If you go to my grandma's basement and look to the left of the piano, you will see all of my school portraits hung in chronological order. Starting with my red and blue kindergarten dress (marred by the sweater mom intended for me to remove before the photo), it is a testament to the length and severity of my awkward years.
I added braces to the mix in fifth grade. Those also stuck around until eighth grade.
Hairstyles were never my strong suit. Styling meant throwing a barrette in my long hair when I was little. By junior high, I had close-cropped feathered hair suitable for a boy. My high school perms, while atrocious, were at least period-appropriate and a vast improvement over the horror of junior high.
That's why I was surprised by a recent discussion in an online photography group. A photographer asked if anyone in the group still purchased their children's school portraits. She pointed out that she takes much better photos of her kids, so there was no point in buying the school ones.
This idea had never occurred to me, because it's contrary to all the things I hold dear about school portraits. Because they are tradition, we must participate. Each family must have a year-by-year catalog of each child in the same pose in front of the same backdrop. Why? Because it's what we do.
Furthermore, if my children only have flattering photos of themselves taken in just the right light and edited with love by their mother, how will they ever understand how weird they looked? I want them to appreciate the investment we've made in palette expanders and braces. When they become adults, I want them to feel attractive and celebrate the swans they've become. A few ugly duckling portraits in front of a faux autumn leaf backdrop will help.
With all this in mind, I happily sent my kids off for school picture day last week. My daughter let me me blow-dry her hair before she slept on it. My son agreed to wear a new striped T-shirt rather than a stained solid one.
My daughter chose a fancy red party dress from Christmas, but I'm sure that my son's glasses were all smudgy. That's who they were last week, and that's what will come home in the cellophane-fronted envelope in a few weeks--a traditional school picture showing who they were on that day in 2014--only with brushed hair and a clean shirt.
I can't wait to distribute them to the grandparents.