Tuesday, September 29, 2009

School Picture Day

This, for me, is one of the worst days of the year.

First off, all the pressure. Do you have a good enough outfit? Yes? Okay, cool. No? Thus we enter into shopping for an outfit explicitly for a one day event. Usually this entails something fancier than The Littlest Critic wears nine days out of ten, some kind of very girlie dress. While TLC loves herself some pink, her little pink shirts are almost always shortly after covered in dirt and paint and any other manner of crud. I've seen her sit in a pretty pink and purple flowered skirt, sit right in the middle of where we had an enormous stump ground out of our backyard, sit in the dirt and tiny bits of ground-up tree and dig and dig and dig, covering herself in filth.

So there's that.

Then there's the hair issue. Like her mother, TLC has contradictory hair. It is very, very fine, a spun coppery golden, but it also very, very thick. The Wife can go to bed with a wet head of hair, sleep nine hours, and wake up with it still damp. Her stylist always has to block out an extra half hour for hair drying.TLC has that hair. Put a curl in it with curlers or a curling iron, and it will fall out in a couple hours. Oh, how The Wife suffered through the 80s, never getting a perm to last. Yeah, TLC has hair that has a mind of its own (on a head that most definitely has a mind of its own, which is both gratifying when you take the long-term view and immensely frustrating when all you want is for her to sit still, eat her food, and can the sass).

What do you do with such hair? Well, if you're like me, you throw up your hands in absolute exasperation. Typically, TLC and I settle for the pony tail because it's really my forte. At my best, I can pull off pig tails. Braids? It is to laugh. Our morning hair routine is: I brush TLC's nighttime tangles out. Done.

So, last night, with the assistance of one of her students, The Wife put TLC's hair into a French braid, a process to me akin to constructing a geodesic dome or circuit board, waaaaaay beyond my abilities, almost like magic. TLC slept with this French braid in on the theory that it would impart a bit more wave and curl to the hair in the morning, having done so once before. It more or less did today too.

Where I come in: finger brush out the worst of the surface frizz, maybe apply a pick to the top of her head to even things out, bring some semblance of order and maintenance right near her face, then put in two purple clips. That's all.

Wanna guess how long that took?

Twenty minutes.

I don't say any of this to do that "oh I'm such an oaf with girlie things" racket common to fathers who just want to get out of parenting duties. I've got a whole stack of things waiting for me to get out the sewing kit and stitch, we do stuffed animal tea parties all the time, and I can apply a decent enough bit of nail polish (ten colors, one for each finger, naturally). I spent four years at home with TLC; I can do girlie, no trouble.

But this hair business. Ridiculous. It's like you put a head of hair in front of me and I have spatulas for fingers. My own hair routine is wash, condition, brush, mess up with my fingers, let air dry. That's it. No muss, no fuss. When I go to the stylist, I explicitly tell them, don't bother with any style that's going to require hair product or attention. I can't do it.

So I get the hair detail on picture day, the involved hair detail, because The Wife has already left for work. We make it, it's good, and we're off to school. Of course, it's raining, so we have to drive instead of walk, then I have to walk her to the door under an umbrella, lest the rain mess up all my labors.

And what is picture day anyway? Some ridiculous left over relic from the days when having a camera was a rarity and having your picture taken some fantastic treat.

In those pre-digitial (pre-Polaroid even) days, when taking a picture meant getting dressed up for a special event like Christmas or your birthday, when you hand inserted film into a camera, hand cranked the film, rotated your flash cube (or changed the bulb in your big ass clunky attachment), worked your way through a whole roll of film in about a month, then took it to a store where you waited a week for the pictures to be shipped out of town to a developer then shipped back, and you picked up an envelope of twelve tiny little prints with white borders and a little sleeve of negatives, well, folks, in those days, picture day was an important day in the school year.

It was the day for which you saved up your best shirt (if you went to a school with uniforms, as I did in elementary school). It was the day you went and got a haircut the week prior, so as to look your best. Picture day was someone else, under professional lighting conditions, taking a good or at least decent picture of your child, that you would immediately frame and put on the piano or the mantle. Pictures that you'd frame and mail off to far away grandparents or give as presents (!) to relatives.

Kids swapped real, actual printed out photos if you got wallets, and you took one of the wallets and you put it in the school-bus-shaped frame that had one wallet-sized picture of you for each school year, each picture looking out of a window like some freaky time-lapse bus ride.

Picture day was a big deal because actual pictures were a rarity.

Can anyone even remotely say that pictures are a rarity anymore? In the ubiquitous digital age, my six-and-a-half-year old daughter already has more pictures in existence of her than I had taken of me in the entirety of my thirty-seven years.

No, picture day is a racket, a holdover, a hanger-on that just won't die because people are married to convention and trapped in tradition. The only good thing coming out of picture day is the group shot of the entire class -- because that's a hard one to get.

Plus, the racket kills me. You fill out the form, you buy the pictures under this pressurized idea that if you DON'T get your kid's picture, Grandma will be mad. The relatives will want to know why. You'll have to explain how the whole thing is a racket and a scam and everyone will cluck at you that it's only once a year and it's The School Portrait . How can you be so cynical?

Worse yet, you get a form two weeks before picture day, laying out these ridiculous packages, none of which actually sell you what you want in a form you want it, all of it overpriced, with the option of slapping on even more over-priced add-ons. Tchotchkes and doodads like keychains and water bottles with your kid's picture on them? Ten dollars for that water bottle? What? Are you kidding me? Another ten dollars for four 3 x5's? Are you out of your mind?

And, you're paying ahead of time. You're actually buying a set of photos you haven't seen with no option of saying no, no asking for a refund. Sure, sometimes schools have retake day for the kids who were sick or the kids who fell on their faces two days before and have giant scrapes across their cheeks, but you still pay ahead for a product you won't get to see until it's too late.

Here in Ohio, we have Ohio School Pictures, a monopoly racket that every school everywhere under the Buckeye banner uses. And they're terrible. Mostly hack jerks with no sense of how to frame a picture, who don't listen to the models about which way they should face so they're most comfortable. You get a product in which all the vibrancy of that special, colorful outfit you ran out and bought gets washed out and flattened and diminished, and half the time your kid is making some pathetic attempt at a smile that the hack couldn't coax right and the big school day photo is a bust.

An overpriced, washed out, substandard, have-to-do-it, junk photo that'd be better stuck in a drawer and forgotten about. At least when you go to a studio nowadays, they take several photos and you get to pick from the ones you like, then you construct a package you're satisfied with. Not the school picture, oh no. At the very best, you get two photos you can choose from, take it or leave it.

I can get a thousand better pictures of my daughter with a point-and-shoot digital camera and I can get them every single day and the cost is nothing. I could even get her to stand in front of one of those cornball backgrounds like they use, sit on a box, smile pretty, and get a better picture, one after another after another.

School photo day is worse than a sham tradition. It's a racket sham tradition, foisted and maintained by the very people who profit most from it, the lumbering dinosaurs of professional portrait studios. Do us all a favor, my readers, resist. Resist and kill this stupid waste of time and money.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Two Shorts


I was at work a couple weeks ago when my phone rang, an unfamiliar number. Usually I let those go to voice mail, but this time I decided to pick it up on a whim.

"Hello, this is the school nurse calling."

"Hello," I answered with mixed feelings. If The Littlest Critic was sick, that would be bad; but if I had to leave work to go get her, that would be good.

"I'm calling because your daughter has been involved in an incident at school."

There's something about certain vague statements that just suck the wind right out of your whole body, leaving you a tremulous husk. What did she mean involved in an incident? A fight? A shooting? An errant light fixture plummeted from the ceiling during gym class?

In my suddenly nervous silence, the nurse went on: "Apparently, she was sitting at lunch with a little boy and the little boy didn't like what she was saying obviously and he grabbed her by the arm and he scratched her arm and her hand and left rather big welts."

Is that all? I thought.

"Did it break the skin?" I asked.

"No, but it was quite red. She was very brave about it, she didn't cry but it looked like she wanted to."

"Oh, hmm. Is she all right now?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, she's fine. We iced her wounds and she went back to class, but I just wanted to call you and let you know that there had been an incident and your daughter is fine now."

"Oh, do you know who the little boy was?" I had my own theories about this, a short list of names.

"Um, no, I don't think," the sound of rustling papers, "I don't think I have that right here."

"So, why did he scratch my daughter?"

"You know, I'm not really sure. She said something and he didn't like it and so he scratched her. And he's been suspended from school. He isn't in the building anymore and he won't be in tomorrow."

Suspended? In kindergarten? For scratching someone? That seemed a little harsh, and this was coming from the man who knocked a three year old to the ground for trying to choke TLC when she was around 14 months.

"Oh. Okay." I didn't quite know how to follow that up, so I asked again, "Do you know who the boy is?"

"Yes, let me see. I think we have it somewhere written down. Let me put you on hold."

Click. Disconnect.

Huh. Well, that was odd. I wasn't really bothered by the disconnect. The name would come out tonight.

Cut to later that night, Critical Daddy is home sitting at the dinner table with The Littlest Critic.

"So," I begin, opting for the overly casual tone of a father about to ask leading questions of his child, "tell me what happened at school today. How'd you end up at the nurse's station?"

"I went there," was TLC's answer as she shoveled fruit into her mouth.

"Let me see your arm."

The proffered arm was nearly spotless. I turned her wrist over in my hand, then took her other arm and looked at it. If there was a sign of this assault that got a kid suspended, I sure couldn't see it.

"So tell me why you went there."

"I got scratched." TLC then scooted out of her seat and ran around the dinner table making "kooky noises" and being silly. After much demanding, followed by some pleading, some berating, and lastly some threatening, The Wife and I were able to get her to return to her seat.

"Well, I know that," I continued, picking up where I left off. "Now I want to know the story of what happened."

"I was in lunch and I was talking with Jeremy and Christian and then I did this." TLC flashed me the Peace Sign. "And Christian didn't like that so he got mad and he grabbed my arm and he did this," and she gripped her own arm and ran her fingers down it, not quite scratching herself.

"And that's it?" I asked, surprised. "That's the whole incident?"

"Uh huh. I did this," she flashed the V again, "and he scratched me and I went to the nurse."

"Did it really hurt?" I asked. She nodded with wide eyes.

"It really did, Daddy."

Okay then. I guess the moral of the story here is talking peace with that Christian is just bound to end badly.


Tonight, in the middle of story time, The Littlest Critic calls out from the bed where she and her mother are reading Matilda: "I need a drink."

"Well, since I'm already upstairs, I'll just get you some sink water from the bathroom."

TLC stuck out her tongue. "Yuck, sink water is the grossest. Refrigerator water is the awesome awesome awesome."

"Well, you'll get sink water because I'm upstairs already, because I don't want to go downstairs. If you want cold refrigerator water, you can go downstairs and get it yourself."

"I can't, because I'm too little."

"Well, then you get sink water."

"I don't want sink water."

"Then go downstairs and get cold water yourself."

"I can't. I'm being snuggled by the perfect mama and you're our servant."

I gave up after that. What can you say in the face of such obnoxious cuteness?

Just call me Jeeves.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Been a While Since I Wrote

But the end of the school year is always a frought time, even if you're not a teacher.

But I promise some summer hijinx will be posted shortly, no doubt.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We'll Hear a Play

At bath time lately, for reasons I do not know, The Littlest Critic has taken to asking for "a play."

This means telling some outlandish story as I sit on the toilet (not using it, don't be ridiculous; I mean on the lid). The stars of these particular theatricals are her stuffed animals and all rules are off. Elephants are married to bunnies and have puppies as children. Whatever. I used to do something similar with three hippo toys she had for the tub (Cloris, Doris, and Delores), but that eventually grew old.

At any rate, Monday night after dinner, The Wife and I were watching the Mel Gibson Hamlet, which is awesome, haters, completely awesome. TLC was about in the room, not really paying attention. She played some piano, she read from one of her books, put together some of her word magnets on a little plastic-coated metallic book, and she got off the couch and on the couch and off the couch and on the couch, etc. I tried pointing out parts of the story to her, but she didn't seem all that interested.

A few parts she did find interesting, but at one point she turned to The Wife and said, "Mama, I can't understand what they're saying." The Wife explained old forms of language. Fine.

The not so melancholy Dane.

Bath time comes later that night. In a fit of inspiration (or in a lack), I decided I would tell her the story of Hamlet completely. And so, with a huge cast of stuffed animals, I told the story from beginning to end, though I started with the poisoning of The King in a sort of prologue. I did the spurning and death of Ophelia, the stabbing of Polonius, the poisoning plot at the end, and I killed off all her animals save for a black cat, Horatio.

"Is that the whole story?" she asked me.

"Yes it is," I answered.

"The real whole story?" she asked again. I thought maybe she figured I was making it up.

(Sometimes when I'm reading to her at night and I think she's not paying attention, I add insane details to the story like "and then Peter Rabbit heard a rustling in the bushes. Out came an alligator who promptly gobbled up the little rabbit and Peter was never heard of again. The end." Some books have such ludicrous plot developments though that even when I'm reading 'em straight, she asks me if what I've just read is real.)

"Yes," I repeated, "that's the whole real story."

"You forgot something," she admonished with a smile.

"Yeah? What's that?"

"The play."

"The play? I just did the whole play."

"No, the play they watch on the stage. The one with the poison in the ear."

Caught. I had left out the play-within-a-play. She totally busted me like some kind of pint-sized theater critic chastising me for leaving out her favorite scene. Edit a text at your peril.

This kid just makes me love her more and more every day.

Of course, I left out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern too, but luckily she let that part slide.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lovin It!

On our way to school this morning. The Littlest Critic was bookin it, man!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Six Years Ago

I was awake at 3am, more alive than I've ever been in my life. Six years ago today I fell completely and totally in love with the funniest kid in the whole wide world.

Child development specialists explain that babies coo at around four weeks and laugh anywhere between two and six months of age.

That morning, fresh from her mom, after being scrubbed clean and put under a heat lamp, The Littlest Critic not only cooed, but she laughed. I didn't mishear her because The Wife heard it too and she did it more than once. Even a nurse commented. She entered the world with this crazy afro of bright coppery red curls to the astonishment of her two brunette parents and she must have thought it was hilarious to see our astonished faces.

There are some kids that aren't funny, but luckily I didn't get one of those. My life has been so amazing ever since I met this kid. Day for day she has given me more smiles and more laughs than anyone in the history of ever.

She has always been my happy baby, ever since that day. Six years already. Six years of making me laugh, of being attacked by the tickle monster in a game we call Tickle Tack, six years of running and jumping and growing, six years of reading stories (Moby Dick when she wasn't even a year old!), six years of playgrounds and zoos and vacations and wading pools and haircuts and just everything you can pack into life.

Six years old and she's losing her baby teeth and becoming a big girl now.

And she doesn't know it yet, but today she's getting her big girl bicycle. And I think she's going to laugh and love it.

I love you, little monkey of mine. Happy Birthday!