School Picture Day & The Battle of the Backgrounds

Cowlicks, beware. It’s School Picture Day time.

Picture Day is that one day of the year when moms far and wide muster up the will to give a crap about what their kids are wearing to school.

One day a year we will squirt an entire bottle of “product” on last night’s bedhead. (It will fail). One day a year we will banish the Minecraft shirt and require plaid. One day a year we will attempt to put a high shine on this sad-sack bunch for the good of posterity.

In preparation, I always pore over the order form with the kids, analyzing all the weird choices available. And my children (without fail) will ask in great hopefulness: “Can I be in front of this beach this year?”


The beach. It’s where all the cool kids are.  (These photos are courtesy of Grynn and Barrett Photography. Is that the best name ever??)

Requests have also come in for the laser light show, the purple bubbles…you get the drift.


I am so amazing that the sky bursts forth with fireworks at my very presence! 


I also love the cool mountain stream look. Makes me want to pop open a cold one.

But every year my poor deprived children get the same answer with a great big laugh: “Oh no no, you’re confused, dear ones. We are straight-up GREY BACKGROUND people.”

Grey. Every single lifeless washed-out year. Forget your childlike desire to frolic in a rainbow. We remain forever grey.


Don’t even think about it, Frodo Baggins. Grey you are. Grey you ever shall be.

I guess it’s my desire to be “tasteful,” to present to the world (or at least the grandparents…who else really sees these things?) a unified blemish-free front, to not sink to such levels of tackiness as to let my children choose their own starry sky to stand in.

But it’s just dawned on me that I could be depriving us of one of life’s great belly laughs: the awkward family photo posed in front of something utterly ridiculous.

I have MANY. Most of them seem to take place in wooded areas.

Olan Mills

I just happened upon this split-log fence in my Polly Flinders dress. How serendipitous.


The wooded scene trend continues into the teen years. I’m not sure why my mother is not pictured, except that maybe she had the good sense to avoid being photographed with a wagon wheel.


This is my niece, who as late as the early ’90s also found herself in the woods, perched on this strange carpeted boulder.

These pictures are soooo stupid. But they make me laugh soooo hard. I mean, those “woods” aren’t fooling anybody. We are at Olan Mills. And we aren’t happy about it. But it was totally worth it.

If only I’d let Lucy wear her kitty sweater on “the beach,” what comedy gold we would have had in the family archives for years to come. In the name of tastefulness and decorum, I fear I have made all the wrong life choices.

Worse yet, by banishing my babes to a life of grey backgrounds, could it be that I am squelching my children’s inner light, their glittering personalities that want to shine, their inner astronaut who wants to float in a Lands’ End polo through the swirling Milky Way?

All I know is this girl is slumping in front of a bland taupe background in a bland taupe Forenza sweater, and she just doesn’t look happy.


It could have something to do with those bangs. And not having a date to prom.

But perhaps this girl’s heart yearns for the freedom and self-expression (and the hearty laugh 30 years from now) that only a backdrop of fake meadows and a big dumb wagon wheel can bring.

Next year, bring on The Beach. The Greys just might be ready to shake things up.

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