Sit, Amanda! Smile, Amanda! No! Don't stand up now, Amanda! Andrew, can you hold your sister, Amanda? There! Quick! Take it! Awwwgggghh! Please sit, Amanda? Please?
In theory, the concept is sweet and simple. Dress the little ones in their finest. Watch as they sit quietly. See them smile and pose for the photographer. And, bingo. The perfect Christmas gifts and holiday cards. Nothing to it.
Right. We are now leaving Dream World and coming back to Earth. The studio in J. C. Penney at White Marsh mall offers a slice of real life, a glimpse at the picture-taking frenzy that begins every year around this time.
In one studio, there's Amanda and Andrew. He is 3 and being such a big boy. Andrew sits, poses, smiles for the camera. And waits (and waits and waits) for his little sister Amanda to get with the program.
Amanda is 14 months old and cute as a button. Like a typical toddler, she simply does not have the time to sit down. Not to mention sit down and smile. Especially when there are so many big people in the room doing weird things.
Look, there's the photographer dancing in front of her with a Redskins football helmet on. Now the dancing helmet is wiggling a funny green stuffed animal around and calling out "Amanda! Amanda!"
Mom, Karen DiFerdinan do, steps in. She gently thrusts her daughter in and out of the prop chair. Amanda likes that. Smiles for a half of second. "There now. Take it!," she says to Diane Martin. Ooops. Too brief. Bye-bye smile.
Now Andrew is growing weary. "Smile, Andrew. Say 'Chuck E. Cheese,' " his mom says. Andrew complies. He's no fool. There's a great big chocolate ice cream cone with his name on it when this is over.
"I'm cherishing this. I really am. It's just so exhausting!" says Mrs. DiFerdinando who lives in West Friendship. "You know, it's a lot easier when there is one. Doubles are harder."
Well, sometimes singles, like Samantha, can be a challenge.
Samantha White is 6 months old and possesses luminous, beautiful dark eyes. Samantha poses wonderfully but she has just awakened from a nap. She is in the mood for a serious photo this day. None of that smiley stuff. So the adults cajole. And cajole.
"Peek-a-boo! Peek-a-boo! I see you," says grandmother Myrna Martin.
Yeah, yeah, Samantha sees Grandma, too.
Mother, Sandy White, comes up to bat. "Gitchee, gitchee, gitchee, goo!" she says. "Gitchee, gitchee, goo!"
Photographer and studio manager Mary Nelson coos and shakes a rattle.
Yawn. Someone wipes a little bit of spittle from Samantha's chin.
In this room, the child is the calm one. Samantha slowly and methodically gazes at all the adult faces, one by one. Adults, who must normally seem so sane, are reduced to wildly gesturing, bouncing and coo-cooing visions.
"This is going to be a long session," Mrs. Martin sighs.
No one knows that better than Ms. Nelson and her crew of photographers. They will shoot about 20 other sessions -- and this is their slow day. On Saturdays, there can be 50.
Patience and humor are two qualifications for the job. By late afternoon, Ms. Nelson is already looking weary around the eyes. But she is not complaining. The photo studio receives roughly 50 percent of its business this time of year, she says. It's a holiday ritual.
"Every year," sighs mother Dianne Strother. "Actually, twice a year. We do it on Easter too."
The Strothers are a military family from Edgewood. It shows. "Sit up straight like a tree. Straight like a tree," Mrs. Strother urges her daughters, Shelby, 5, and Brianne, 2. Both are spruced up in black velvet and gold holiday attire.
The eldest sibling, who has lost some front baby teeth, grins winningly at the camera.
"You bribe and you tease and you plead to get that one good shot," Mrs. Strother says. "Then you see it and say, 'This is the best I got?' "
At least it was accomplished in a relatively short time.
Back in the Amanda and Andrew session, photographer Diane Martin is frazzled but steadfast. Beads of sweat break out on her forehead and an earring pops off. "This is our fifth different pose," she says. None have appealed to Amanda. Ms. Martin knows when to call for backup. "I need Barbara!" she says.
Amanda, it seems, is a two-photographer baby. Barbara Peach comes in and tries her luck while Ms. Martin mans the camera. "This is one picture I'm going to cherish," Ms. Martin says.
Somehow, it all comes together. For one brief nanosecond, Amanda sits and smiles. The moment is preserved for posterity. And Andrew gets his ice cream.