A smile that is captured forever (and ever and ever): The torments of school Picture Day

www.jeffvrabel.comJune 3, 2013 

Kid photo ILLUS.jpg

School pictures not only pricey, they can become objects of torment later in life, according to World's OK'est Dad columnist Jeff Vrabel.


Generally speaking, we don't order or display school pictures very often, for one simple reason: I have seen mine.

My mom has hanging in her house the complete and unabridged collection of Godawful Jeff School Photos, everything from a mint 1980 Floppy-Haired Kindergartener to a 1986 Inconceivable Geek With Monstrous Plastic Brown Glasses to the 1991 Moody Teen Who Is Scowling Because His Parents Made Him Get Braces in the 11th Grade. The pictures are arranged in chronological order in an oval, ostensibly to simulate a clock and the passage of time. It's a treasured and invaluable part of my mom's home decor, and I want to smash it with a hammer and light it on fire, then smash the smashed pieces with a hammer and feed them to a moose, or any kind of animal that eats hopelessly nerdlinger school photos, I'll have to look it up.

I bring this up because we got our school pictures from my younger son's day care last week. Picture Day for the little one has been problematic for some time, starting with the day last fall when, having no idea it was Picture Day at all, I merrily sent my 14-month-old to school wearing an 8-year-old faded lime-green T-shirt that said BEASTIE BOYS in clever and evocative lettering. This was, I am told, the source of no small amusement for the wonderful people at the church day care, who, I am guessing, were not accustomed to toddlers arriving for Picture Day wearing T-shirts commemorating Brooklyn hip-hop groups.

Happily, they let us do retakes, for which I sent the boy in a smart white button-up short-sleeved shirt. What I neglected to do, however, was secure him the haircut he'd been needing for several months before, making him seem in the resulting pictures like a sensitive golden-haired singer-songwriter from let's say 1973, sort of a toddler John Denver but with goofier hair, if that's possible. (Yes, yes, save your Denver-related hate comments. I like "Leaving on a Jet Plane," too, but my man had some sillypants hippie-hair.)

I'm not sending any of these photos in for publication, because our insurance currently does not cover therapy. And lest you think I'm picking unfairly on a 20-month-old, I assure you we don't get school pictures for the older one either, for two reasons: 1. I take enough pictures on my own that if you printed them out and made a flipbook it would be a reasonably complete nine-year film of his entire life (every now and again I get emails from iPhoto asking if I need additional hard drive storage, or maybe a larger house), and 2. My older son is a sharp and good-looking lad who smiles for photos like someone is jabbing him in the back with an angry porcupine, and I don't want my house covered in weird porcu-smiles.

Anyway, the day care offered spring pictures for the little one this past week. And though I remembered the day and deftly avoided sending him in a 2T House of Pain T-shirt or anything, the results were, as you might say, disappointing, and by "disappointing" I mean "Have you ever seen the entire well-meaning staff of a terrifically wonderful day care try to put a positive spin on a photo of a 20-month-old who looks like he's in the midst of an existential crisis?" Here's how that goes:

"But he's usually so happy!"

"Oh, he must have been having a rough day!"

"Bless his heart, that poor dear."

Here's how you know something is truly awful in the South: Someone says "Bless his heart, that poor dear."

So naturally we didn't order these pictures, either; if anyone asks to see a photo, I'll show them one of the many thousands we have that don't look like he just finished watching "Les Miserables" in a prison camp. He's really quite an outgoing, endearing kid. He just had an off-day. And John Denver's hair.

Jeff Vrabel's worst school pictures came in grades five, six, eight, 10 and 11. Follow him at twitter.com/JeffVrabel and read more at www.jeffvrabel.com.

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