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Sometimes, there's a thousand words behind a picture

Picture Day: 45 minutes to get four kids ready, 15 minutes to get them in the car and drive three blocks, 20 minutes to wait, 10 minutes to fill out paperwork, 5 seconds to snap the picture.

Face down in a toy box full of light sabers and several missing socks, looking for three belts and one tie, I curse my vulnerability, fanny up, searching for wardrobe accessories under the refrigerator, in the sleeper sofa, and behind the toilet.

My task, highly frustrating, especially with a daughter prattling on about how she won't wear that dress and how she will wear purple and red striped tights instead of the white ones I picked, takes on more angst as I ruminate about the next chore: sweeping a broom under bunk beds in hopes of dislodging at least two shoes that match in color, if not in size.

I elongate a belt by poking a hole in the end of it with the prong of a fork. I cinch the skinnier two boys into their pants and tie knots.

On to hair. The kids, in the midst of our dressing frenzy, wander off to the sofa, where I find them lined up, oldest to youngest, like say-some-evil, see-some-evil, do-some-evil, and tattle-some-evil. Perfect, I think, and go along behind them plastering hair into place with spray and spit.

They vehemently complain of my intrusion on their persons. Say-some-evil, hasn't combed his hair in so long that his scalp hurts when the brush challenges the discombobulated direction of hair follicle growth. "Ouch," he protests.

"Quit complaining and turn around and let me see," I admonish.

I'm not prepared for the shock. He looks like Richie-rich; too flawless, too finished, not himself. It won't do. Quickly, with both hands, I muss up his hair. He gives me a my-mom-is-so-weird-but-I-got-what-I-want look.

"Get in the car," I call out to deaf ears. So, I turn off the TV.

"What'd you do that for," asks see-some-evil.

"Remember the reason I got you dressed like angels?"

"No," he lies.

Through clenched teeth, I demand, "Get in the car."

"I don't want my picture taken looking like an angel," grumbles say-some-evil, stomping out the door, kicking the cat.

We roll into the photography studio like a herd of elephants ahead of a tornado. And while I fill out the paperwork, my youngest son, do-some-evil, begins traversing the room by crawling under chairs and tables, both occupied and empty. Tattle-some-evil follows along whining, "I'm telling Mama." See-some-evil encourages this raucous behavior just by observing. And say-some-evil laughs uncontrollably.

The receptionist directs a piercing glare at me as she points to another patron's two blond preschoolers sitting quietly on the margins, round faced and red lipped cherubs. "They've sat like that since they arrived."

I want to scream at her, "Do you know what I went through to get here," but I don't. I smile tautly and flatly explain, "That's not normal."

"Oh, and that is," she sarcastically says, nodding at my children dragging each other across the floor by the ankles, while my daughter hopscotches around the fingertips of the dragees.

At last, it's our turn. They line up in front of the back drop wiggling like worms in a Styrofoam bowl. "Say 'Mama has stinky feet'," instructs the photographer. By some undeserved miracle, they forget their mission to mortify me, quit behaving like starved cats, and lean toward one another endearingly.

Smile. Flash. Snap.

Scramble. Bang. Crash. The moment lost, we roll out of there like a barrel of rodeo clowns ahead of a bull.

Web posted on Thursday, May 17, 2007

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