October 01, 2009

School Picture Day Snapshots

I don’t know why school picture day always whips me into a lather. Actually, that’s a total lie. I do know, and I will get to that momentarily. For now, though, let me describe a couple of scenes—snapshots, if you will—leading up to today’s big event.

SCENE I: Tuesday. The Lost Sweaters.

Me, to the kids, on Monday:  It’s fine if you wear your uniform sweaters to school, girls, but remember to bring them home. Picture day is Wednesday. WEDNESDAY.

Girls, rolling eyes: Yes, Mom.

Fast-forward to pickup Monday afternoon: Girls, where are your sweaters?

Girls, rolling eyes: In our backpacks, Mom.

Tuesday morning, as I look in their backpacks: Girls! Sweaters! Where?

Girls, shrugging: We don’t know. Are you mad? You sound mad.

Me, rolling eyes: Do not come home today without your sweaters. DO NOT.

Girls, rolling eyes: Yes, mom.

For good measure, I decided on Tuesday morning to stop by the school’s lost-and-found bucket.

School Picture Day

Irritatingly, this is right next to the uniform donation bucket, where we have accidentally “donated” three of Lucy’s sweaters to the used-uniform sale closet. Most stuff in the used-uniform closet is fairly shabby, which is why sweaters in new condition, like the brand-new one Lucy lost last year, disappear like lobster tail at an all-you-can eat Vegas buffet.

At $32 plus tax and shipping per sweater, we’re talking about a lot of my therapy budget, people.The good news is, I did find another child’s brand-new uniform sweater in the bucket and sent his mother an e-mail. I am a sweater hero!

Even better, both girls came home on Tuesday with their cardigans. “Look, mom! We have them! We TOLD you so!” 

This brings us to...

Scene II.  Tuesday evening: the haircut

Alice desperately wants to have long hair. I understand this feeling, having suffered it for most of my childhood. She, unfortunately, is blessed with baby fine blonde hair that took forever to fully cover her scalp. I keep it fairly short so she doesn’t look like Gollum or worse, Donald Trump.

As I snipped away with the scissors, ever so gently on Tuesday evening, I recalled myself in the home-barber’s chair 30 years ago.

Scene III. The hideous flashback.

Dad: Stay still. I’m going to trim your bangs. I’ll just follow along the edge of your eyebrows...

Me, looking up at the huge, huge scissors in his hands: OK.

Dad: When you looked up like that, you raised your eyebrows. So your bangs are maybe a little short.

Me, looking into a mirror: My life is ruined.

The resulting picture does not lie. My bangs are a crooked, one-inch fringe resting on my Frankenstein-sized forehead. You know those monk haircuts that look like they’re done with a bowl? That’s not a look that flatters most 9-year-old girls. I was not one of the lucky ones. I do have the picture somewhere. No, I am not posting it to the Internet.

Scene IV. Another flashback.

Me: Mom, my neck is really stiff. I can’t turn my head.

Mom: That’s too bad. It’s school picture day. Do your best to smile.

Me: My life is ruined.

The resulting picture is perhaps even worse than the previous one. In it, I am 12, a sixth grader. Because of my neck pain, I am unable to style my hair, which is still cut in the Dorothy Hamill wedge that was briefly popular six years earlier. One shoulder is up at my ear. My grimace reveals teeth sheathed in glittering, silver braces. I have a new worst picture of my life. And no, I am not posting it to the Internet.

Scene V. Why let the fun with flashbacks end?

It is senior year of high school. My Dorothy Hamill haircut has been replaced with a huge, huge perm. It took two stylists three hours working side by side to wrap all my hair in spiral rods. It is my pride and joy. My crowning glory. If I were ever inclined to leave the school library, I could proudly sit in the groupies section of a Guns N Roses show.

I am ready for my picture. I position myself on the seat, ready to take the last photo of my student life. At the photographer’s cue, I smile, remembering 17 magazine’s advice on taking a cute picture. Think genuinely happy thoughts and your smile will look its very best.

“Cute!” the photographer said. “Wow! What a great smile.”

The next few weeks pass. Every so often, I feel the sweet prick of anticipation. I can’t wait to see my cute picture. At last, after so many years of terrible school photos, I will have something I can proudly swap with my friends.

Finally, the photos arrive in the school office. I dig through the box to find mine. There it is. I tear open the crinkly envelope. I slide out the pictures. I behold the image of me with my bouncing curls, my genuine smile...and my almost completely closed eyes. There’s no other way to say it. I look drunk.

My life is ruined.

This, I suppose, is why I try to give my kids the best possible shot at school picture day. So that they don’t have a lifetime of embarrassing memories and a drawer full of pictures they’re too humiliated to show their friends.

It’s probably wasted effort. After all, I do have some entertaining stories about school pictures gone horribly, horribly wrong. And the truth? I might have cut Alice’s bangs a little too short.

--Martha Brockenbrough



I once had that same bang trim: too short on a Frankenstein forehead! Sadly, I was 16! Sad, sad, sad.

Anita Miller

I think you should have one more child...that would put you over the edge...you'll no longer care what they look like in photos. :)


There was the year (third grade - I was 8) that the teacher "fixed" my carefully placed barrettes so that my bangs were artfully plastered tight against my head with a nice part in the middle. (it didn't help that I had on my Little House On the Prairie-style dress) But I laughed out loud at your post because one year my mom cut my bangs - unevenly. So she cut them a little more to even them out. And then again. And then once more. I, too, had the monk look. Too bad we weren't in school together - we could have started a new trend.


One more child would definitely put me into the crazy zone. But I think I will always care about what they look like in school pictures, just because I had such goofy ones. Maybe it's just me, but I never want my kids to suffer the same things I did, which only means they'll suffer entirely new humiliations, probably at my hands. But oh well.

Deana Brady

My daughter Hannah entered high school this year. If I thought I was banging my head against the wall keeping uniforms straight LAST year, I am really glad I didn't consider the uniform possibilities before she started applying to high schools. She now seems to have two uniforms-dress and standard. I just do the laundry and dump everything plaid or vaguely uniform-ish into a pile. I can only hope my younger child decides to go to the same school. By then I might be plaid-blind. BTW, I loved my Dorothy Hamill! I wore it right up until I had to try the Lady Di. I am so old.

Communion Dresses

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I had the bangs incident happen to myself. luckly my bangs grow really fast. By the way, Alice looks beautiful in that picture.

love my shoes

I can totally relate to this post! I always hated picture day when I was in school, especially since I was forced to have short hair.

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