Picture Daze: How Too Much Comes to Mean Nothing

Filed under: Gay Parenting, Opinions

I think it was the dance recital portrait offer that put me over the edge. For a mere $70, a photographer would take a picture of my 5-year-old in her tap costume, providing makeup and styling services along with the snap of the shutter.

Total number of prints included in the package: zero. The photographer would provide a CD of the images, and we could either print them ourselves or negotiate print prices.

I decided to pass. Understand that this is monumental -– I never pass up the opportunity to take or order pictures of my kids. But this year, especially, photos have come to represent everything Americans have done wrong in the last half-century. I've come to the conclusion that, in our age of plenty, we've devalued everything.

Here's the background: Last November, we got the usual notice of picture day at school. I always used to love picture day –- I would think hard about what my kids would wear, and I'd get up early to do their hair, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the prints to see how history would record them that year.

But a couple of years ago, we started getting picture day fliers in the spring, too. Now we'd have twice-yearly chances to record our children's progress through the school year. And, of course, it immediately doubles the school's photographic fund-raising opportunities.

My kids play soccer in the fall, so we also have picture day for sports portraits -– individual and team. It's baseball in the spring, meaning individual and team photos then, too. Packages come with 5x7s and wallets, with offers for trading cards, magnets, bookmarks, mouse pads and coffee mugs, all emblazoned with their smiling faces.

I can't say no to picture day -– how can you tell your child you don't want her photo? And I used to find it hard to say no when they wanted a magnet or trading card with their stats on it.

But that's four photos a year of each child, assuming we just get two school pictures and their two sport photos. Our older daughter also made her First Communion this year, which meant a photo in her finery to enclose with thank you notes. But seriously, what do you actually do with four or five 5x7 portraits of your child in a year? Not to mention all those wallets -- does anyone, in any family, love their nieces, nephews and grandchildren enough to welcome nine new wallet-sized images of them a year?

So, when I received the flier from dancing school, I lost it. The fact that the fee did not even include prints (which you might think would be a blessed relief) was the final straw.

I think I flipped because it's such a symptom of our excesses. I probably have 50 or so total pictures of my childhood, including all those years of annual school portraits, and they're really precious to me. I've been a parent for seven years now, and I would guess I have about 10,000 photos of my kids. But I suspect those photos won't mean much to them. I know the magnets and bookmarks don't, because I'm more likely to find them under a bed, or on the floor, than saved carefully in an album.

It's no-brainer: The more you have of everything, the less you value anything.

It's not just photos. I clearly remember the handful of special toys I loved as a child, because they were just a handful. In just seven years, my two kids have already received more toys than my family of four did in our collective childhoods. In fact, they probably have more "stuff" than our whole block did 40 years ago.

It keeps coming, too, even after we decided to be more discriminating parents and stop the deluge. Stuff rains down on our kids from all directions, not just from us. A visit to the dentist earns a token to put in a machine that spits out a small toy. The woman who cuts their hair lets them pick a toy as a reward for sitting still. Invite 10 or 12 kids to their birthday parties and they get 10 or 12 new toys. They even get gifts for other kids' birthdays, which now seem to require "goodie bags" for all. We refer to those goodies as "LPCs," or "little pieces of crap."

We try to imagine the resources consumed to create these LPCs –- the design, manufacturing, shipment from a third-world nation, delivery to a retailer –- for the nanosecond of use they get before they're discarded. Sometimes I think they should just start a landfill right next to the factory, and skip the middlemen entirely. Because a kid who gets a new LPC every other day learns that they have no value at all.

What I don't understand is why they still want these trinkets. Wouldn't you think at some point even a child would groan at the prospect of another little paper-parachute soldier, or a pair of clacking plastic hands? But, instead, their appetite for these items only increases -– they're the nonfood equivalent of high fructose corn syrup, where each sip or bite just fuels the desire for the next.

So, effective immediately, my kids are on the "stuff" equivalent of the South Beach Diet –- no more. In a weird twist of fate, just as I came to this conclusion, my camera took a nose dive off the desk and went to its final reward. I guess I'm starting on South Beach, too.

*All names have been changed to protect my family's privacy

Veronica Rhodes writes about gay parenting under this pen name; read her blog on RedRoom. She and David Valdes Greenwood alternate weeks writing the Family Gaytriarchs. Look for them on ParentDish every Wednesday.

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