It’s the most wonderful time of the year–Part 3.

December 2003, Naples, FL

My baby girl is turning fifteen this month, and as always, I’m left wondering where the time goes. Over the years, people have jokingly given me a hard time about giving birth the day after Christmas, saying things like, “Well, you didn’t plan that very well, did you?” (wink wink, nudge nudge), but I feel like I planned it just right. So far she loves having her birthday wrapped up with Christmas, and we’ve never encountered the “Oh no–her birthday and Christmas gifts are wrapped in the same paper!” drama. Not that she would mind–she honestly loves Christmas. 

But in addition to her being the best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten, doing my photos with her each year has become my best gift to myself. (In case you missed parts one and two of my “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” posts, they can be found here and here.) Since she turned three, I’ve been taking photos of Holland in my wedding dress each year for her birthday, graduating from a point-and-shoot camera to a much nicer one, and moving from my bedroom or the park in our neighborhood to destinations like L.A., Miami, Disney World, Amsterdam, London, and Paris and now, this year, to New York City. It’s been an amazing journey so far. 

The downsides of this particular project are as follows: extreme nostalgia on my part; cold weather in our chosen locales that require her to wear her jeans under the dress and to let her teeth chatter dramatically as she assures me that there is no way I could possibly love her, otherwise I’d never make her put on a frilly pink dress in public and pose in front of strangers; and the inevitable squabbles between the two of us that go something like this:

Me (theatrically): “Someday I’ll be gone and you’ll be sorry that you couldn’t just pose on the Brooklyn Bridge in twenty degree weather like I wanted you to.”

Her (with eyes rolling): “But why aren’t we done yet? I’m not doing this anymore today. Seriously, Mom. I’m done.”

Her father (sternly): “Do this one thing for your mother. She never asks you for anything.”

And then, in the end, I have the photos I wanted. Some days we’ll go out and I’ll feel like I got nothing that’s even worth editing (and every December I flog myself for not taking a photography class at some point during the year that would make me more technically adept so that I wasn’t relying on luck and creativity alone), but in the end, I find that I’m thrilled with the crazy things we’ve captured and the amazing places we’ve gotten to go. If 18 ends up being the last year we do this, as planned, then I’ve only got three more years to go…and I can’t believe that.

Other than writing, this has been the biggest and most creative project I’ve undertaken, and whether or not the photos are “technically” on the mark or not, it’s something I’m really proud of. It’s a true labor of love, and I know someday she’ll look at these photos and smile fondly, forgetting that I made her stand on the steps of a church in Paris in December in a tank top while I pulled the dress on over her head, and forgetting that I made her wear the dress around Disney World and weather the stares of curious onlookers. 

Someday she’ll think it was cool and creative and fun, and maybe someday she’ll even do something similar with her own children, should she choose to have any. But at the very least, she’ll appreciate the hard work we both put into this project…hopefully while I’m still around. ๐Ÿ˜‰ย 

Happiest holiday wishes to you and yours! 

Brooklyn Bridge 2018
Chinatown 2018
Grand Central Station 2018
Grand Central Station 2018
Central Park 2018
Central Park 2018
Central Park 2018
Central Park 2018
Central Park 2018
Statue of Liberty 2018
Manhattan Skyline 2018
Times Square 2018
Times Square 2018
Times Square 2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s truly my favorite time of the year, and not just because I love Christmas (but I love Christmas–I really do! And I’m a huge dork about it. Anyone want to come over to my house and listen to Wham! sing “Last Christmas” for the 431st time this season?) It’s also my favorite time of the year because by December I’ve spent about six months planning and envisioning, researching and dreaming, and I finally get to zip Holly into my wedding dress for our annual birthday photos.

Like all good ideas, this one was borrowed and adapted, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I know I’m not alone in wanting to document the passing of time by doing a sentimental yearly photograph. I actually got the idea from a parenting magazine back when I still had a newborn. There was a short article about a lady who had taken her own mother’s gaudy 1960s bathing suit (a boxy affair covered in loud floral print and with cone-shaped pleats on the bust) and posed her daughter for a picture each year on her birthday wearing the bathing suit. She took the photos in front of the same wall, and the progression from a barely-standing toddler draped in this bathing suit, to a lovely eighteen-year-old who actually filled the suit out, was really very charming and sweet. I flipped the page and forgot all about it.

Flash-forward to my own daughter’s third birthday. The lady with the bathing suit popped into my head, and I thought, “That would be cute to do with Holly, only in my wedding dress instead of a bathing suit.” So I pulled the pink tulle over her soft blonde baby head, and eased her little arms through the dress. I didn’t have a plan at that point–just the idea of seeing the progress of her growth each year by using my dress as a measuring stick–so I sat her in front of our oak sleigh bed and snapped a few pictures. They were sweet and simple, done with a point-and-shoot camera. I packed the dress away and planned to do it again the next year.

And I did. And the year after that, and the one after that…and then, this year, we set out to do it for the tenth year. Those early birthday shots were pictures of her doing whatever she felt like doing: posing or just standing, the sweetness of her baby face (3rd birthday), or the funny way her missing front tooth juxtaposed against the wedding dress (6th birthday), and even the year we just put the dress on over her rain boots and play clothes and went to the park in our neighborhood to play on the swings (8th birthday), acting as the backdrop for our “wedding dress pictures,” as we’d come to call them.

But then I started thinking of the potential and of all the fun we could have as we carried this on through her 18th birthday. We went up to Timberline Lodge on her 9th birthday (the day after Christmas) and got her posing in the dress with the snow falling outside the windows of the warm lodge. The next year we went to Astoria on a gorgeous, crystal-clear winter day and let her take a handful of colorful balloons all around town. For her 11th birthday we went to Disneyworld, and I got shots of her in all of the parks and on South Beach. This year we flew to L.A. and did Disneyland, then followed it up with a real “L.A. day” (I called it the, “If Holly Went to Hollywood, What Would Holly Do?” year). We got shots with the fabled Hollywood sign behind her, some on the Walk of Fame, and then we ended the day at the Santa Monica pier just as the sun was sinking into the Pacific, where I think we got some of our best photos to date.

It makes me really happy every year to dream up new locations and ideas, and I spent a fair amount of time this fall googling from which street and which neighborhood we could see the Hollywood sign (answer: 5th and Windsor in Hancock Park–a beautiful and quiet neighborhood lined with amazing houses and giant palms), and picturing my baby with her hands in Marilyn Monroe’s hand prints, so it was pretty awesome when it all came together. We had amazing weather the last day of our trip, and there wasn’t even a wisp of smog hanging over the hills. I love watching the years fall away through the lens of this fun tradition, and I’m pretty amazed at how far this $50 dress has traveled. It started on a beach on Maui when we got married, it’s seen snow, flown more miles than a lot of people do, and just in the past two years I’ve shaken sand out of it from both coasts. I’m already nostalgic for the years gone by, but I can’t wait for her next birthday…I’m already dreaming of getting my next shot.

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