Just Say No: School Pictures Edition

I am that super-annoying mom who always has to do shit differently.

Why can’t I just shut my trap and go with the rest of the sheep, er, flow?

I’m against trophies, unless you actually place. (I was all set to argue against soccer trophies, except that my daughter’s team was actually in first place, so yay! Trophies).

I didn’t let my kids participate in the school choir concert because the parents in the audience are so poorly behaved you can’t hear anything, much less your own kid singing, until the asshole in front of you’s kid starts singing and then they finally shut up for a second; and nobody, even the people in charge of the event, is willing to take the microphone and tell everyone to SHUT UP, except for me, who would probably get kicked out for grabbing the mic.

Okay. Rant over. (But don’t you just hate assemblies like that? People behave more politely at ROCK concerts. I am not even joking).

This year, I didn’t pre-purchase school pictures.

You know the ones. The ones where the photographer says,  “Say CHEESE!” and your kid gets a goofy fake grin showing both rows of teeth all the way back to where the wisdom teeth will come in?

The ones you have to pay for BEFORE you buy? The cheapest package was $30 or $40. You can get them retaken, but it’s a pain. And really– $120 for three kids’ poorly taken pics that we don’t even want to give to their own grandparents?

I said no.

Every freaking year, our kids come home with stupid looking photos. Hair is sticking up, there’s a half smile, their eyes are partially closed. The terrible thing is, my kids are really cute, and there’s no reason for us to buy crappy pictures where they look like they just woke up from a night terror.

What other goods do you pay for before you see what you’re getting? Maybe online goods– but you have a reasonable expectation of what those will look like.

And seriously, there are other portrait studios who have done a great job of getting kids to smile naturally. The preschool where my kids went, and the private school they attended for a couple of years both used a different studio, with greater success. They never said CHEESE.

But I still felt a little funny– guilty, even– about not filling out the envelopes with the money. What about all my weird school portraits? Who was I to deny my children the chance to have crappy pictures for their own children to laugh at?

I got over it.

First I called the photography studio and asked if I could buy photos AFTER the fact, in case they turned out well.

“Yes you can,” she said.

“And do you give a portion of the proceeds to the school?” I said.

“Yes we do,” she said.


I told the kids that we were not getting photos. I told them we were not sending in money. On school picture day, Little Girl’s teacher had her call me from the office. In a tremulous voice, my daughter asked if she was meant to bring in money today, and that I needed to bring it in right now.

“Let me talk to your teacher,” I said. She said she wanted to make sure that we hadn’t indeed forgotten. I said nope, just not doing it.

I’m sure the reason my daughter was upset was because she was doing something out of the norm, and got called out, and felt bad. But you know what? It builds character. (Yes, I’m one of those moms, too. Embarrassed? Ashamed? Have to work hard? CHARACTER, my friend.)

In the spring, the portrait studio returns and does more portraits. These they send home as proofs, and you buy from the proofs. Miraculously, these spring portraits are always better. Oh, my, why could that be?  Because they have to convince you to buy, rather than trapping you in?

The proofs for the fall portaits came back. I have to admit (and I can’t show it here because it’s not mine) I really was tempted to buy a portrait of my child grimacing, full-figure, with a school bus superimposed onto the background.

“It looks like the bus is about to hit her,” Cadillac said.

It really did.


*for the record, the other two kids’ photos did not turn out so well, either.




Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

10 thoughts on “Just Say No: School Pictures Edition

  1. I didn’t buy my daughter’s photos either. They were kind enough to provide a preview of it in the form of a Child ID. So if my daughter goes missing, we’ll still have the obligatory bad school pic for them to put on TV. I know, right – how thoughtful.

  2. My kids have gotten to where they hide the order form from me because they don’t even want them. And there was that one time when I wrote a check and we had more than enough in the account to cover it, but for some reason, it was returned. The bank said it had never been sent through, yet, the company refused to submit it again, so I had to get a money order and send it in for the pictures that stunk or it was was going to go on record as a bad debt. Whee! 🙂

  3. In my son’s recent school picture he looks like an NRA-supporting homeless waif. I had forgotten it was school picture day. He had (as he always does) dressed himself in ratty, too-short sweats and some horrendous camo shirt. The class photo is a fine study in “which one of these kids is not like the other” . . . or more accurately, “which one of these kids has a mom who doesn’t prep and groom and clothe her child for school picture day.”

    Right on, you rebel!

  4. I laughed at this because I always cut my girls bangs before school photos and they always dried and we up next to their hair line! I also managed to get a story out of school photos and sold it to Dayton newspaper. That was fun.
    School photos are way toooooo expensive now. I always felt my kids brought h ome pictures that belonged to someone else. My kids had looked so cute when they went out the door. Ole they changed when they got to school with pony tailes lopsided, teeth missing in front. No way was that my kid.
    Hilarious post. And I love the name Cadillac. Is that his read name? It’s too good to be real.

  5. Good for you, Margaret! Luckily Sophie’s school does not require the pre-pay. But they are so dang expensive that I usually pass on everything put the class composite picture. That’s right, I’m the cheap mom that only shells out $10 for the class photo. I can usually take better pictures of her myself.

  6. Yeah, I won’t pre-buy school pictures either! The worst part is that the school/teachers make the kids feel like such outcasts when they don’t get their pictures taken with the rest of the class–but I just call it “character building!”

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