My current temp job literally gives me snapshots of school aged kids in every stage of their academic careers. In the two minutes I spend with a kid, on an average, I constantly compare them to my son and even sometimes to my daughter. Mostly though, it’s to Doodicus since he’s already a veteran when it comes to schooling.

I didn’t get to take his school picture. I told my boss I would prefer not to. Either I would be a distraction to him or I would be too critical of how he looked or acted. But now I wonder what he’s like when he sits down at a camera station. Does he require several verbal cues and tons of encouragement to get those two poses or is he a natural, easily reflecting the verbal cues of the person behind the camera and sitting tall, shoulders relaxed and smiling naturally?

Today was the first time I had been on my own shooting every age group between headstart and seniors. In the past, while I’ve been solo before, it’s always been *just* elementary, or *just* middle school, or *just* high school. Today? Was a bitch.

I took pictures of identical triplets, all dressed the same, in their gingham dresses with ladybug pockets, red mary jane shoes and hair in ponytails. They were only two years old (almost three! the teacher happily informed me). They each wore a necklace personalized with their names. Adorable and petite things with arms like a bird’s wing, thin and delicate. I knelt in front of each one as I put them into seating position and cupped their tiny heads in my hand as I adjusted their faces. As I peered into their dark eyes and asked them to smile for me, they each responded with a shy smile. Each with baby teeth ravaged by caries. I wondered how their futures would look when they were eight years old.

I easily bantered with hormonal 17 year old boys who through sheer will power, tempered with peer pressure, were able to switch off their disarming and dimpled grins to remain stoic as the shutter clicked and the lights popped. It doesn’t bother me to take a picture of a young man trying to look tough as long as I can see a spark, unknowingly channeling Tyra Banks and smiling with their eyes.

Most children are innately happy. They don’t – and shouldn’t – know anything else. But doing what I do, I see too many children who don’t know how to smile. I can take a dozen pictures and joke and make faces and tease and the teacher can do the same, but some remain somber. Detached. Usually the session comes to an end when I discreetly ask the para or teacher if the child is normally so serious. Yes, they always answer, and I know there’s nothing more I can do but give the school the picture they need for an identification badge and the parents get photographic proof of their child’s loss of naiveté and joy for reasons only they know.

This year both of my son’s pictures were very good. He looked relaxed and happy. He knows how to smile and in a small yet inexplicable way, it gives me peace of mind.