Wednesday, September 17, 2014

School Pictures (and why I care so much)

Every year when I was growing up, there was a big build-up to School Picture Day.  What would we wear? How would our hair look? Would it be a good picture, or completely terrible? We'd wake up that morning and our mom would fuss over us, making sure that we looked as good as she could possibly manage, regardless of the haircut we'd chosen or the ridiculous style trends of the time.  She almost always vetoed t-shirts, and absolutely nothing with words on it. That was NOT acceptable. She would hairspray my hair (a big deal) and I would try to move as little as possible all day until the picture was taken. Then we'd wait weeks to see how we'd managed, and only if they were truly awful did we get retakes done. This was the only formal picture we had taken all year. Once every few years we might get a formal whole-family portrait done, but those instances were few and far between, and usually were only done when our church wanted to do a new directory. They were far too expensive to have done on a regular basis. Sure, we had plenty of informal pictures taken, and those showed our real personality. Those pictures were for the frames around the house, and for the photo albums. But each child had their own special binder full of school pictures, just for them. It was a chronological progression of cuteness to awkwardness to almost-adulthood, and upon graduation, we had them all displayed in a picture frame at the graduation party, a reminder of each of the years we'd studied and worked to get that point.

My grandfather enjoyed photography. My mother enjoys photography. I enjoy photography. It's a thing. It's a thing that we each grew up loving and doing as a hobby, though I have been able to turn it into a side business venture (currently on hold while I'm in graduate school). I have taken tens of thousands of pictures of my son over the last two years, and many of them have been worthy of framing. None, however, compare to the plain, dressed up, ridiculous-faced school pictures he's gotten taken at daycare. They don't compare, because there is no comparison. One style of pictures, to me, is NOT equal to another style of pictures. It's not that those photos are any better (more often they're worse) or more deserving of being framed. It's the tradition behind them. You're taken from your class to the picture chair or X on the floor. You're forced, under bright lights, to smile at a camera and a photographer you've never seen before. You wait for weeks to find out how they turned out, and more than likely wish you hadn't looked at them. It's a rite of passage.

This year, I bought Jasper a dress shirt just for his pictures. I carefully watched for the Picture Day announcement, and delightedly prepared him that morning. I took a back-up polo shirt to daycare and put it in his locker "just in case." I fully expected him to be scared or unhappy and take a terrible picture, and was actually looking forward to that a bit. That evening, sure enough, they said he'd cried for his pictures. Oh well, I thought. There are always retakes, and who knows? Maybe I'll just order some crying pictures anyway.  The next day, I sent him to school in a hand-me-down "I [heart] Mommy" t-shirt. That evening, when I picked him up, his teacher told me that they got him to smile really well that morning.  WHAT? Apparently, unlike every other year I've ever experienced school pictures, including his last two years of daycare, they had TWO days of pictures and because he'd cried for the first day, they took him down the second day to try to get a better one. No, they hadn't put him in the back-up polo shirt I'd left in his locker.

If you know me, you know that I try to be pretty care-free, but I get exceedingly controlling about some things. Pictures are one of those things. School pictures are one of those things. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. There was supposed to be a collared shirt, and I was supposed to know it was happening, and he wasn't supposed to be wearing a t-shirt, let alone one with words on it, let alone one insinuating that he preferred one parent over his other three! That's right. He has a Mommy, a Mama (me), a Daddy, and a Dada.  How could I give his dads an 8x10 for their wall of Jasper wearing a t-shirt saying "I [heart] Mommy"? I know I'd be annoyed if they had taken him to get pictures done when he visited them, and they handed me an 8x10 of him wearing a shirt saying "I [heart] Daddy". This coparenting thing is hard sometimes, but we try especially hard to be considerate of each other's feelings that way.

So I got Jasper's pictures back today. He sure did smile great in that t-shirt.  In fact, if he'd been wearing almost any other t-shirt, I would have probably said, "Meh, it'll be a funny story someday" and let it go without retakes. His smile was that great. But with everything combined (not being told about it, not using the back-up polo in his locker, having an I [heart] Mommy shirt) I kind of emotionally lost myself. I didn't cause a scene or anything, but I have been unable to concentrate on anything else. People think I'm overreacting, and maybe I am. But I know myself, and I know this would bother me every single time I thought about it, and every single time I went through his pictures. This isn't how School Pictures were supposed to go. It didn't happen the right way!

I recognize that I'm too controlling.  But that's who I am.  I am a controlling person, and sometimes about extremely minor things. Yes, I am able to see the Big Picture in life.  Does this picture matter in the long run? Does this matter to my son's health and happiness? No. In fact, he probably would be mortified to know that it's this big of a deal to me. Does my wife care about it? No. Do his dads care? I don't know, I haven't talked to them, but I suspect they'd feel it was annoying, but a silly mistake. That's the big picture. For someone with anxiety though, it's the little picture things that help us keep our shit together.  The house is a complete mess. That's okay, because I have organized my ebook folders, and I made order in this small way.  Laundry hasn't been done in forever. That's okay, because I know where all of my pairs of shoes are, and they are all in the same place.

You can't love me if you don't know me, and you can't know me without knowing that I must have control over a lot of the little things in my life to feel at peace.  School pictures are one of those little things.  It might seem silly or trivial to you, but to me they represent my childhood, and I have to get it right for Jasper's. He doesn't have to be smiling (I've got plenty of those), but they have to be done in the correct way. If you can recognize that this is important to me, and support me in my ridiculousness, then you probably love me a whole lot.

A friend told me today when I was complaining about this to her, "You don't have to explain. We all have things we think are important that others see as silly or trivial." That was the first sigh of relief I took all morning. I'm sure that she didn't really agree with or understand my feelings, but she let me know that it's okay to feel one way, when everyone else thinks you should probably feel another way. And that was exactly what I needed to hear.