When you’re lying there in the hospital bed, scared as hell about this little person you are wholly responsible for for the rest of your life, they talk to you about colostrum. They talk to you about cutting fingernails. They talk to you about all this stuff you’re supposed to be worried about. But do they ever warn you about School Picture Day? I think not.
Do they caution you about how your child will one come home sullen and deflated after Picture Day and break your heart in a million pieces?
Though yes, I was on some nice drugs, no, don’t recall that at all.
Aside from the breakfast-time mad dash for the checkbook, generally just past the deadline that the envelope was due, you have to make all these Picture Day decisions that I don’t recall ever grappling with as a kid. Back in the Paleolithic era of my youth, you wore something cute (or overalls with a lot of soccer patches on them, if you were me in sixth grade, trying to prove something to the world), sat down in front of the creepy photographer, smiled, and got a free comb. A few weeks later, pictures came in the mail.
Now? You choose from one of 37 packages, each more absurd than the next. I don’t care how cute your kids are, unless you have the last name Duggar, you simply do not need 46 wallet-size photos of them.
Next you are required to choose one of three poses including “classic” and “close-up” and something that looks exactly like “close-up” but has a different name. Which…huh? You’re the professional photographer, and you want me to tell you which pose to put my kid in? Can I deduct 20% off the fee for doing your job for you?
Of course, this being 2012, you can choose to retouch your child’s photo in a number of ways, none of which I am yet ready to even think about. (“Can you trim a little off the ears, please?”)
Then at last comes the really fun part: sitting down with my children and the envelopes spread out in front of us, to have the “which background do I want?” fight.
Last year Sage ended up with Emerald City green, after Nate sneaked in a checkmark on the envelope next to his favorite color when no one was looking. Coupled with her pale pink top she looks like the rejected poster child for the Preppy Handbook reissue. This year, all she knew was that she wanted “anything but the green,” but lo! The photo gurus have added even more choices to fight over this year! Now we can debate the merits (or lack thereof) of two shades of blue, some sort of golden disco lights, copper something-or-other, “forest,” a red that makes every child look splotchy and drunk, and some sad excuse for a multicolor that should be called Look, A Rainbow Puked!
I pushed for charcoal grey, laying out a perfectly reasonable argument as to why we want to focus on the subject and not the background.
Thalia compromised with copper after putting up a fairly good–but not good enough–fight for the red. Sage, of course, went for the rainbow.
Do I sound like a crazy person? Do I sound like That Mom? Because I swear I’m not. I just feel like if we’re going to spend on these photos what I could spend on movie date night, including sitter, I would kind of like them to not suck.
Now because the universe tossed me one bone today, I managed to stave off Sage’s daily wardrobe debate the second I pulled out her special dress which she’s only wanted to wear to school every single day since we got it this summer. She didn’t even fight me when I told I’d prefer that she didn’t wear a costume garland from a Renaissance Faire on her head.
As for Thalia, she waltzed out feeling as pretty as can be in a bright pink dress…that she had also worn for her kindergarten picture day two years ago.
“Thalia, that dress is too small.”
“I’m wearing it with leggings! Like a tunic!”
“The sleeves come up to your elbows.”
“I can roll them up.”
“It just doesn’t fit, honey.”
“I love it.”
I sighed and gave up. She did look cute, if a little Herman Munster with the fit. Then surprisingly, Nate jumped into the fray, spouting off about skin color and genetics and pinks and I have no idea what else. Somehow he managed to get her out of the dress and into another special outfit–a white oxford over leggings and a gorgeous purple Ralph Lauren tweed jacket we got (hiiiighly discounted) for their spring fashion show. He even made the effort to iron the creases out of the collar.
She felt pretty. She felt grown-up. I could see it in her eyes and the way she carried herself. You would too if your Daddy ironed your shirt before school. So I kissed them goodbye and sent them off, and didn’t even think about trying to make a final case for new background colors.
So I was surprised when Thalia, a girl who has never avoided the camera ever, came home feeling sad.
First she didn’t want to talk about it. Then she came around.
“I didn’t get one compliment on my outfit,” she confessed. And she explained how all the other girls were in dresses, oohing and ahhing over the pleats and the twirliness of it all, while she stood out probably looking…weird. Not in a dress.
My mother tried to explain to Thalia that she is an artist, and that artists are always going to have their own taste and sensibility and do things a little differently than everyone else. Thalia did her best to change the subject. I comforted her (just a little) by revealing to her the absurd number of compliments about her wearing the very same outfit in a photo on my Facebook page. 124 people–grownup people who know about fashion, mind you–saying how amazing she looked. It cheered her up a bit (thank you Facebook friends!), but I could tell it wasn’t the same as one girl in the class coming over and saying, “you look nice.”
Not one girl.
And to a girl like T, who is always thinking about how to make other people feel good and feel included, it must have been crushing.
It sure crushed me.
Later in the night, I pulled my oldest girl onto my lap, and just hugged her for a minute. She tried to blame Daddy for changing her outfit. But I reminded her how beautiful she felt when she walked out of the house this morning, and how beauty comes from the inside and that’s how I know. Then l squeezed her closer and looked into her eyes, and I told her I really wanted to talk about confidence. Deep in my heart, I wondered if she could learn the lessons that it takes most of us 30 or 4o years to figure out; it was possible. It was worth a shot.
“Thalia, I want you to know one thing: it doesn’t matter if the girls liked your outfit or not. It doesn’t even matter if 124 people on Facebook liked your outfit or not. If you ever feel good about a story you write, a painting you make, a dance you perform, a word you spell right, or something you’re wearing, that’s what matters. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. Don’t give people that power. Do you understand?”
She nodded slowly.
“I mean it,” I said. “It’s really important. If you remember one thing in life it’s that your good feelings are yours to keep, and you don’t let people take them away.”
She seemed to absorb this for a moment. And then she looked up at me, with a new twinkle in her eye.
“And the second most important thing to remember in life?” she said, suddenly bursting out with the biggest toothless 7 year-old smile.
“What?” I asked.
“Never listen to anything Mitt Romney says!” And she threw back her head and laughed.
I love her so much.
Also, I freaking hate Picture Day.
Thanks so much Elan for including this post in Five-Star Friday. Being recognized by writers I respect, among other writers I respect, s one of the nicest things ever.