It arrives home every year right around this time. In the past I have, with zero thought, checked the appropriate box, written a check for the assigned amount and placed it in the backpack to be returned to the teacher the very next morning. This year, I have given it a place of honor (dubious as it may be) on the counter as a (constant) (and ignored) reminder as I move it to various spots, allow it to get stained and wet while resting (too) near the sink; all while remaining incomplete. No, this year is different…this year I have not quite been able to fill in the blanks of the school picture form.
Here is my general philosophy regarding school pictures: I will never sign my child up for a re-take, no matter how awful the picture may be. In my mind, the final result is the final result. It provides a snapshot (pun intended) of a moment in time and should remain exactly as it is taken: no re-takes, cropping or photoshopping allowed. One of my all-time favorite pictures is Harrison’s portrait from first grade. He left for school that morning with the requisite plaid button-down shirt (which was only worn for school pictures) and no signs of illness. Sometime between when he left my house and when the photographer said, “smile”, he contracted a vicious case of Fifth’s Disease. (For the uninformed, the tell-tale sign of this illness is a red, puffy face which appears to have been slapped repeatedly.) By the time we received the pictures back we had long since forgotten about his ailment and literally burst out laughing upon viewing the picture of him heroically tackling a smile while sporting a red, puffy face and, oh, yeah, a fever. Not the cutest, most iconic or highest quality image of him, it instead had a story behind it and is thus, by far, the most memorable of all his school pictures.
I have taken and shared hundreds (thousands!) of pictures of Jessie over the past year but this is somehow different. In a curious way, the school picture feels like a more permanent remnant of a child’s life than any other photo taken. It will live not only in my collection, but also in the archives of the school and in the homes of the other families for time immemorial. It may prompt further chatter among the families as a reminder of George’s transition to Jessie; which has, on the surface anyway, managed to morph into a reality with an almost eerie ease. And, if Jessie should, at any point, determine that she would prefer to go back to living as George, its presence in the book will be that much more stunning. True, it will serve as a perfect visual in my quest to capture “real moments”, but somehow that fails to make it any easier. File under: I just never know what is gonna trip me up these days.
Undoubtedly Jessie will primp for the occasion. She will look beautiful. When the final result finds its way home in several weeks, I will dutifully slide it into the next available page in the album which holds every school picture of the kids and muse over the apparent “sudden” change in the images. Years down the road it may be seen by my grandchildren and their grandchildren. Perhaps in those many years of cultural evolution it will be looked upon with nary a question as gender fluidity will be widely accepted and better understood. But right now (and here is where my brutal honesty surfaces) it is tripping me up.
I will fill it out this weekend. I will write the check for the amount due. And I will slip it into her backpack to return to school on Monday. But I think I am going to go against a certain ten-year old’s wishes and not sign up for the “Fashion Designer’s” package. Just cannot go there today.