I have a confession to make. I’m that mom. I’m pretty sure my kids come in for picture day and the school staff wonders if they should call us and remind us that it’s picture day so we can drive over with a change of clothes.

I don’t make my kids dress up for school pictures. I don’t pick out their clothes the night before. I don’t care how they do their hair in their school pictures as long as it’s clean and brushed. I’m fine with them picking their own outfits and doing their own hair on picture day, knowing that those photos are going to end up in holiday cards going out to the family and up on walls in our respective offices.

I take it back. I do have two rules for school pictures. They can’t wear anything stained or ripped, because that’s my rule every day for school. And after a very memorable kindergarten photo, they’re not allowed to put temporary tattoos all over their faces the night before Picture Day.

You see, I have what you might call “fashion forward” kids. In her decade of choosing her own outfits, my oldest has gone skater, punk, briefly goth, equally briefly princess, theatrical, studious, eco-chic, and statement. She’s still pretty proud of the shirt she wore for her first ever day of school. It was an olive green t-shirt emblazoned with a tree with wide spreading branches and the words, “Save a tree. Eliminate homework.” She was five.

My youngest tends to create her own looks, going for wildly mixed plaids, patterns, stripes, and polka dots. There’s usually a cosplay or anime element thrown in there. Two years running she wore knee-high neon yellow Pikachu socks. Last week she chose a perfectly appropriate dressy top for her school photo. Then she paired it with plaid shorts over striped leggings. It was definitely a look. Two years ago she wore a cosplay fox tail and a headband with ears attached, and she’s still mad that a well-meaning photographer talked her into taking the ears off for her picture.

I like their weird and colorful outfits. When I look back through their school pictures, I have such clear memories attached to those pictures. This was the year that we got them on bikes, that was the year that we moved. I can tell by the outfits what they were into at the time and that carries along with it, like the tail on a kite, ribbons of memory unfolding one after the other.


I enjoy seeing friends’ pictures of their coordinated, well-dressed kids. They’re gorgeous snapshots of a fleeting moment in time, of kids who are growing up faster than their parents want to admit. Dressing for a purpose can be fun. My sister-in-law always does her daughter’s hair for picture day, and it’s something they enjoy doing together. She’s good at it and her daughter always looks great. I get it.

However … picking out a coordinated outfit for work every morning just about gives me hives. Hair? Same deal. I think my kids do a better job at styling themselves than I would. I’m always curious to see how they’re going to choose to express themselves each year. I can rarely predict it. I love our quirky kids and their gorgeous snapshots of a fleeting moment in time, of my kids who are growing up faster than I want to admit.

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