A picture’s worth a thousand bucks. Or maybe it just feels that way.

School pictures are a money minting scam. I should know better, but I fall for it every time. Twice a year. My son is in 10th grade. Have I learned? His latest pictures came yesterday. Does that answer your question?

The first round of pictures happens just as school starts. They say it’s for ID cards, but I think it’s because they know I’m already desensitized by the eighty-six other checks I end up writing in the first two weeks of September. Scribbling out those long amounts is exhausting. I end up voiding 2 or 3 checks before I’m finished.

I consider not getting them. You can’t find a package under $30 that doesn’t include a bunch of crap I really don’t need. What would my parents do without their customized key ring? And of course the refrigerator magnet. Oh wait, I have stainless appliances. Damn. Too late. At least we’re past the age where they send home tchotckie versions of his artwork that I have to pay for or reject and return without him somehow noticing.

When my son was younger, I used to dress him up for picture day. He would smile accordingly. They were nice pictures, but I couldn’t recognize him as my child. It was a picture of his doppelgänger from a tidy alternative universe. I finally gave up caring what he wore.

Ultimately, it was the right strategy. We now have a record of his favorite shirt at various points in his life. We caught his skateboarder-hip phase (it didn’t last long), his has-to-be-Under-Armor phase, and an endless parade of Red Sox jerseys. This year it was a grey Tarheels shirt that almost matches the background perfectly. If the shirt didn’t have a design, he’d look like a floating head in the middle of a grey pool of water.

He hasn’t grown into his face quite yet. His features are a blend of mine – rounded and soft, and his father’s – sharp and angular. It has traces of boy and man, flashing between one and the other dependent on your angle and focus, like a hologram that is one image, than another, with the blink of an eye. It is so perfectly him, a reflection of where he’s been and where he’s going, all in one plane.

I did make one concession this year. I paid for retouching. Usually, I don’t bother, but I remember the under-the-microscope feeling of scrutiny that comes at this age. He didn’t even have to ask. His skin is remarkably well-behaved, much more than mine ever was (or still is), but even the minimal retouching had a botox-like effect on his forehead.

He doesn’t like it.  He notices the odd perfection of his skin. “I look surprised, like, wow, my zits are gone. Actually, I look really confused.”

“And it looks just like you in real life.”

“Ha ha,” he replies. But I was only half kidding. What he doesn’t know is that I look at it several times a day and smile.

In retrospect, he’ll probably remember  me as surprised and confused most of the time as well. Only I won’t be airbrushed. Girl can always hope. Technology changes every day.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Juli © 2008 Creative Commons

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One comment on “A picture’s worth a thousand bucks. Or maybe it just feels that way.

  1. When the kids were little, I got every packet and sent pics to family like clockwork. Now I’m lucky to remember it’s picture day. I’m burnt out!

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