In Defense of a Bad School Picture

It is school picture season and I miss the days of the really bad school picture.  The envelopes come home and all over them are opportunities for re-takes if you aren’t happy with how the picture turned out.  My kids’ schools don’t take the group class picture any more—you know the ones where one kid had his eyes closed, and there was the girl who towered over the teacher in third grade.  Now the “class picture” is a composite of individual photos, all of them of kids with cute smiles and perfect hair-do’s.

I asked the school once why we couldn’t have the class picture in the gym.  Part of the reason is that now that everything is computerized, the office has a photo with each child’s school record.  But they also told me that it is too hard when kids are absent and miss the picture—they feel bad.  To which I quickly retorted, “I missed my third grade class picture and I got over it!”  I miss the perspective of the whole class together.  Really seeing the fashion and the kid who was askew in his chair and looking off to the side.  What it boils down to, I think, is that I miss seeing the awkward and imperfect moments.

My kids and I love [and I mean LOVE] the book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio.  It’s about a boy named Auggie with a severely deformed face who starts middle school and has to deal with bullies and kids learning to be kind.  It is the kind of book that makes you weep with gratitude that it was written.  The book is told from the perspective of the characters and there is a sequel.  In the sequel, there is a scene with the mother of Julian, one of the kids who really gave Auggie a hard time, and a conversation about pictures from their family vacation in Mexico.  Apparently the weather was really bad and it rained the whole trip, so all of their pictures were of rain and bad weather.  So she just decided to photo shop them and change the bad weather to sunshine.

I wonder if this is a little of what we do with our kids when we get hung up on everyone being there for the picture, or on our son not having a weird smile or our daughter not having her hair stick up.  I know that it is tough to be the kid who took the picture that everyone laughs at.  It really is.  But be honest, as an adult, isn’t your favorite picture to look back on the one where you had that goofy face or outfit?

It is for me.  Because it reminds me that life isn’t perfect.  We take bad pictures.  We have rainy vacations.  And when we think that we can sail through life always looking our best we are setting ourselves up for a world of disappointment.

When Paul was traveling around the ancient world telling people about Jesus, he was battling chronic pain.  We don’t really know what was wrong with him—he was hurt in prison and he likely had other illnesses, but he says in his writings, that we “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. [Romans 5: 3-5]

Sometimes I think when we try and spare our kids pain, we rob them of the endurance and character and hope and even joy that comes from making it through something that was hard.  You can survive looking like a dork in your school picture.  And when you find out you can survive that, maybe it will help you get a little closer to knowing you can survive finding out you have cancer, or your dad losing his job, or all the other losses that are just an inevitable part of life.

When you read Paul, you get a sense that he just knew in his bones that God was with him no matter what, and it is just a human truth that we almost always know this most fully when we are struggling.

I fight every day as a mom, the desire to spare my kids from struggling and suffering.  And letting them take a bad school picture is just a very small victory I think I need to make in that fight.  I need my kids to know that they can survive it.  And because God is with us in all of our suffering, it will even make them stronger.


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