Friday, October 4, 2013

Picture Day Politics

Today was a long one. 

At first, I was going to write that not much happened, but looking back on it -  and I'm sure some of you can relate - it was filled with so much, but I have so many days like that it feels...normal. I'm tired, but no biggie.

Today was picture day at school. I learned this great term from my friend, Alison. It's called "the politics of respectability." I think about that a lot. I think that, in a way, my mother dealt with something very similar, as do many other people, even if for very different reasons.

I spent my formative years in an area that lacked diversity. In other words, I can remember all of the black students in my neighborhood because we were all there were. 

There were the two brothers that lived two blocks up and on the right. There were Bryant S. and his little sister.

My point is that we stood out. And because of this, my mother was very conscious of how my brother and I looked and behaved. 

When I was a little girl, I was invited by our next-door neighbor to go skating.  After we had returned home, my mother made sure that I took the three dollars that Bonnie's mother had spent on me back to her immediately. 

That was the day I learned the word "freeloader." My mother said that no one would ever be able to say that about us. 

I don't recall the little girl on the other side of us, Heather, having that same conversation with her father. It was just a moment where a neighbor did something nice for another neighbor's child.

I distinctly remember my second grade picture day. My mother put my long, thick hair into two ponytails, one on each side of my head. I was wearing a two-piece striped outfit. I want to say it was purple. There was a skirt on the bottom, but you couldn't see it in the picture. I gave my best crooked-tooth-filled smile.

After a while, the pictures came back. I opened up my packet and was pleased with what I saw. I thought they were nice. When I got home, though, I remember my mother being upset that one of the barrettes on the end of my braids was not faced forward. She asked me why I hadn't fixed it. 

This moment, along with others, including even other picture days at school, culminated in an idea being formed in my head that I was representing my entire race at all times. There was a level of pressure that my peers just didn't experience. They were allowed to be children and do what children do, while I had to be careful… always.

The reason I think back on things like this is because I fear the pressure that I put on my own daughter. Not only does she have the similar circumstance of being the lone black girl, but she's also the lone black girl with Down syndrome. The fact that I have exactly ZERO experience with the latter makes it that much more difficult for me to relax.

Today, I went out of my way to try not to make too big of a deal about picture day. 

I didn't say anything to her, but, still, I woke up a bit earlier and put a little more attention into doing her hair. I changed out the shirt that she had on it first. I ironed her dress (after calling BD to find out where we keep the iron) even though I had no plans to purchase the photos. 

In my mind, I wanted her to look nice because I knew that the other children at school might look just a little bit nicer today. 

At the last minute, I did cave and wrote a check for the most inexpensive package. I'm sentimental and I would like to have something that reminds me of how she was at every stage.

But I won't get upset if she doesn't smile just so or if some hair is out of place or if that dress that I so meticulously ironed is full of wrinkles.

At least not out loud.


Lori McLellan said...

What a gorgeous little girl! How could you resist buying her school photos?

Your post explained a lot to me about my childhood and my mother for somewhat similar reasons; thanks for bringing it to light.

So glad you're doing the "31 for 21" thing because that means I'll get to read you every day for a month.

Becca said...

Oh, man, you nailed this! I feel the same way about sending Sammi to school, especially on picture day. I take extra care to make sure she's extra cute every day, being the only child with Down syndrome in a school full of mostly-typical peers. Just to take care to never give anyone any additional reasons to pick on her. And, traditionally on picture day, Sammi does not smile for the camera and the photos are so awful and miserable I ensure that they do *not* make it into the yearbook - I don't want her being remembered that way. But this year I've been told she smiled. I didn't purchase any pics, of course, but we'll see if they'll let me after the fact. BTW, your princess looks gorgeous in her perfectly pressed outfit. :-)

Katie H said...

I LOVE this blog post Chrystal! First of all, the iron thing cracked me up. I ironed Logan's pants last week and he was soooooo perplexed as to what I was doing. He said, "I've never seen that thing before."
Second, I do these things with Logan. This year all the little boys in his class are into wearing under armour. Logan would never tell me what he wants to wear, but I want him to have the same things as the other boys!!! So, of course!!!, I went out and cleared out the under armour outlet and now he's decked out in ua everyday:) My husband thinks I'm ridiculous, but reading this made me feel validated!!!
Thanks for blogging, I love reading it all, makes me want to blog again:)

krlr said...

She looks absolutely gorgeous. But I have drilled that term into Matt's head because he has morning duty and there were times pre-K that... it was not pretty. I pick out her outfits now. I'm still putting her in dresses w/shorts underneath, partly for this reason (& partly to hid the pull ups). I am fairly certain the other kids are in T-shirts. I even (gasp!) cut her hair so it'd be easier & stay neater. I was the ..not poor-poor, but relatively speaking not-well off kid in a well off neighborhood and was painfully aware that when *I* showed up in sweatpants it was a totally different thing that when some other kids arrived in sweats - via their shiny new BMWs. I think it's all a load of crap now that I'm older, but I get it. Not for all the same reasons, obviously, but I get it.

Jennifer said...

You have a beautiful daughter.

Alison Piepmeier said...

Oh, I'm so late in commenting on this--but you mentioned me! I feel incredibly famous!

And I recognize that I have many, many fewer pressures in how Maybelle looks. She's often a slob, and I think there are lots of reasons I'm allowed to let her look slobby.

Small town life said...

My son w/DS is 12 and loves fashion (his own style) ties,hats, collared shirts-layered. I have to reighn in his outrageousness sometimes. My youngest son is 10, could careless, well actually he does care-he would wear athletic shorts in the dead of winter if I would let him, but a polo style shirt? pulling teeth. I do like for them to dress their best on pic day, but I can tell by the picture if the photographer cares or is just shuffling them through :/