School Picture Day For The Photogenically-Challenged


I don’t take good pictures.

I’ve always been told that I have a nice smile, but as soon as I sense a camera pointed in my direction, I turn all robotic. My mouth tenses, my eyes bug out and I end up looking as if I’m being poked in the butt. I’ve tried all the tricks, like tilting my head, turning my chin down, applying Vaseline to my teeth. Nothing works. 

I’m like Bigfoot – the only good photo on record is a blurry one taken from a distance when I didn’t expect it. 

My child tends to exhibit my special ability, but only when it counts. And today is Picture Day at her school. 

“Okay, smile!” I command her on our way out the door.

Cue the square mouth, clenched teeth, bug-eyed grin. She looks like a badger. A cute badger with a little beauty mark.

“Um, try to relax.”

Her face droops, her mouth and eyes leading the way. To my horror she even pulls her chin to her neck making her look as if she has a severe overbite.

“Okay, not that relaxed.”

She settles somewhere in between, which also isn’t pretty. But at least I’ll know what her mug shot will look like when she gets arrested at 3 a.m. in Hollywood after a 36-hour bender.

I give up and decide to focus my efforts elsewhere: her hair.

I have hair, but I know very little about hair styling. I do know that a portrait with our usual go-to ponytail will make Ava look hairless. So I try a side ponytail to the left. Then to the right. Then I scrap it and go for some hair pulled up with a bow.  We drive to school and I stare at her in the rearview mirror wondering what the hell was I thinking.

I know it’s just a picture. I know she’s only five. But I also know those dumb headshots float around in overstuffed drawers mixed with phonebooks, cap-less pens and foreign coins for years until one day you become famous and your one-time friend from sixth grade pulls out the class photo of you in a tie-dyed cat sweater, pink-foil lipstick and braces – which also happens to be the only proof that you once sported a perm – and sells it to E! for $1.2 million.

Who’s the crazy mom now, huh?

I adjust her collar, slick her eyebrows with spit, remind her to “be relaxed, just not too relaxed,” and send her own her way. She bops happily along – oblivious to the fact that I want to chase her down and try hog-tying her into some pigtails. But it’s too late. My “Mommy Dearest” opportunity has passed. Now it’s up to the guy behind the counter, whom I’ll later learn had my child pose like a pinup and give a “sparkle smile!”

After school, she shows me her “sparkle smile.” It doesn’t sparkle. It doesn’t even flicker. A perfect combination of relaxed, but not too relaxed. It’s a straight-mouthed, deadpan look well suited for any terminator.

Oh well… I’ll be back.



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