For the normal average parent, school picture day probably isn't very stressful. The hardest part is deciding what outfit your child would wear, how their hair would be done and what backgroud to pick. But for me, taking any kind of photo of Emily has always been a source of heartbreak and anxiety. And school photos are the worst kind.
The stress of it all for me has deeply seeded roots that go all the way back to Emily's first Christmas in 2007. She was only about a month and a half old when we went for our traditional family Christmas photos. That year, the JCPenney studio we usually go to had hired new people to accommodate for the holiday busy season. Normally it wouldn't have been a big deal, but when you combine an inexperienced photographer with an emotional postpartum mom and a newborn who can't see, the results were bound to be disastrous. The raw emotion of our new baby's uncertain future always sat just beneath the surface of the "happy new mom" exterior that I tried to portray in public. Inside I was anything but happy. A myriad of emotions ran through my veins at any given moment, not knowing when they would rear their ugly head and boil to the surface, spewing out for all to see. That day, in that studio...it happened.
I don't remember what her name was, but she was "older"...not a fresh young girl who would welcome the idea of working with a new baby and 2 boys under the age of 5. She was in a hurry, we were a number to her and she was definitly NOT a "kid friendly" person. She had no idea how to get the boys to smile and I could feel my blood pressure rising as we came to doing shots of just Emily or the boys and Emily together. This precious little girl, all dressed up in her pretty dress, tiny shoes and matching beret hat could not see anything. She couldn't see the camera, she couldn't see the photographer and she couldn't see me. Her eyes wandered all over the place, most of the time they were not even both open at the same time. And even after explaining to the woman that she couldn't see, we just wanted a good photo of her looking "in the right direction"...they turned out terrible. The girl in the photo was not my daughter, she wasn't the little princess I dressed up earlier than day. She didn't look....normal. I stood there at the computer crying my eyes out while this insensitive woman kept trying to tell me they looked great, that she looked perfect. I remember being so heartbroken that I just kept crying and saying that I hated the pictures, all of them and that I didn't want to buy any of them. Thats when another photographer came over and started trying to calm me down. I explained how unhappy I was with not only the photos but with the photographer herself, that she was so insensitive to our familys needs. I took a deep breath and they reassured me that they would try again to see if someone else could get better photos.
After talking with Alyce, a sweet young girl named Rebecca came in and was very helpful in working with us in getting some better shots of Emily alone and with the boys. I didn't expect a miracle, but for a professional photography studio I did expect some level of understanding that not every family can just walk in, smile, pose and be done. Rebecca and Alyce went beyond their studio time limits for us, and in the end the photos came out much better than the first ones. I was so grateful for the time and effort they took to help make our family photos memorable, in a good way. To this day, I am very close with Alyce and keep in touch with Rebecca through facebook. Rebecca eventually moved on from the studio and now Alyce is the ONLY person I trust when it comes to taking Emily's professional photos, She knows how to talk to her, help her look in the right direction and is patient, knowing that she is working with a child who literally cannot control where she is looking. She has truly become part of our family!
Some people might think that a picture is just a picture, but to me its a moment in time that I cannot ever get back. Its a memory of what was happening in my life at that time, and years down the road it would become the only memory I will have of those moments. I refused to look back at Emily's first Christmas and feel even more heartbreak than necessary. It was a difficult time in our lives and I didn't want to look back and not recognize my own daughter, nor did I want her to look back at those photos, if she would be able to see them at all, and feel bad about herself.
How does all of this relate to school pictures? Well fast forward about 5 years to when Emily was in preschool. It was the year she lost vision in her left eye, and her eye began to shrink, cloud over and her eyelid no longer opened very wide. The school photographer obviously had no sense of how to capture her in a aesthetically pleasing way because she wasn't smiling, looking at the camera and her good eye was turned very far inward. Keep in mind that this was the BEST of the multiple shots they took of her that day. When I got the photos back, I actually broke down in tears, it was so hard to look at because the girl in that photo was NOT my daughter. It was the most visually disturbing image of her that I have ever seen. A few days later I drove to the studio office and asked for my money back. They said I could look at the other images and see if one was better, but none of them were acceptable at all. So they refunded me my money.
The next year, Kindergarten, I wrote her teacher an email asking if she could please accompany Emily to the photo area and help her know where to look and guide her in how and when to smile. I cried that morning, knowing that I wasn't there to help her. I had no control over how and when the camera shutter would click, how many shots would be taken and if she was smiling, eyes opened or closed or even looking in the right direction. Its something normal sighted parents take for grated. They send their kids to school and don't think twice about how their smile will be captured. For me its a stressful and depressing unknown. Its something I struggle with every time I try to take her photo myself...I want her to look her best, and I want her to look as "normal" as possible. I have to take dozens and dozens of photos to just be able to pick out the best one or two that look "ok". When we are with friends or in a group setting, my heart breaks because all those other moms are able to just say "smile" and they click once or twice and get a great photo of their child's beautiful eyes looking straight at them, often with a perfect smile to match. Emily doesn't fit into that mold, and I often lose the photo opportunity that everyone else gets because it takes so long to get her to understand where to look and smile.
While her Kindergarten picture came out ok, it wasn't great. But it wasn't terrible either. So this year, first grade, I once again recruited her teacher to try and help her out. This is how she looked before school that day. I posted it on facebook with the caption "school picture day for Emily, aka the most stressful day of September". A few people asked why it was so stressful, and I once again had to explain...