A Father's Journal / Haunted by the giraffe shirt and other ghosts of school photos past
Updated 6:00 pm, Sunday, August 11, 2013
My parents were cheap. They had to be. They had nine kids.
The only year they bought school pictures was the year my older sister and I wore the same shirt in our photos.
I had been in elementary school, my sister in middle school that year. A few weeks ago, we debated how it happened that we both wore the same shirt.
I was a cute kid in elementary school. But I was a big kid. I was very cute but very big. I could pull both off, though. I had an adorable purple-giraffe shirt that I think my aunt had sent to me (I was obviously her favorite). I went to school on picture day wearing my favorite shirt, and I thought if I were especially cute, maybe this would be the year that my parents would buy our school pictures. I thought the giraffe shirt would put them over the top.
A week after I wowed the photographers with my giraffe shirt, my sister -- unbeknownst to me -- thought it was cute and wore it when the photographers visited her school.
My sister's version
A week after I wore my favorite giraffe shirt for picture day, my creepy little cross-dressing brother wore it to school. It was the only year my parents bought school pictures, and my dad put them up on his office wall. For years, everyone would ask why we had the same shirt on. It still gets me angry.
Then and now
Growing up, picture day was always tough. I had to work on my hair to make it stay down. It never did. I always had horrible hair, too thick and unmanageable, and then in the blink of an eye it was too thin and unmanageable.
In those days of slow photo processing, it took six months for you to find out your hair was horrible and you were wearing women's clothing. But my wife and I vowed we would make it different for our two daughters. Picture day would be a glorious day for all of us.
The first picture day surprised us. Caroline was in preschool. She was maybe 3. We got a note from the preschool that one of the parents had taken a "Professional Portrait" of each child and had printed them. They would be available for sale in the lobby as a fundraiser for the school.
We paid it little attention, until one day, I picked up Caroline and walked by an entire wall filled with the giant portraits matted and framed -- for $225 each. I found Caroline's photo -- top row, dead center -- but she didn't look fantastic. She was squinting. My wife and I casually talked about it, deciding we would not buy it.
After a week, a few photos disappeared; some parents were buying them. The next week passed, and more disappeared. We started to get uncomfortable. Would our child's photo be the last one on the wall? We talked to two other families, neither of whom were planning to buy their kids' pictures. One had a kid with a bowl haircut; I could see why they didn't want to buy it. The others were our good friends, the Souzas. We car-pooled together. They didn't want to buy theirs, either.
So we had a pact, a triple alliance. Just like the beginning of World War II. After two more weeks passed, our three kids were the only ones left on the wall, and my wife started calling it the "wall of shame."
My daughter asked why her picture was one of the last ones left. "Because you are the most special kid here, your picture will hang on this wall long after you go to elementary school. Your grandkids will see this picture."
After another week, the bowl-haircut parents caved in an picked up their $225 picture. The Souzas and we stood alone.
Until the next Monday. That day, we noticed the Souza photo was gone. How did they pick it up? We drove their kid on Friday. Did it fall behind something? We had a pact!
We called the Souzas. They said they had decided that it wasn't that bad a picture after all. Et tu, Brute?
We held out for over a week. Caroline's solo portrait squinted at passersby. Everyone wondered aloud what cheap parents she had. They wouldn't buy her photo, and they wouldn't buy her glasses.
We finally caved. We got there early, left a check in the office and tried to sneak out. Some other parents were there early, and I thought I could hear them mock me. As I got in the car, I swear one of them muttered, "Cheap cross-dresser!"
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.