It didn't surprise Mendel when the letter discussing picture options came in the mail. The district is still on a tight budget and needs to have picture day be optional again this year, one of the parents had mentioned at the last PTA meeting. Mendel personally preferred to describe it as the district being cheap.
"It's time to decide if we're sending in pictures ourselves or if you all are participating in the school's picture day," he announced, dropping the mail on the kitchen table. He scanned the room, noting that one of his children, Eli, wasn't present for breakfast. He proceeded anyway, knowing that Eli usually snuck in and participated in the school's picture day regardless. "Does anyone have any strong opinions before I give my suggestion? Remember that we would do photos today if we pick the first option."
"Eli is helping me chalk my hair," Alex interjected, not caring about photos at the moment. "Can I go upstairs with him?"
Alex nodded and left, not bothering to push in her chair.
"Would I have more time to style my hair if we did it at home or at school?" Ivy asked, pushing in the chair. "I don't know how I want it to look yet."
"You'd worry about it either way," Juliette responded, more focused on the package the letter came with than her sister's concerns.
"But it would be easier here, I think," Rita added, actually trying to be helpful. "Less time pressure."
"But with a timed deadline I would be forced to make a decision faster instead of waffling on my options." Ivy shook her head. "What do you think, Dad?"
Mendel knew that Ivy panicked under pressure, but kept it to himself. He figured comments like that would make her procrastinate harder as opposed to learning healthy time management. "I think that you would have an adequate amount of time to make a decision in either case, as even if we did it today you would still have some time before its your turn."
"Dad's right, and if we do it here I can help you pick while we wait to be called," Rita chimed in, again not-so-subtly implying her preference in the matter.
Mendel noted her response and looked over at Juliette, who still wasn't really participating in the conversation.
She didn't notice.
He then turned his attention to the half of the table that hadn't spoken yet. "Kylie, Marian, Mary? Do you all have opinions?"
"I already know what I want to wear so I'm ready whenever," Kylie replied. She smiled thinking about the clothing she picked out in advance, and how fancy she thought they would make her look.
Marian and Mary, on the other hand, did not have answer to the question. They were too busy picking the marshmallows out of their cereal and smushing them against one another.
Mendel wasn't surprised to hear any of the answers - or lack thereof - he received and nodded as he processed them all. "It sounds like there is no strong majority this year, since Rita was the only one to actually pick one of the options." He wanted to encourage Rita to be more confident in her opinions.
Rita was instead embarrassed to be named specifically.
"So here's my suggestion: we let Juliette pick."
"Me?!" Juliette demanded, exasperated and now paying full attention. "Why would I do that?"
"It's your final school picture," Mendel reminded her, glad she was finally participating. "I think you should choose how it goes."
"It's also Marian and Mary's first school pictures," Juliette reminded him back. "You're not making them choose." As she was finishing her statement she knew how ineffective the argument was, but couldn't think of anything else. She was just glad that the two of them had stopped throwing food at one another so she didn't look completely foolish.
The real reason Mendel wanted Juliette to chose is because he felt that she was distancing herself from the family, and he couldn't figure out how much that was a natural teenage desire for independence and how much was something else she wasn't telling him. He hoped that by maintaining a strong family connection he could eventually figure out what that something was, or that maybe one of her siblings could. But he couldn't tell her that directly and risk her pushing him away further. So he went with a secondary concern of his.
"They have no experience with this to make their decision on while you do, Juliette. I want you to pick the option you're most comfortable with."
Juliette never liked taking school pictures, no matter which option the family went with. Which was worse - her dad setting up a hokey tripod camera and taking a billion pictures of her, or the school's dead-eyed cameraman snapping one picture and sending her off no matter how bad it looked?
"And if you genuinely can't pick one of the options," Mendel continued, seemingly knowing what she was thinking, "I can make the final decision if need be."
"Fine, give me a few minutes to think about it." Juliette, still holding onto the package, left to go upstairs, also not pushing in her chair.
"I'll be down here when you make your decision," Mendel called after her, not expecting an answer. He didn't get one.