Every year for a decade now, I have agonized over the gazillions of options for school portrait packages. Honestly? I don’t know why I order any at all. I think it’s mostly because I think my kids’ feelings might be hurt if I was the only parent who didn’t fork over my hard-earned money for what has to be the biggest mass fraud ever perpetrated on humanity. I hate school portraits. I hate the ghastly backgrounds. I hate the stiff, awkward smiles on my children’s faces. I hate the stress leading up to Picture Day. I hate the unhinged person I become when that dreaded day arrives.
On my oldest child’s very first Picture Day, I was in New York City with his baby sister, who was having surgery at a hospital there. My husband was manning the fort at home with our two boys. Between preparing lectures on the nature of tolerance and respect, getting one son to Kindergarten and arguing with policemen while trying to get another son to preschool, I suppose he didn’t have time to think through the serious implications of Picture Day. He was bewildered when a few weeks later I pulled the portrait package out of our son’s backpack and burst into tears when I saw the photo. My son was wearing a black sweatshirt and sweatpants, and his hair was uncombed. He was weirdly posed, cozying up to a fake rock.
What my husband had failed to appreciate is that Picture Day takes forethought and planning. It should go without saying that you have to pick the right pose in advance, (i.e. NOT the Hugging a Fake Rock Pose). But you also have to make sure your kid gets his hair cut about two weeks before the photo so that it’s not too shaggy, but not too short. You have to make sure the laundry has been done, so that the one portrait-worthy shirt your child owns is ready for wear. For at least the two days leading up to Picture Day, you have to put your child through his paces in Picture Day Smile Preparation Boot Camp to make sure he’ll “smile naturally!”
I was thrilled to discover that portraits could be retaken. I have made my long-suffering daughter retake her photo every single year except one. Now imagine how complicated it becomes when you have to juggle three Picture Days at three different schools. This year I lost track of when my middle schooler was having his picture taken, and it showed. I’m making him get his portrait retaken, because there was a conspicuous piece of lint in his hair and he was wearing a hoodie. (People! Have we learned nothing after all these years)?!
I think I’m being punished for being such a jerk about the portraits. This year on my daughter’s Picture Day, I painstakingly combed and styled her hair and we went through the usual lengthy and heated negotiations about the shirt she should wear. When she came home from school that day, she announced that the photographer hadn’t shown up, so Picture Day would be rescheduled for several weeks later. The girl is growing like a weed. In those few weeks she outgrew the shirt we had picked out for her. No matter! I bought her a new outfit to wear. Better still, she had never worn the shirt, so I knew there would be no stains on it!
She balked, but finally agreed to put on the outfit. She came stomping down the stairs with a grumpy look on her face.
“I don’t want to wear this! I HATE these sleeves. It’s too tight and it’s really itchy!”
I tried to be sympathetic…
“Yeah, whatever, Kid. You’re wearing it!”
When she came home after school that day, she headed straight up to her room to change.
“Whoa! Come back down here!” I said. I had hatched a plan to eliminate the need for a picture retake. “Let me take a few pictures of you in your cute outfit!”
I was surprised that she so readily acquiesced, but as we headed outside she said, “Is that because you know I’ll never ever wear this ever again?”