My family never used the front door, preferring the easy informality of the back of the house. A visitor would turn in and drive along the fence, tires crunching over gravel, as the horses and cows kicked up their heels in the pasture. There would be a slight bend in the drive—in the fence, too—and the visitor would find herself at the brick sidewalk we put in one year under my father’s supervision. I say herself here because chances are, if the car was parked at the house, the visitor was a woman, come to see my mother. If the visitor was a man, he would continue around the next bend and follow the driveway to the barn, where he would most certainly find my father making repairs to the farm equipment, occasionally grumbling beneath his breath. The men visitors would pull in quick. Leap from their trucks. Get right down to business. The women visitors, however would leisure their way up that brick sidewalk, pausing to admire my mother’s lush perennial gardens, before finally walking up the back stairs and entering the coolness of the house.
My seventeenth summer, I slipped on a pair of gray slacks, ironed just so. Having been told that red was my color, I put on a new red shirt that buttoned up the back. I arranged my hair. Ever so carefully, I made myself up before heading out the back door and driving to a trailer parked in the lot at the high school from which I would graduate in ten months. I walked up three metal stairs, sat on a wooden block, turned my knees, tilted my head and smiled. Fifteen minutes later, I headed for home. After waiting for what seemed like forever, I received my proof sheets from which I selected my graduation picture; the picture for which my parents would pay exorbitant amounts of money.
I waited for my pictures. And it rained. I waited some more. And it rained. I waited some more. It grew hot and muggy. And I waited.
Finally, I called the number on the back of the brochure. I was told the pictures had been delivered. “The driver put them right on the front porch,” the woman on the phone said.
I found the box, sodden and dismal, discovered too late. The photos stuck together, their edges colorless. My red shirt was now orange; my hair was prematurely white in patches. My eyes and mouth and nose were a smudge.
* * *
Today is Filibuster’s graduation “photo shoot.” She zips herself into a dress with spaghetti straps. She straightens her hair. She carefully makes herself up.
I go online to find directions. “Today,” the company website proclaims in big, bold letters, “is all about YOU!”
Braces? No worries.
I wonder what they can do for the bags beneath my eyes; for the cellulite clinging to my legs like mussels on a rock.
We get into the car and head to the city and turn at the giant sign announcing that we’ve arrived. I pull into the long, gravel drive. The house is an old Victorian. Flowerboxes overflow with reds and purples and pinks. The shades in each window are pulled to exactly the same spot. There’s a welcoming light switched on next to the front door, which is adorned with greenery. On the porch, rockers with thick striped cushions are arranged in conversational groups. Surrounding the front are lush gardens, the security sign planted discretely next to a hosta the only blemish in an otherwise pristine picture.
We walk up the brick path. To the right, a girl stands near a 4 foot square fan that gives for the camera the impression of wind.
“What happens if it rains?” Filibuster says, squinting at the overcast sky. Of course, she cannot wear her glasses this day.
“It won’t rain.” We walk up the wooden stairs and open the door and are immediately engulfed by cool air and gentle music. The house is soothing, welcoming, comforting. The tables in the hallway are placed in exactly the right spots. Pictures hang at the right level.
Directly to my left is the waiting room—a room full of plush wingback chairs and wooden floors with gorgeous rugs and potpourri and photographs, of course. A group of mothers is there: tired mothers with too-short shorts and oversized tee shirts and worry lines between their eyes. They swoon over the beauty of each girl as she enters the studio. Or perhaps they’re swooning over the prices: Just the sitting fee for today sets us back fifty bucks.
We’re directed to a back room, probably the dining room in days of old. There’s a six-foot long table covered in pictures. The owner—perfect nails, perfect hair, perfect outfit—sits at the head of the table. Filibuster sits to her immediate left. This day, after all, is all about her. The owner schedules us for a ninety minute slideshow preview in August at which time we can spend an exorbitant amount of money. She hands me a brochure: I can choose from a variety of collections. I can also purchase a deck of playing cards featuring my daughter’s face on the back; a gotta’-have-it white board for the college dorm; and, for the ultimate album, I can drop twelve hundred dollars, four times what my husband and I spent on our wedding album. I look at the owner and find myself getting angry and wonder: when will we have the courage, as parents, to say enough?
I sit in shock, staring at beautiful pictures of beautiful people, feeling unattractive and lazy and dull. The owner points out the graduation and party announcements. “But you don’t know the date of your party, of course,” she coos. “So you can hold off ordering those until January.”
She takes my check and takes my daughter and points me into the coolness of the waiting room where the women talk about the beauty of this place. I don’t belong here. So I let myself out and head to my car where I sit and sweat so I don’t have to pretend to be excited about this whole thing.
Everything seems so perfectly unreal here. I want to blast my horn and shake everyone up.
An hour and a half later, the “photo shoot” complete, my unblemished, retouched, digitally enhanced daughter is returned to me. I tell her that we’re heading to the farm where we will—oh my!—perspire. We will be hot and wrinkly and dirty and weary.
Because this day, most certainly, is not all about her.
A few drops of rain spit from the sky as we head for the barn. The barefoot farm interns, legs smeared with mud, dash from the fields seeking shelter. It occurs to me, then, that Filibuster’s photos will cost more than a summer’s worth of food. I glance at her; her hair has started to frizz.
In the barn, we pick up kale and kohlrabi; lettuce and dandelion greens; garlic scapes and summer squash and mizuna before heading to the field to pick peas.
The rain falls more heavily. A few drops darken Filibuster’s dress.
The pea harvest is nearly over. We have to search among the bushes, ignoring the peas that have grown fat and bitter, leaving the small ones to grow a few more days.
“Mom, it’s pouring.”
And it is. Filibuster’s makeup is smeared. Her new sandals are covered in mud. Her dress is soaked and goose bumps line her skin.
I laugh. “You look like a wet rat.”
She glares and I wish for a camera.
Years ago, upon an unused cement front porch, the ravages of heat and time and the elements destroyed my image. But pictures can tell only partial truths: In our wanting to show our best selves, we often don’t reveal our true selves. And every year, as I resemble myself less and less; as the eyelids droop and the lines deepen and the reading glasses are a permanent accessory upon my head, I become more of who I am.
I don’t need retouching.
I don’t need enhancing.
Ever so slowly, I am growing more comfortable in my sagging skin.
We head home and unload our vegetables and laugh at the absurdity of the brochure. We change our clothes and make a cup of tea and pick out the cheapest photograph package we can find.
Labels: Daughters, graduation, photography, Raising Children