It’s school picture time, which means I now have an envelope full of assorted-sized photos of my daughter, and need to decide which family members will want which size, if any, to remember this 4-year-old version of her. She goes to the same preschool as last year, and they used the same photographer, which means the background and lighting are identical to the 3-year-old version of her already gracing their walls and bookshelves. The only notable differences this year are a slightly less babyish face, and that her pruny thumb (freshly tugged from her mouth) isn’t in the photo this time.
The class picture is another story. 30 smiling children appear to be sitting obediently for this precious moment to be captured. The photographer did a great job. I know, because I was there, and watched the teachers scrambling to assemble the herd of 4-year-olds into neat rows. How the photographer managed to get even one good photo of them, everyone’s eyes open, smiles on every face, no pushing or shoving caught on film, is amazing. My daughter may be beaming the brightest in the picture, a drastic shift from her tearful disposition moments before. Something about the camera and lights frightened her, and she wanted nothing to do with this picture business. I just about had her convinced that it would be fine, when her preschool teacher looked at her and asked, “Would you feel better if your mom was in the picture with us?” Was there any chance she’d say no?
So it’s a nice picture, of those 30 grinning kids, their 3 dedicated, patient teachers, and me, holding my oldest daughter, with my youngest one (who doesn’t even attend this school) at my hip. I fielded several questions from classmates of hers, wanting to know why their mommy wasn’t going to be in the picture, too. I never did come up with a good answer. My two-year-old couldn’t be more proud. In the picture with big sister’s class! She shows the photo to every visitor, “Do you see me? I’m right there!”
So now I’ll slide my daughter’s 3-year-old photo out of its frame, replace it with the 4-year-old one, until the 5-year-old version comes along, this annual emblem of time marching slowly forward. But I’ll keep this class picture in a safe place, so that when my oldest is a turbulent teen and claims that I don’t understand her and have never cared about her, I can pull it out and remind her that at one time, all I had to do was stand next to her to make everything better.