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.

3 comments:

Dave said...

I remember one particular school photo in grade school where I was forced to wear my cub scout uniform. The pinnacle of embarrassing. I can remember even then being highly upset about the whole thing.

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