Return Within 15 Days

Return Within 15 Days

We have pictures on our refrigerator of our children taken in elementary and highschool. They are the typical school pictures, clear and unimaginative with blue backgrounds showing various stages of childhood awkwardness. What stands out in these particular pictures is the black lettering written continuously across the top of them: “Return within 15 days”.”

It’s obvious they are the invitation to the real deal. Knowing how savvy parents can be in the digital age with scanning photos, the photography company puts the lettering across the pictures so they are lured into buying these pictures to fill wall spaces and photo albums for years to come, bringing back memories in old age.

But not us…we just framed the pictures that said “Return within 15 days”. I didn’t think much about it until yesterday when a guest took a look at the pictures and said “Oh wow! These are the drafts! You didn’t buy them?” I burst out laughing. With 5 children there are some things you don’t do. For us it was going out to eat and purchasing school photos. I think it’s partly because I did not grow up on school photos, showing a child’s growth year after year. Living in Pakistan and going to boarding school meant many things, but not yearly school pictures.

The pictures can be identified nation-wide and always seem to have the same blue background. First the smiling 5-year-old with the missing tooth. Then the shot with the braces and if you’re lucky this one is accompanied by whatever was popular that year jewelry wise; choker or huge peace sign. After that the inevitable shot where the hair is in the eyes, or dyed a beautiful orange with purple tips, or black, pure shiny black. As we near the end there’s the one where attempts at sophistication begin to show in the form of blue eye shadow and lipstick. Finally – it’s the senior picture and this is the one that breaks the mold with the graduate’s choice of setting and background.

And sometimes through those stages you wished that you could return the kid within 15 days – so frustrated you would get with arguments about the little stuff – hair, clothes, jewelry. The stuff that didn’t always matter.

As I look at the “Return within 15 days” pictures I wouldn’t have it any other way. As much as I have sometimes longed to be a little perfect, wearing the khaki and white with the ocean in the background, or the blue jeans and black tops (I loved that idea), we have never been a family that could conform to pristine blue backgrounds and unimaginative settings. We have walked a different path and carry the strong bonds of that path. The fondness I feel for the “Return within 15 days” pictures are perhaps stronger than had I purchased the real thing. These will be our memories in old age – the un-returned “Return within 15 days” photos.