The Vexing Issue of the Yearly School Portrait

The Vexing Issue of the Yearly School Portrait

I am waiting for my car to be inspected, along with a part replaced due to a recall on my Honda Accord. The technician told me it would take about an hour and a half to complete the job. He shows me to the waiting area where the TODAY Show is playing annoyingly loud. I sit down and look at the other waiting customers who all have their noses buried in their phones. I glance at the variety of magazines, but am not intrigued. After a few minutes of listening to Martha Stewart show Hoda Kotb how to peel garlic without using her hands, I knew I couldn’t sit there any longer, so I decide to go in search of a cup of coffee. I find a vacuum carafe, pour a cup and stir in powdered non-dairy creamer.  I find a quiet table in the showroom to sit down and make a to-do list. It is the kids’ first full week of school and between signed syllabuses, multiple checks written for a variety of things, three-ring binders coming out of my ears, new sneakers and gym uniforms, I remember that tomorrow is picture day. It is only the sixth day of school and  I’m tired and broke. Who schedules these things?  Thoughts go through my head, “Should we get Ethan’s hair cut after school today?” He is in that in-between stage of the ‘summer buzz cut’ and  ‘no real style yet.’  Not the best look going at the moment, but that would add another $21.00 to the cost, so I think we’ll pass on the hair cut….

As I think back on Ethan’s school pictures, I fondly remember his third grade picture in which I sent him to school in a nice button down plaid shirt. He decided to take that shirt off at recess so he wouldn’t get it dirty. Good thinking on his part, but they went directly from the playground to the photographer. His picture is of a sweaty, red-faced boy in a white Hane’s undershirt. I have 2 8x10s, 3 5x7s and 100 wallets of this precious memory. The next three years, he managed to wear the same bright orange shirt. Last year, I opened his package and thought, “Finally, a great school picture!” His hair looked great and he had the best smile that showcased his new braces. At closer glance however, I discover they took the picture after lunch. Food in the braces – yummy. Another $45 down the tube.

School pictures are the worst, but such a tradition. They awkwardly pose our kids, make them smile on demand and you get what you get. I begrudgingly write checks every year to Lifetouch so I can send Grandma pictures that she treasures, so she can show all of her friends and hang them on her refrigerator door with cute magnets.

After four children, I have thousands of school pictures still in their original envelopes with the celophane windows. I have several friends who are amazing photographers, yet I continue to spend a small fortune on these packages year after year. Is it a mom-guilt thing? If I don’t buy the package, I’ll deprive my children of their ‘school-days’ memories? Will my kids feel left out if they don’t show up with their money envelope in hand?

I force down another gulp of my luke warm coffee and I try not to make an ugly face. I shudder and know a drive through Starbucks is in order as soon as I leave here. With thoughts of school portraits, a memory pops into my head of my fifth grade school picture.

Just look at this gem:


I giggle as I recall the story of this photograph….

My mother decided it would be a great idea for me to wear my Girl Scout uniform to school for my class picture. Wearing your Girl Scout uniform to school wasn’t unusual back then- when your meeting was after school in the cafeteria- everybody did it. So when I showed up on picture day in my uniform, my best friend immediately noticed and then reminded me that we didn’t have a meeting that day. I told her I knew that, but my mother wanted me to wear it for my school picture. She then informed me that school pictures weren’t that day- they were the next day. What? Not only did I have to wear my uniform to school on a non-meeting day, but it wasn’t even the correct day for the school pictures! I was so embarrassed! I went though the entire day with people reminding me that I had worn my uniform on the wrong day. I could not wait to get home.

When I returned home that afternoon, I informed my mother what had happened. She could tell by my attitude that I had been completely mortified by the whole experience and that I was not at all happy. It would have been the perfect day to come home to some warm, fresh-baked homemade chocolate chip cookies, but that didn’t happen either.

My mother seemed unaffected by my drama, and then promptly told me to go to my room to change, and to make sure that I hung up my uniform so I could wear it again tomorrow. That’s when time stopped. Everything froze. She could not possibly be serious. I could not live through this indignity again tomorrow. I was panicking!  My life was over. I could already picture the kids laughing at me in my predicament.

The thing is, I knew that I would not win this argument. I was the fourth child, and if I had learned anyting in my 10 years of life, it was that once my mother spoke something, she could not be persuaded to change her mind. Arguing or complaining only cinched the deal all the more. It was my sentence. I bowed my head in shame and slowly walked to my bedroom.

When I woke the next morning, I thought I could fake an illness to escape my fate. After some volleying inside my head, I knew that it was either today or prolonging the agony until make-up picture day. Maybe she would forget, but I knew that would never happen. I resigned myself to my degradation.

The funny thing is, I showed up to school in the same outfit- a Girl Scout uniform- two days in a row, and no one really noticed. At least they pretended not to notice. Other than my best friend who just rolled her eyes, no one said anything. Maybe they felt sorry for me or maybe they just didn’t care, but I walked in expecting to be humiliated and nothing happened.

I got my portrait taken in my Girl Scout uniform and despite my vast array of mixed dentition, I think I looked adorable. I know my mom was happy, she got her wish. When I got home there still were not any warm chocolate chip cookies waiting, but there were homemade brownies – and a big hug.

Touche’ Lifetouch.

Caution: Debris on the Road

Caution: Debris on the Road

It had been a busy day. It was late summer/early autumn and the day had been warm, but there was a chill in the air as evening was approaching. I spent the day making 100 gourmet caramel apples as thank you gifts for my job, to distribute to our referring offices. It was more work than I had planned on, but they turned out great. They looked absolutely amazing!

When the kids came home from school, I was reminded that there was an event at school that evening and it was the last night to register my daughter for her Brownie Troop. Of course they were in totally opposite directions. I decided that since I had been working in the kitchen all day that we would run to the library in our neighboring town to register for Brownies, grab dinner at Chick-fil-A and then head to school for the event. I was determined to make it all work.

We successfully registered Charlotte at the library and were heading back to our town on the main two-lane road. It was such a beautiful evening I had the windows down in the car. The breeze felt awesome. As a car passed me coming in the opposite direction, I felt something wet splatter on my face. Funny, the road wasn’t wet so I thought perhaps they had been washing their windshield as they drove by, and I got splashed. I touched my hand to my face as I glanced in my review mirror, and to my horror I saw blood. I was confused until the smell hit me; it was the worst stench I had ever smelled in my life which made me practically vomit. I suddenly realized what happened – the car that passed me in the opposite direction had run over the remnants of a decomposing varmint in the road, (aka roadkill) kicked some of the debris up from their car tire where it landed on my face. MY FACE! I let out a scream that could have wakened the dead from their sleep and then everything went dark…..

Not really. I did scream, but I was driving, so passing out wouldn’t have been cool with my kids in the car. My kids by the way, didn’t know what to think as I was going loco in the driver’s seat. While ranting non-stop, I held my contaminated left hand in the air as I steered with my right, occasionally dry-heaving from the smell and glancing at the horror show on my face in the rear view mirror. How in the world could this have happened? Only me.

As we came into town, the kids noticed I wasn’t in the correct lane to go to Chick-fil-A and started complaining loudly that “I was going the wrong way!”

“Children”, I said, “Are you serious? Can you not see that I have roadkill on my face?” *dry-heave* “I have to go straight home.”

Their reply was, “But Mom, we’re hungry. You promised! What are we going to eat?

I told them it wasn’t my biggest concern at the moment, but then I quickly realized if we went to the restaurant, I could at least go inside and wash the stench off of my hands and face. Win-win.

I hurried into the bathroom and attempted to run the water with one of those stupid touch-less, motion censored faucets which gives you three seconds of water before it automatically shuts off. Whyyyy?? I was impatiently stomping my foot and whimpering like a baby trying to get continuous running water. I overdosed on the soap – again motion sensored- and the timing kept landing the foam on the counter instead of my hand. Grrr!!! As I look into the mirror to wash my face, I discover bits in my hair – my hair!! Then of course, because we are so earth conscience here in southern Pennsylvania, there are no paper towels – only an air dryer in this restroom. I have a wet face that cannot be dried. I shamelessly go into a stall to get toilet paper and I can’t even get a good six squares without it breaking. Tears…

Charlotte was standing there waiting for me and says, “Mommy can I get a milkshake?” I look down at her sweet face and think to myself, “I’m so glad she is not scarred by this event.”

I order their food, rush home and go straight to the shower. I make it as hot as I can stand it. I lather, rinse and repeat seventeen times. I still don’t feel clean.

It really did happen. I was splattered with decomposing varmint matter on my face. Stinky, nasty, putrid, gross roadkill. It haunts me. I can no longer ride with the car windows down. Whenever I see anything dead on the road, the memories of that day come flooding back. Therapy has helped a little.

I caution all of you who love to drive with the wind in your face – it sometimes comes at a cost. Be aware lest this happens to you.











I don’t quite remember how the conversation began, but I ended up telling my co-workers the story of being a ‘Miss Andover’ contestant in my senior year of high school, and hilarity ensued. Even my boss came out of the clinic to see, “what the party was all about!”

Andover High School, 1984.

It had been a tradition in our school to ‘nominate’ a dozen or so girls to compete in a pageant-type event. The qualifications were vague, but I knew you had to be smart. So, when I was nominated, I wondered how that could have happened. Homecoming court, okay, but a Miss Andover contestant?? What in the world was I doing in this competition? I got okay grades, but I didn’t excel, if you know what I mean. I was an ‘honors’ student, but thats because I took the basic classes. I never took a single AP course. What does “AP” even stand for?

So, the next thing I knew, the photography club was going to do a “photo shoot” in the school yard. I curled my permed hair and wore a red “ruffly” shirt and stood awkwardly with my arm against a tree. This was shown on a slide presentation in an assembly in front of the whole school, with our list of  “achievements” being displayed for all to evaluate.  What the heck? If a high school girl didn’t already feel insecure enough, let’s put her in a competition against her friends, and have her peers vote for the most deserving contestant. Yeah, good times.

Fast forward to the night of the pageant.

We were to dress in formal gowns and walk across the stage, turn again and face the audience, which included our parents and friends. Then, we were to walk over to Brian, our classmate and emcee for the evening. At that point, we were to be asked two interview questions. We were all speculating back-stage about what the questions would be? Current events, school participation, personal life; no one knew any details. The questions were sealed tight. It was so nerve-wracking!

I watched as a few smart, confident girls seamlessly sailed through the interview process. Finally, my name was called and I walked across the stage and ended up next to Brian. This is how the conversation went: (sort of)

Brian: “Let me introduce to you, Sally Bledsoe blah, blah… achievements etc…”

Me: *nervously smiles*

Brian: “So Sally, you’ve been really active your senior year in extra curricular activities, but you really didn’t do much before this year. What changed?”

Me: *seriously, this is my question?* “Wha well…. … … um, well, I had other responsibilities in my life that may (or may not have) prevented me from being “active” in extra curricular activities. But I’m thoroughly enjoying my senior year.” *Thanks for asking that oh-so-imortant question about me that made me feel even more inadequate than I already do.*

Brian: “Okay. On to a current event question: What are your thoughts about the US involvement in Granada?”

Me: *Deer in headlight look* “Um, *nervous laugh, fake smile* Blah, bla-bla, blabity blah, world peace…and love, blah, blah…” *clears throat, smiles.*

<Insert >*Awkward, uncomfortable silence from audience, then sporadic, weak applause*

Brian: “Alrighty then. Thank you Sally.”

Me: *dying from total embarrassment, walks back to group.*

Tracy wins; pageant over.

I went home, took off my Little Bo Peep gown, used baby oil to remove my Great Lash waterproof mascara, and buried my head under my designer rainbow comforter completely humiliated.

Weren’t the 80’s great?

Now, at 50+ years old, I can look back at the event and laugh. I’ve been able to grow in all areas of my life, and come to a place where I feel comfortable in my skin – most of the time. However, I can vividly recall my insecurities and fears about the entire event. Why would we ever want to make a contest out of our looks, academic score, and the ability to answer questions comfortably in front of an audience? Did the girl in the audience who didn’t get nominated feel like a lesser person because of it? Did she go home and cry because she wanted to be up there too? Perhaps she had as much, or more to offer than I did. I sure hope schools don’t still have these types of competitions. If you want to sign up for a pageant, that’s fine, however we were nominated for this. Competitive sports, academics and  arts are one thing, because you earn your merit, but don’t dress girls up and parade them across a stage, ask them stupid questions for all to see and be judged.

Oh how I wish I could immediately instill in my three daughters (and my son) instant self-confidence. I wish I could show them that their looks, their grades and what other people think about them isn’t the only thing that’s important in life. I want to encourage them to foster their talents and do what makes them happy without an obligation to please or impress anyone else. To do it only because it is what makes them feel happy and accomplished. I want to teach them to be kind to everyone they meet and before they judge them, get to know them.

There is something to be said for the lessons we learn when we have to struggle and are put in positions where we feel a little bit uncomfortable. If you remove the cacoon for a butterfly, his wings will be too weak to fly. It is through the stuggle that he develops his stength.

Middle school and high school can hold some of the best and worst memories. It’s where we develop our character through all of the good and bad experiences. It’s where we learn how to treat people and build relationships. It’s where we lay in bed and wrestle through all sorts of things in our mind and our heart. It’s where we grow.

I guess the awkward, scary, insecure feelings are a necessary right of passage. To instantly teleport our kids through this step would benefit them absolutely nothing. I want to protect them because I remember how it felt to be anxious and insecure. So, I will encourage them and help build their self-confidence. Hopefully, we can keep the dialogue open and perhaps they will share with me their feelings. Or, they will ignore me, close their bedroom door, turn on some loud music, apply make-up badly and figure things out for themselves, just like I did.