The Eye Opening Wonder of Picture Day

fictionI was going to put on my makeup and costume today and record the next few episodes of my YouTube show. Which is going quite well, by the way. If you haven’t seen any of it yet, you totally need to do that. (Gandersnitch’s YouTube Channel)

Of course, the operative word in that first sentence is: WAS

Which leads you to believe that I am no longer planning to do that. You would be correct.

First of all, the makeup really is a pain to put on. It will take me 45 minutes to get dressed, an hour to film, and another hour to get everything off and cleaned up. But I can do all that, and had planned to do all that, until I went to the grocery store this morning.

There I met a nice young lady who reminded me of a story I had started that is now stalled out and unfinished on my google drive. It is stalled because I was not sure I could do justice to the central character in the story, a young lady in a mental ward. I am positive I can totally nail it now. Thank you, sweet crazy birthday lady.

I also got a message from my sister, as I was walking out of the store, asking how to cope with a particularly troublesome morning with her young son. This in turn reminded me of a blog post I have been attempting to write for over a week now. Attempting to write, as in thinking about sitting down at the keyboard and typing some words but never actually making it this far.

Something I have learned as a semi-regular writer who aspires to be a full time author: when inspiration hits, sometimes you just have to drop everything and run with it.

So today I am going to tell you about Picture Day.

My wife had laid out the kids clothes the night before, and had most likely been late to work to help my daughter with her hair. My daughter has trouble even brushing her hair, so she definitely needed more assistance than I could give in this regard.

My son, as usual, declared he wasn’t going. I informed him that he would look mighty silly in just pajama pants for his picture, but as long as I sent him to school with pants, shoes and gloves that I was pretty sure I would not be sent to jail for child neglect.

He begrudgingly got up, got dressed, and shuffled down the stairs to where his sister sat at the table, almost perfectly still, doing her best not to mess up her hair.

“What happened to your head?” she asked, innocently enough. Which means she was trying to provoke a reaction yet still have a ironclad alibi when accused of instigating a fight.

“Nothing! My head is find!” my son shouted back.

I came in from the kitchen with lunches made and waffles for the boy, sans syrup as I wasn’t about to deal with that mess this morning, and somehow managed not to laugh. My son had rooster hair. It was sticking up in every direction.

“It’s ok. We just need to brush your hair.” I said.

“No! You brush it too hard. Mommy will have to brush it.”

I was about to remind him that she was already at work, but I let it go. I was volunteering at the school for picture day, and needed to make sure I looked less like a scary homeless guy than I usually do on a non-retail winter’s day. Especially, if I was going to be around kids for several hours. I shaved, tried to find less rumpled clothes, and came back down stairs to get them in the truck and off to school.

“I’m still eating!” my daughter declared. She had been working on the same bowl of cereal for half an hour now.

“Too bad. Bring it with you. We can’t be late.” Curious, that phrase, because we totally could be late. The world would not end if we were late. It happens. We are sometimes late. But as adults, at least for me, there is something about being late that makes it a crime akin to losing a limb. Lateness is a terrible terrible thing.

“Wait!” my son screamed. “I need to brush my hair.”

So we went upstairs, that dreaded moment of lateness creeping ever closer and closer, while my son carefully patted his head with a brush. I snatched it from his hand and ran it through his hair. He didn’t freak out, for once, as I was careful; way more gentle than I am with my own scalp. We got most of the hair down, but not all of it. There was one cow lick that would not obey.

“We need to put some gel on it.” I said, reasonably.

“No!” my son screamed, as if I had just suggested we shave it all off.

“Ok. Some water then. Look kid, your hair is standing up. You can’t go to picture day like this.”

“NO WATER!” my son declared. I threw the brush down and walked out of the bathroom.

“Fine. I am leaving…” I reached the bottom of the stairs, “WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”

My daughter, knowing it was cold outside, had just pulled a knit winter cap over her hair. The hair that my wife had spent her morning on. The hair that my daughter had been so careful not to mess up.

“You always say we have to wear a hat if it is cold outside…”


“Oh… I forgot. I am sorry!” my daughter yanked her hat off and looked truly ashamed of her actions.

“Whatever!” I grumphed, “You will both have messy hair on picture day. Why not? You have messy hair every other day. Let’s go! We are going to be late.”

I had hit my morning limit. I was stressed out, we were running behind, and my kids simply did not grasp the pressure that is picture day. They were supposed to look presentable. They were supposed to have smiles, and be well dressed, and properly groomed. What would the grandparents think?

We got into the car. I drove to school. And by some miracle of the space time continuum, we were not late. I gave my kids a hug and said, “You  look great. Don’t worry about your hair. Have a great day!”

I lied. Not about the great day, but about the hair.

It bugged me that I had screwed up in getting them ready. It bothered me that I had yelled at my kids. But I did not want them stressing out about it all day. So I lied. It is one of those parenting tricks you pick up. The truth is highly over-rated, at least when it comes to making sure your kids aren’t troubled by the things that seem to get to us adults. Schedules, money, pictures for Grandma. Of course, not freaking out in the morning at them would have probably gone a bit further than the lie told to cover it up after the fact.

In case it has not been said enough before, I don’t consider myself to be an amazing parent.

I get distracted, caught up in projects that leave my kids watching the same movie on repeat for 8 hours in a day. I yell, not often and not really in anger, but I do yell when I get frustrated. Heck, I get frustrated easily. Unreasonably so, most of the time. I am not a granola parent. I don’t hover, I don’t coddle, and a lot of the time I even forget to simply let them be kids. In a room full of other parents, I feel like the odd one out… Of course, the other parents are usually a bunch of moms at a PTO meeting, and here I am the clueless dad.

So I get to the gym, where we are supposed to be, and there is another dad there. He is really concerned about his kid’s pictures. “Do any of you have some makeup?” he asks.

Truth be told, I have lots of makeup. But I did not bring it with me and I doubt he wants his kid to be painted copper. So I stay quiet.

“Just like some foundation.” he says. “My boy has a blemish on his face and he did not want it to show up in the pictures today. I didn’t have anything at home. I don’t care if he wears makeup, so long as he is not worried about the pictures. I had to look up how to do my daughter’s hair on the internet. So if you see her and I screwed it all up, can someone fix it, please?”

I don’t know where the mother is in this situation. I don’t ask. It is none of my business. I don’t even know who his kids are. The ladies with me don’t have any makeup, so I step in to try and put the father at ease. Here is a father trying to do right by his kids. Here is another dad, worrying about their day, albeit one who probably did not freak out over his kid’s hair this morning.

“You know, the lights have a way of washing little things like that out anyways. I am sure it will be ok.” I give a desperate glance to the lead photographer.

“Oh yeah!” she pipes up. “Besides, if we see a problem, we will just have the kid turn the other way. Don’t worry. We will make sure they look great in the pictures.”

The father left, satisfied and reassured. I was in work mode now, the tribulations of the morning already behind me. Efficiency and professionalism moving to the front of my brain automatically. There was no room for questioning my parental tactics or worrying about the grandparents.

The kids started to come in, all lined up with pose and background requests in hand.

Some were dressed to the nines. Some were not. Some had their hair done up in ribbons and bows. Some had probably not bathed in days. One kid had a huge gash on the side of his face, and true to her word the photographer had him turn to the side so it would not be memorialized.

One kid had toothpaste stains all over his shirt, and my first impulse was to be disappointed. I was pretty sure the lights would not make that disappear. Then my fatherhood circuit kicked in and I corrected my brain to, “Hey! At least he is making an effort to have clean teeth…”

My daughter’s hair looked fine, not that I had any time to worry about it. I was busy keeping the kids in line and making sure they all had their name cards to give to the photographer. Then trekking down the hall to get the next class. We had to be all wrapped up by the time PE classes started.

My son, well his hair was still sticking up. But he had buttoned up his blue flannel over his t-shirt and had one of the biggest smiles on his face I had ever seen.

All the kids had smiles. They didn’t care what they were wearing. They didn’t care what their hair was like. They didn’t care that most of them had just come in from outside recesses. They were all absolutely thrilled just to be getting their picture taken.

They weren’t dragged down by the stresses, and the details, and the expectations we carry with us as adults. They were kids. They were excited. They were having fun.

Except one little boy. He was worried. He had not been at school the day before, and did not know that today was picture day. His hair was messed up, he may have been wearing the same shirt he slept in, and he looked like he was about to cry.

“I didn’t know!” he whispered. “I didn’t know it was picture day. What if my mom doesn’t like the pictures? I didn’t dress up like everybody else. I didn’t know.”

“Kid… don’t worry. Just give it your biggest smile, and I promise you that your mom will love the pictures. Besides, there is always make-up day.”

I don’t even know if they are having a make-up day. Probably not, but hey, you say what you have to say to ease the mind of a child. He smiled, stood up straighter and walked to the camera.

I am sure his mom will love the pictures. I am sure all the moms will love the pictures. The messy hair ones, the prim and proper ones, the cheek turned to the side ones. Whatever. I am sure they will all love it, because this is their child, captured in a moment in time. Carefree, happy, and smiling. Still innocent and young, before the fear of lateness starts to creep in.

The kids don’t care. They just want to be kids. It is the parents that are the ones who tend to stress out. We forget what it is like. We forget what is important.

So when my sister messaged me this morning, asking for my parental insight about the screaming meltdown of her son on his way to preschool today, thanks to picture day, this was my response:

“He will be fine. You just have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and move on. Kids throw fits. Try to look at it from his point. Something was bothering him and he just doesn’t have the maturity to explain/deal with it yet. Bad days happen, Pick up the pieces, don’t dwell, and move on with your day. Oh, and make sure to give him a big hug when you pick him up.”

It isn’t about looking perfect. It isn’t about having a 60s TV show morning. It is about doing something different. It is about being a kid, smiling big, and having a blast.

Picture day should be every day!

Only, not tomorrow. I really do have to put the makeup on at some point this week…

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