When a parent views a senior picture, how do her feelings towards her child begin to change?

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Answered by: Catherine, An Expert in the Preparing for College Category
A Parent Views a Senior Picture

“I’m sorry I’m taking so much time deciding,” I said, although I wasn’t sorry and had no intention of hurrying.

“That’s quite all right,” said the photographer’s assistant, as I knew she would. At this point, my son Daniel and I had already picked out the tuxedo pose for his yearbook, plus a pose in a Brooks Brothers jacket for the grandparents and two different casual poses taken indoors.

The remaining outdoor casual poses represented extra time and money. In the photographer’s brochure, these were called “personality poses.” He encouraged students to bring props such as sports equipment, musical instruments, or even pets, so he could vividly portray each student’s interests. Many of his sample photos featured teenagers in sports uniforms. Three weeks ago, when Daniel arrived at the studio, the photographer seemed intrigued by his choice of props: a pen and a battered spiral-bound notebook.

As we considered the ten or twelve proofs showing outdoor poses of my son in his everyday sweatshirt and jeans, I found myself unwilling to pass up an image of Daniel sprawled on the grass with his notebook open in front of him. In the picture, it looked as though he had blinked. Or perhaps, while posing with his notebook, he forgot all about the photographer, and fell into reading.

The camera captured those lowered eyelids just before my son shifted and looked up for the next shot. His distinctive black-and-white striped sweatshirt suggested an on-and-off personality: now laughing, now serious, now maturing, now a little boy. His elbows were propped wide on the grassy bank, as though he was hugging the earth—yet his face looked as abstracted as any metaphysical poet meditating on the meaning of words like “spirit,” or “truth,” or “eternity.”

The photo caught my attention because it made me wonder about the contents of Daniel’s notebook. Whatever was hidden inside there had the power to take him somewhere far away, shutting out the chatty photographer and his hovering mother.

“For some reason, I like this one,” I said softly to him. “But I’m not sure anyone else would like it. What do you think?”

“Hmm, I don’t know, either,” he said. For whatever reason, he was no more decisive than I was. Apart from disliking the widest smiles that showed his teeth, my son seemed to accept that almost every pose was perfectly good for our purposes.

But this picture intrigued me; perhaps something about Daniel’s downward-directed eyes implied that he was wrapped up in his own thoughts. His mind, which we could never see in any picture, was the center of his world, and what he’d written in the notebook was the pale reflection of all the possibilities crowding through even one instant of his consciousness.

His fingers gripped his pen, ready to capture his latest inspiration. Somehow, I resented how quickly the moment had passed. In less time than it takes to write a word, the photographer had asked him to shift his chin, raise a hand, change to another position altogether.

So I took my time giving up that image, knowing I was spending way too much money already without adding an idiosyncratic shot of Daniel with his eyes at half-mast over his notebook. We agreed on the proof next to it, where he was smiling slightly at the camera. He still looked every inch the young poet, but not so alone with his own imagination. Interesting, how a parent views a Senior Picture when she knows he's leaving home. Those are the images I'll live with, after he's moved away to college.

I didn’t have to explain any of this to the photographer’s assistant: she deals with parents every day. Sometimes the perfect image isn’t the one in the yearbook, or the one that’s sent to the grandparents. A young, inventive mind pausing over a notebook: that’s an image where for once, a picture can’t do justice to the words.

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