others, not making them for ourselves. But enlisting Julia’s help in this annual project has already been a gift to me.

It’s less stressful now and a lot more fun. And spending time with my daughter is always a blessing. I know we’ll laugh as we choose the photos and imagine how happy her grandparents will be when they see them. We’ll be making a memory, while we’re creating a memento for those we love to enjoy in the year to come.

I guess it’s true. Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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