Picture Day is an act of faith. I mean, even more than the usual act of faith that is bundling your children out into the world, delivering them into the hands of strangers to have their minds and bodies nourished in the company of their peers. But there’s a certain divine grace about Picture Day.
Maybe it’s in the frantic warnings of the parents, different than every other morning, as the kids clatter toward the door. There are the usual questions — “Do you have your homework? Your lunch money?” And of course, there are admonitions — “Be good. Don’t cause trouble at the bus stop. No swordfighting with your recorder in music today, okay?” But today, there are pleas, urgings, prayers almost — “Look, just try to stay tidy until your picture. Please make sure your breakfast goes in your mouth. No splashing in the sinks. Whatever you do, don’t play in the dirt until afternoon recess.” They stop, nod more solemnly than they usually do; none of the usual eye rolling. Your kids understand, for one rare moment, that your happiness rises and falls on their ability to follow directions, once they’re beyond your control.
Or maybe it’s in the lines of kids standing against the gymnasium walls, nervously awaiting their turn before the camera. They’re not in their Sunday best, usually — that would be too conservative — though a few boys are buttoned and knotted into miniature Brooks Brothers shirts and ties, oddly serious as if rehearsing some stifling notion of adulthood. No, most kids are in their peacock finery: their brightest, trendiest clothes, little hipsters who will leave not only the stamp of “THIS IS ME” on their pictures, but a clear declaration of “THIS IS NOW.” The girls, especially, no matter how young, have special permission today to embrace the sparkly, the dangly, the poofy. Hair is teased and curled, contraband lip gloss gleams in the fluorescent light. They, too, are rehearsing for adulthood, but it’s not stifling. It’s exciting, and they are lined up, clutching their picture orders like tickets to get on the biggest, best ferris wheel in the world.
It might be in the careful eyes and hands of the adults who guide the process. They’re intercessories for every parent who can’t be there in person: the teachers, even more so today than every other day; the PTO volunteers standing by with tissues and combs; and the photographers themselves. They stand guard to avert disaster in those last critical moments. They advise on questions of monumental importance: top button buttoned? hair over the shoulder? glasses on or off? They tame cowlicks and smudges with beneficent hands. It is holy work, to make a child feel beautiful, to want to smile.
Ultimately, that’s what makes Picture Day an act of faith. Each child, exactly as they are — that day, that moment — sits, smiles, and is recorded. Whether they buy photos or not, they are worth the dignity of a photo, so they will be in the class picture. For that one second, no matter what awaits them back in the classroom, or back at home, they have something to smile for. It’s a message to their friends, and their future selves. It says, “Remember me, just like this.” And if you look at them that way, no class picture can be anything but beautiful.
What are your Picture Day memories?