Senior Portrait

Our high school senior portraits.

I hate my high school senior portrait.

That’s probably the reason why when my daughter’s proofs came in and she disliked all the photos, I told her she could have a retake.

I assured her that at least two of the proofs were great and a senior portrait merely captures a moment in time. But in truth, my senior yearbook photo from my private all-Catholic girls’ school lingered in my brain. I disliked the photo at age 17 in 1976, and I still do today. I wish I’d had the opportunity for a do-over, but I don’t remember that being an option.

To prove how good her proofs were, I offered to show her and my son my senior portrait. I braced for their snickering, which I first heard from my sisters about 40 years ago.

“It’s uh, interesting,” my daughter offered.

My son was more blunt: “It’s a good thing you went to an all-girls’ high school,” he said. “There’s no way any guy’s going to get his hands on that yearbook and see this.”

I don’t think my senior portrait is particularly flattering. I wore a pumpkin colored polyester blouse and little make-up. My newly shorn hair with flipped bangs is a cross between George Washington and Betty Crocker’s hairdo. I wasn’t all that confident back then, and it’s reflected in the photo. It also explains why I haven’t had short hair since high school.

The Curmudgeon’s senior photo is much better. He looks like a clean-cut all-American guy in his jacket and tie. He said he thinks the photographer took one shot and told him he was done. I doubt that’s true, but let’s face it: back in the day you posed, did what you were told and waited about a month for the proofs to come in the mail.

I don’t want my daughter’s graduation photo to haunt her for life, though I know plenty of people who deplore their senior photos too. Most of us lived with them though, realizing that yearbooks are rarely opened after high school unless you’re a public figure embroiled in scandal. (Remember reporters combing through U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook last year?)

When I told an older friend that my daughter was having a re-take, she told me I should have insisted she pick from the original set of proofs.

“You are spoiling her, and that’s not going to help her once she gets in the real world,” she said. “She’s going to have to learn that things aren’t always going to go her way.”

I agreed with her, but it was too late. I’d already set the retake appointment, and didn’t want to renege on my offer. Just to be on the safe side, I agreed to pay a nominal fee for the second session, meaning we’ll have the option of picking from the first set of proofs if the retake is a bust.

From my many years as a responsible adult and sometime perfectionist, I suspect this may happen. How many times have I found a dress the first time out, yet continued to search thinking I might find something better?

I know I’m a bit of a pushover, but high school – particularly for girls – is a huge deal. I met a woman playing golf who attended my hometown’s public high school, graduating the same year as I did. When I began to float the names of a few people by her, she shook her head.

“I was very shy in high school,” she said. “I had no friends, and pretty much was a loner. I didn’t become outgoing and confident until well after high school, which was the worst experience of my life.”

It was hard to imagine this bubbly and pretty woman as a wallflower in high school, but I understand. The teen-age years are a tough period for a lot of kids, filled with angst, strife, self-doubt and insecurity. It’s also a time when emotional issues like anxiety and depression first manifest themselves, making kids feel even more polarized from their peers.

It’s not an easy time, but I think as parents we often forget that. So yes, I’m spoiling my daughter on this one. She’s my younger child, the last in my soon-to-be empty nest. I’m getting a little soft with age. I guess that’s one of the pitfalls of parenting a teen at the ripe old age of 61.

The photography studio that shot the photos claims that only about 10 percent of kids request retakes, but I suspect the percentage is actually higher. Today’s generation of kids is used to digital photos and I-Phones with filters, allowing them to put only their best face forward on social media. Given their daily control of their images, it’s no surprise that they’d want a perfect senior photo.

So we’ll do it all over again – the shirt, hair and maybe a little make-up help from cousin Nicki this time around. And hopefully, she’ll be happy with her picture, or at least be able to look at it without cringing.

Worry Wart

The kids in London, July 2018.
My daughter about age 9, the age I think she is when she’s traveling by herself.

I feel for parents who will be sending their kids off to college in a few weeks.

I was an emotional wreck when I sent my son off to school for the first time. And though I’ve still got my daughter for one more year, the thought of her leaving can bring me to tears.

Unlike their cousins who grew up in London and traveled the world by the time they were teens, my children have led very sheltered lives. I realized the extent of our limited travels while driving my son to a tennis match when he was about 15.

Awakening from a nap in the car, he gazed at a cluster of skyscrapers off Interstate 91 in Connecticut and said, “Wow, what’s this?”

“Um, Hartford,” I said, identifying the state capitol about 45 minutes from our house.

I don’t consider myself an overly protective mother, but I have anxiety about letting my kids travel alone. I like to know that they’re safe, and feel best when they’re both under my roof. I know this won’t last, that giving children wings to fly is the point of it all, but I’m not sure the worrying ever ends.

My son was 17 when he went on his first solo trip to Seattle with a friend after high school graduation. I just put my 18-year-old daughter on an Amtrak train bound for Washington, D.C., marking the first time she’s traveled by herself.

Though she spent a week away from us at running camp this summer, there’s something about sending your kid off into the world alone that’s scary. As parents, we’re used to knowing where our kids are, even if it means tracking their I-Phones. And let’s face it, the world can be a dangerous place, particularly for a teen-age girl traveling alone.

I found myself warning my daughter about stranger danger and other safety tips before her trip. “Don’t talk to anyone on the train,” I said. “In fact, leave your headphones in so people leave you alone.”

Standing on the Amtrak platform with my daughter, a young woman told us that her parents still drop her off and pick her up at the train station. “And I’m 30,” she told my daughter. “Make sure you call or text your mom when you arrive.”

(Of course, she did not. Ten minutes after she arrived at her destination, I texted her, “You OK?” Her response: “Yep.”)

I didn’t intend to raise country bumpkins when I set off on this parenting journey nearly 22 years ago. The Curmudgeon and I traveled a bit before the kids arrived, though my fear of flying definitely restricted our adventures and kept us stateside.

But somewhere along the line, we stopped traveling as much and became homebodies. Our clipped wings coincided with our kids’ sports and school commitments, particularly in high school. Between September and June, we’re at the mercy of the school calendar. We can’t travel during those months because the kids must be at matches and meets, or face benching by their coaches. (Some coaches are more sticklers than others. My son’s had no wiggle room.)

I learned I was losing my parental grip when my son joined the high school tennis team as a freshman. When I announced to his coach that he’d be missing a week of practice and matches to join us in South Carolina, he told me he doubted my son would be joining us.

“Talk to him,” he said. “I think he plans to stay around for the team.”

He did, staying at home with a friend and his mom while we vacationed 1,000 miles away without him. We didn’t realize family vacations would end after eighth grade, but they did. And I didn’t realize coaches would have more clout with my son than us, but I was wrong on that count too.

Like most things about parenting, sending your kid off on their first solo trip involves a lot of trust, prayer, letting go and texting on your I-Phone. I felt like my daughter’s co-pilot through much of her trip, texting her to make sure she was OK and reminding her that her stop would be coming up in 30 minutes, then 10, then 5.

I got a lot of Thumbs Up emojis and “I know Mom,” but I really don’t care. She got there safely, and that’s the only thing that matters. Now I just have to get through the return trip.

Smelling the Roses

My friend Cindy is exploring our country on a month-long solo car trip.

Her exodus has sparked my own wanderlust, or should I say jealousy? Since she left two weeks ago and began posting from the road, I’ve felt unnaturally constrained and restless. I love a good road trip, so my summer suddenly feels boring and ordinary, at least when stacked up against Cindy’s.

There’s been a trip to the Cape, and an occasional excursion to Boston and New York City, but it’s been pretty ho-hum. The biggest excitement around here is I finally got around to reseeding the lawn.

One of my problems is I still have a teen-ager who doesn’t drive, and I’ve been tied up all summer schlepping her to work and cross country practice. This is only slightly better than the summer my son made All-Star Little League, and I couldn’t leave the state due to mandatory practices every night. I was probably the only parent who was happy when his team lost, but it meant freedom and a long overdue family vacation.

I got a reprieve from driving this week when my daughter and her teammates went to running camp in Rhode Island. That means for five days, I’m free.

Having days without kids is like receiving a gift certificate to a favorite store. You don’t want to waste it, so you roam around struggling to figure out how to best use it. A stretch without kids is the same thing: you want to maximize your free time, doing things that are impossible when you’re on their schedule.

But often, you have trouble coming up with something to do. The first thing I did after my daughter left was wash and dry two loads of the Curmudgeon’s dress shirts, and put them on hangers. He was so impressed he suggested I get a job at the local dry cleaner.

But something inside me craved adventure, or more accurately, a change of scenery. The summer swelter can be so unbearable that I needed to be reminded how beautiful this season is. Mostly, I needed a break from my routine, a day to get out and smell the roses.

Elizabeth Park, home of the country’s oldest rose garden, fit the bill. It has roses, thousands of them, blooming from June to October. Best of all, it required a 45-minute road trip to Hartford, enough time to hit the highway, blast some music and give me the sense of escape I was craving.

An aerial view of the rose garden.
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Rose arches in full bloom.
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One of my biggest regrets is that the rose arches were not in full bloom. The photos above show the arches in full bloom in June, and how they looked when I was there.

My sister, who’s president of her garden club, cautioned that mid-June is the prime time to visit because the rose aches are in full bloom. My biggest regret is that the arches, shown above in all their glory, were not in bloom. But I had to take what I could get and not stand on ceremony. The chances of me getting up to Hartford in mid-June are slim to none.

I arrived and the first thing I did was get as far away as possible from a young couple with a baby. I love children, but something about the sprawling park demanded silence, almost reverence. The last thing I wanted to hear was a crying baby or babbling parents.

The park had few visitors, allowing me to roam freely and train my lens on the roses as I milled around. Most striking is the vast variety of colors and sizes of roses, which range from delicate white climbers to hardy crimson beach roses.

In between are a rainbow of colors, from sprays of tiny red roses to mauve and coral beauties resembling carnations. As I moved along the beds, I noted that a lot of the roses need to be dead-headed, and many of the beds need weeding. My heart went out to the full-time gardeners who maintain the roses – anyone who’s raised roses will attest they’re the most labor-intensive and demanding plants on the planet.

And I had little trouble believing that the roses are tended to every day. With 15,000 rose bushes and 800 varieties of old and new roses in the garden, it’s easy to understand why so much maintenance is required. The park needs to raise $100,000 each year just to cover fertilizer, mulch and replacement bushes.

I had gorgeous blaze roses – big red climbers that bloomed and spilled over my stockade fence – every Memorial Day at my old house and have raised a few roses in my day. But I bid goodbye to them when I moved to the woods, and was assured by a neighbor that the deer would feast on them. (This neighbor has since questioned every gardening decision I’ve ever made.)

I got by with a few beach roses, which the deer don’t eat, and managed to survive. But this year when re-landscaping the front yard, I decided to live dangerously and plant two roses bushes outside my front door. The bushes produce delicate pink roses, and quite honestly, I’m not sure how I survived so long without roses in my yard.

My maternal grandmother tended roses in her tiny backyard in Bayside, N.Y., and I vividly recall a white lattice arbor covered in roses, though my mother assures me it belonged to the next door neighbor. My most vivid memory of a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, VA., when I was about 9 is white arbors cloaked in roses in a formal rose garden.

I was captivated by the roses on that trip, though I know that wasn’t the point of it. Still, I think there is no greater gift to humanity than a well-tended rose garden, which brings beauty and joy to all who see it. Show me a rose gardener and I’ll show you someone with a big heart. There is no other explanation for the time, money and labor involved in maintaining roses.

I’m not sure why the rose is so captivating, but perhaps it has something to do with its delicate petals guarded by thorny stems, and the fact that it’s one of the most fragrant flowers in the garden. That doesn’t mean that all roses are fragrant – I was very disappointed when I sniffed a few varieties and they had no scent – but most of the roses has a delicate intoxicating aroma.

I didn’t stay long at the park – it was nearly 90 degrees and I began to feel trickles of sweat down my back – but that’s the beauty of a solo excursion. You can pull the plug when you want, not having to make excuses or apologize to anyone.

Best of all, you can hop into your car, blast the air conditioning and take the long way home, happy that you made your escape and no one even noticed you were gone.