School Picture Day, big boots, rainbow vomit, and the two-sock compromise.

zara kids boots“Just don’t run on the playground today. You’ll break your ankles,” I heard someone’s elderly grandmother’s voice say only strangely, from my own lips.

Still, it was fair advice after sending my daughter off to school in new boots two sizes two big.

Thalia, we have to take them back and get a smaller size,” I said this morning as she cradled them in her arms. “I want you to be able to actually wear them this year.”

“But it will take too long!”

“It will take as much time as it takes to go to the counter.”

“But then I can’t wear them on picture day today. Oh please please please mom…I really want to keep them. Can I?”

“Tell me this. Honestly. If today were not picture day would you be asking to wear them?”


And so we came up with what I call the two-sock compromise, in which she would wear a double pair of socks. This also nipped a second challenge in the bud–her refusal to wear leggings or tights under her skirt on a 40-degree day because “it wouldn’t go with her outfit.”

It’s hard to fault her for that one; she’s my daughter.

School picture day is arguably one of the worst days of the school year for me. Tougher than parent-teacher night. Possibly even tougher than face-painting duty at the carnival, although not quite as traumatizing. At least I take comfort in the fact I’m not alone–all the schoolyard chatter this morning was about this kid insisting on wearing shorts, or that one refusing to wear anything but a stained t-shirt. Plus we were all running late. So there’s that.

I suggested to Sage that when she sits for her class class picture that she covers the milk stains on her dress (earned just this morning!) by putting her hands over them on her knees. Not holding my breath.

Let’s not even too far into the $650 photo package extortion that we are all forced to pay. (I do save $16 in refusing to retouch the photos at least.) Honestly, I don’t know one parent with a family that would require the acquisition of 42 wallet-size photos in the “family package.” Outside of Utah, of course.

I can count four, maybe five relatives tops who might feign interest to varying degrees. But unfortunately, there is no $12 option called “Just The Class Photo and A Couple Other Pictures Common Sense Package.” I may lobby for that next year.

In fact, checking off the package on that school photo form is one of those strange, surprising moments each year that makes me miss my grandmother terribly. Because I know that every school photo of every awkwardly smiling grandchild, stains and all, would be so proudly displayed on the refrigerator even as they accumulated year on end. When I think of running home with my own overpriced school picture package each year, the first one I used to cut out was always for Momsie.

I think of the chronology of school photos she’s missing; the gap-toothed smiles, the changing hairstyles, the sweet eyes that remain the same even while the rest of the photo starts to foreshadow the faces of young ladies leaving childhood behind. I think of how Momsie would ooh and ahh over each one. Shana punim! she’d exclaim over the phone. And then I can imagine the girls beaming with pride about a great-grandmother in whose mind they can do no wrong.

It hurts.

I can still picture  my own grade school pictures hanging on her refrigerator with letter magnets and clips: The overalls. The hair in messy ponytails. The mismatched barrettes. The hand-me-down boys’ camp sweatshirt from a family friend’s son I had a crush on in sixth grade. I realize my mother gave in to a lot of wardrobe opinions herself; or at least she picked her battles.

So that’s what I kept in my head as I took a deep breath and sent my girls out into the 40-degree morning wearing no tights, imperfectly brushed hair, too-big shoes, double socks, and the biggest smiles ever knowing that I agreed to let them select the butt-ugly photo backgrounds of their choice. And that includes Sage’s maniacal insistence of the multi-colored background that looks like a rainbow vomited all over her 3×5 glossy. It should be banned.

I told her that in twenty years, she’ll complain, “Mom! How could you let me pick that stupid rainbow background!”

But then I realized that it–all of it–would  just become part of the fabric of our own oral family history, and their own stories of class picture day memories.

Seems like a fair trade for too-big boots and goosebumps in mid-November.


30 thoughts on “School Picture Day, big boots, rainbow vomit, and the two-sock compromise.”

  1. This was my first year experiencing the joy of school photos. I sent 5 to family members, put one on the fridge, and now I have 24 extras that I have no idea what to do with. I bet Pinterest has a craft idea…

  2. I am there with Zoe, who is 10, wears a size 7 shoe but has the most narrow feet imaginable. Narrowest? Anyway, we bought boots recently because of an overnight school trip to collect and study filthy water (Oh, look, they’re just going near the Potomac) and I knew they were too big. And yet, we couldn’t find another pair that fit even remotely that well (too big as in around the ankle and calf but not length. Oh, no, not length.) Anyway again, school photos last week, yes, the boy showed me his maniacal smile and nothing in me believes that is not precisely how he smiled and no camera person was going to make him look more normal and there is no rainbow background option but someone please explain to me what in the absolute hell an exchange size is? It is under wallet but there’s no description and I don’t want to pay for thumbnails. –Signed by the woman just a few hours from you bare legged in 48 degrees because the only tights she could find this morning were the wrong shade of blue.

    1. If I remember correctly “exchange” is a small ~postage-stamp size, that kids can share with friends, smaller than “wallet.”

  3. I love the school photos. I don’t even know why, really. My children are well documented, and I even manage to get all their pictures dated and in albums, but there is something about that one portrait a year from school that looks definitive to me. I keep a set in my viola case of the wallet sized ones for each of my kids from their hospital photo on up and shuffling through them from time to time to see how they’ve grown just makes me smile.

    But I so relate to what you said about your grandmother. I always order an 8 x 10 of each kid’s photo to keep in a special box, and I used to order those for my grandmother, too, to put in a special set of frames each Christmas. It breaks my heart each year since she died to not include her on my list of relatives getting photos.

  4. Great, I was happier than a pig in mud sitting down to surf with my bag of salt and vinegar potato chips (baked and not the real thing, but eating them from the bag, alone…moan) and now it would seem that I have salt water springing from my eyes and a throat too tight to eat anything else.

    The eyes, you killed me with the eyes.

    1. Oh thank you Amanda. I still think of my mom editing a video as a 21st birthday gift to me in which they showed every class photo of me, fading the transitions from my eyes. Freaky and beautiful.

    1. It’s hyperbolic. I presume kids who really can’t afford it are in the class photo, but otherwise don’t get a package at all.

  5. This is my first year with both kids in elementary and I finally learned how to pay the least amount for those pictures! Since I mostly digitally share with people, the prints are limited to us and the grandmothers, so I got the smallest sheet size I could plus a low res digital download…and found an online coupon, so I paid less than $30 for the kids packages together!

    On the outfit front, we let them choose for themselves. It’s just not worth the battle. We insist that hair is combed, at least before they leave the house. I’m just glad the school wised up since my daughter was in Kinder, namely NOT letting the Kinders take pictures AFTER recess…in Texas…in the still like summer 90 degree heat. His hair mostly looked like it did when he left home. She…*sigh* fell victim to a completely awkwardly posed picture. But…at least she smiled…and her hair was brushed.

    1. I found out Sage’s teacher did a great thing: Sage had put her hair in a “side pony” (her new “thing”) and the teacher asked, did your mom say you could wear your hair that way for the pictures? If not, let’s take it down for now.

      Although honestly I’d probably have laughed if I’d see her sneak a whole new look in time for the picture session. I would be so very her.

  6. Liz, even in Utah, the photo counts are off the hook.

    I identify with this post as this was the first year that I was the Parent In Charge for my oldest’s picture day. She chose her outfit, but I feel like I let her down in the hair department. And I have the same pangs around my kids’ photos and their grandmother who passed away a few months back. That is a hard thing to realize, that the one people who asked for a school photo every year won’t be asking anymore. When we were cleaning her house, I had a stack of frames with photos of my girls. Brutal.

    1. I understand completely. I try to take solace in the fact that the pictures of the next generation are symbols of life going on. But yeah…brutal.

  7. Are you serious about the $650 package? I thought me paying $45 for 4 wallets, 1 5×7 and the digital files from my sons preschool was expensive. But ya, did it anyway.

  8. …and don’t even get me started on how they always seem to schedule pictures after gym class.

    One year our school actually scheduled picture day during spirit week….y’know, crazy hair day, literary character day, mismatch day. Fortunately, they rescheduled that.

  9. My brother one chose a background with palm trees for a portrait we had done of him in the winter. It’s now 30 years later and we laugh whenever we look at the photo of him in a heavy sweater in front of a scene with a beach and palm trees. I’m confident that rainbow background will make you laugh one day

  10. This year, I refused to buy the pictures because we HAD to pay for them upfront. I hate paying the ridiculous prices for the pictures…but no way was I paying before I even got to see if their eyes were open. Grrr… Now I realize I don’t have pictures for the grandparents for Christmas. Great… At least we get another chance in the spring. We have pay for anything other than the basic blue background…so that’s the only option in this house.

  11. This was my first year experiencing school photos, and I’m just glad we’re not at the arguing about outfits phase. I stared at the package options for what seemed like hours, trying to make the “right” choice. It was agonizing. I think I chose the cheapest one and threw in a CD so I could print on my own. And guess what? They’re all still sitting in their envelope. Because I am also the world’s worst photo distributor.

  12. I am so happy I stumbled across this blog. I can’t help but laugh my face off at every post I’ve read.

    Amazing. :’)

  13. Well, now they don’t even want me to order them and I would even if it were $650……now, I just hop on instagram and see everything I do and don’t want to see.

  14. My kids are in their 20s. I have stacks and stacks of wallet size photos. The photos run the gamut from adorable to hilarious. Love the idea of a “sensible” package, but then they wouldn’t make much money off those.

  15. Ah!! Picture day. Stained shirts. Messy hair. Dirty faces. And then we have to pay for those memories. The photographers really ought to send those pricey package details to the grandparents of the subjects and cut out the parental middlemen.-

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