Here’s my latest post in the Florida Times-Union. It includes a little nostalgia about my own school picture day and it’s another reminder of the letting go involved in parenting.
This is such a bittersweet stage of parenting. If you are where I am or you’ve been here — you know. (Or if your mom ever disfigured you with a curling iron — you’ll get it too.) Love to you all and prayers for all our young people. ~ Lara
When I was a young girl school picture day was a big deal. I remember sitting on the corner of my mother’s bed with the metal grip of the curling iron searing a pert bounce into the ends of my typically straight hair. It all went well until she curled my bangs. Inevitably, one of us would move and the singe of a horizontal line burned into my pale skin.
Oh, but to be memorialized in the grade school yearbook with perfectly curled-under hair was worth a few days of forehead disfigurement that could easily be covered with a hedge of bangs. I always wished my mom was better at styling hair. Besides her inept ability to curl my hair without risking a plastic surgeon consultation, she could never do fancy braids or even a decent ponytail. She would just tell me to let my hair look natural — that natural was best.
Of course, I didn’t want to look natural. I wanted to look like the popular poster I saw of Farah Fawcett with a red one-piece bathing suit stretched across her body so tight that I felt certain if she raised her arms, it would slingshot right off her. She had frosted hair, sun-kissed skin, and a pearly smile. Her flyback haircut made her look like a beautiful bird with wings sprouting out of the sides of her head. And, she didn’t have burns on her forehead.
Natural to me was plain. It was a matte finish in a glossy world. I grew up in the boundless patterns of the 70s and the neon geometrics of the 80s. By the time high school came around, I wore blue eyeliner and frosted pink lipstick on picture day. I traded the curling iron for a perm and instead of curling my bangs under I teased them high using toxic amounts of Aqua Net hairspray.
I recently took my son to get the pinnacle of all school pictures – senior portraits. Those fancy pant photographs where you pose in a cap and gown or wear a tuxedo from the waist up. His usually slouchy posture straightened and it was nice to see his wide smile that I think even Farrah Fawcett would envy.
I’m not sure how all of his school pictures beginning in preschool culminated into the ones they snapped that afternoon. How those annual photographs captured the subtle changes of his growth from a child into a young adult, but I love that in them he remains static in time. He’s memorialized in headshots that capture his metamorphosis into a young man. And, while senior portraits mark the beginning of an end, I can’t help but feel excited about what awaits him — even the parts that I only get to picture from the stories he tells. I know I won’t be privy to all of his life experiences. I won’t be there to watch as he continues to change, at least not in the way I have been for almost the last two decades. And, I imagine one day he will look back at his school pictures and ponder his own memories of the awkwardness and excitement that marks every stage of our growth. He will wonder how the years went so fast and how the trends that once seemed so timeless suddenly seem cringy. He will have his own life and memories and maybe even his own children to tease him about his yearbook pictures.
I know when I look at his old school pictures, I will have countless memories to accompany the transformation of his smile that evolved from a toothless grin into the gap-toothed crooked laughter that echoes so vividly in my memories. Or, how the uncertainty of braces with their ever-changing colored bands morphed into his perfectly straight smile that shines bright with a future that is yet to be determined.
And, while my own smile quivers at the thought of our inevitable separation, I know that growing up and going on his own is only natural. While I may still resist going natural when it comes to physical aesthetics, my mother wasn’t entirely wrong. There are some things in nature that I know it’s best to go with it. Even when that going really means letting go. Perhaps it’s what we don’t see in the photos of our children that is the most momentous of all – a future that is filled with the hope of a life instilled with love and service. A life that makes the world a better place just as he has always made mine one.
I can already picture it.