There were plenty of other, more technologically efficient ways for Mendel to take pictures, and usually he used those. But for the school pictures, he liked take out the old tripod and camera.
He enjoyed scrolling through the pictures before uploading the best one to his computer, Likewise, he felt that letting his kids do the same gave them more control of the situation than just looking at the options on a computer monitor. He thought it was useful to mimic the atmosphere of school picture days - having his kids sit on stools in front of a tripod camera against a white background - so they had an idea of what it was like while still being in a comfortable environment at home. It always made him happy when they chose this option as opposed to taking pictures at school.
The living room had been turned into a make-shift photo studio; the TV had been moved out of the way so the wall behind it could be used as a background, and the couch was pushed back to make room for Mendel, his stool, and the tripod. Sure, he could have just sat on the couch itself, but he thought it was more genuine to use a stool.
"Make sure to mark your names off the list when you get down here!" Mendel yelled out to whichever kids happened to be listening. "We'll base the order on who gets here first!" He preferred to go in descending order by age, but he didn't think that was going to happen.
And it didn't. Kylie was indeed the only one who already knew what she wanted to wear, and strolled into the living room proudly. Her hair was pinned into a bun on top of her head and she had borrowed a button-down shirt, though it looked like a dress on her.
"That's a lovely scarf you have on Kylie, it goes well with your shirt." Mendel complimented as he properly positioned the camera. "Alex let you borrow it?"
"It's an ascot," Kylie corrected as she positioned herself on the stool, pointing to how she had folded the scarf over to mimic one. "She let me look through her side of the closest and I picked the shirt myself, but she did help me with my hair."
"That was very nice of her, wasn't it?"
"Mmhmm, it was."
Mendel tried to remember which camera setting worked best for school pictures - something he assumed would be on the school rule list but wasn't - and ended up taking a multitude of pictures of Kylie just trying to figure it out. He apologized each time the flash was up a bit too high, which ended up being most of them.
"At least we know which pictures we can delete right away," he joked once he got a sufficient amount of pictures on the proper setting.
"Delete all of the ones where I blinked," Kylie requested as she rubbed the light spots out of her eyes. "I don't want to send those in."
"I wouldn't do that," Mendel agreed, already deleting them. He paused and lingered on one particular picture. "Can I keep this picture of you blinking for the family computer? You look cute in this one." He offered the camera to Kylie so she could look for herself.
But she didn't even entertain the idea. "No. Good pictures only."
"All right then." Mendel hoped he didn't sound too disappointed as he deleted the picture. "You still need to look through the remaining pictures and pick which one you want to take to school with you, though. Do that while I get ready for the next set of pictures."
Kylie accepted the camera that time. There were only a handful of pictures left for her to look through, so she made quick work out of it. She also made sure to delete the extra pictures so her dad knew exactly which picture she wanted. And in case he still couldn't tell-
"I left the best picture on the camera, Dad," she announced as she attempted to hand the camera to him. It ended up falling into his coat pocket instead.
Mendel finished moving his stool next to the other and fished the camera out of his pocket. Before he could say anything, he noticed that she had already wiped her name off the whiteboard list and was leaving the room.
"Great choice, thank you Kylie - and make sure to call in Marian and Mary!" he hoped she heard. "It's their turn next!" Just because the order didn't start the way Mendel wanted it didn't mean he couldn't try to continue it that way.
Because of that desire Mendel had already changed the layout of the living room photoset. It would be counterproductive, and perhaps a bit mean, to make the twins chose who got their picture first. It made much more sense to take their pictures together and just crop them for each twin.
Giggling came from the other room, indicating that Kylie had indeed heard Mendel's request.
Marian came in first, his eyes constantly jumping from his dad to his sister behind him. His sister followed followed suit, more composed than he was but just as excited. The two stood there eagerly, waiting for their dad to comment on their clothes.
Mendel already knew what the two of them were wearing for the pictures - he had heavily suggested to them what to wear so he could make sure they would match - but did notice that Marian was wearing Mary's hair ribbon. He very briefly wondered who initiated the swap, but didn't let it concern him.
"Looks like I put the ribbon on the wrong person," he cooed. "I'm glad you two got that fixed!"
The twins appreciated the approval and continued their laughter as they made their way to the stools. They were old enough to pull themselves onto them without help, though Mary was more graceful about it than her brother. And besides Marian being told to face in the other direction, the two of them easily positioned themselves in the poses they saw their older siblings using for their pictures in the past.
The good mood was infectious, as Mendel had a goofy grin on his face as he took their pictures, even ignoring the slight pain in his back from having to hunch over to use the camera. And, since knew what settings to have his camera on, he hoped that would make it easier for the twins to endure flash photography for the first time.
Marian was able to power through it pretty well, but the bright light caught Mary off guard. A few pictures had Mary looking confused, and before Mendel could stop him, Marian had swirled back around to his original position and hugged onto his sister, smushing his face against hers.
Mendel thought it was adorable and just had to take some more pictures of the moment, especially when Mary realized what was going on and hugged her brother back. He already knew he was going to save those to the computer, but showed them to the twins anyway so they would be aware of it. He kept his grip on the camera as he scrolled through the pictures, knowing that the two grabbed things to show their liking of it.
As predicted, the two of them did fling their hands in front of the camera when they liked one of the pictures. Based on how many fingerprints were added to the screen, Mendel got approval to keep all of them.
"Thank you, you two did a lovely job today!" Mendel again cooed at his youngest children, "All your pictures were wonderful!" He sent them off to call down Juliette, as the list had already circled back to the beginning. Since they couldn't reach the whiteboard, he took their names off of it himself.
He then tried to calm himself down from the excitement as he repositioned the photoset yet again to its original location. He knew very well Juliette didn't respond as well to overt affection as her younger siblings did - but that wasn't going to stop him from engaging with her entirely.
"Did you find something more comfortable to wear for the picture?" Mendel asked as she made it into the room.
Juliette, still trying to defy the school's requests, had put on the most generic clothing she could find in her closest. The shorts and tank top sleeves were just long enough that they didn't break any school rules, though, as she didn't want her dad to mention it.
"That's good." Mendel recognized the outfit as what she wore when it was her day to do laundry. "Did you find a use for that shawl?"
"I gave it to Eli so he has something wear when he colors his hair."
"That's sweet of you, Juliette."
Once Juliette had gotten on the stool she was ready to get her picture taken, aside from one tiny detail. Her annoyed expression remained on her face. Both she and her dad knew the final rule on the school's list: AND MAKE SURE TO SMILE! You want to put your BEST face forward!
Mendel had a need to follow the rules but didn't want to antagonize his daughter over something so, in the grand scheme of things, trivial. Juliette wanted to push against the system as it were, but didn't want to be in situations longer than she had to. So it became a staring contest between Juliette and Mendel, to see who would break first.
It took about a minute of awkward silence for Mendel to suppress a sigh and finally start taking pictures. If the school really wanted her to smile they'll make her take a photo there, though Mendel doubted that would happen. And if it actually did, he would probably help her fight it if she really didn't want to be smiling. But he didn't bring any of that up. Instead, once he had gotten a suitable amount of pictures, he automatically handed the camera over to Juliette. "Pick your favorite and I'll send in that one."
Juliette quickly yet half-heartedly flipped through the pictures. She looked the same in all of them aside from a slight difference in eye openness. She considered asking to send in the one where her eyes where half-closed, but figured her dad would object and bring up the rules again. So instead she just handed the camera back to him. "They all look fine, you can pick one." All of them would show that she didn't want to participate.
"Would I be able to save any of these images to the family computer if I wanted to?" Mendel asked as he accepted the camera.
She shrugged. "Sure." She stepped off the stool and started towards the name list.
"Thank you, Juliette." He flipped through the pictures at a more reasonable pace. "I think I'll send in this fourth picture," he soon stated just to let her know. "Your eyes are the most open in this one."
She knew he would pick up on that. "Okay."
"Tell Eli it's his turn when you go upstairs."
"He's already down here."
Mendel looked up from the camera in confusion. He was just in time to watch Juliette disappear upstairs and Eli take her place.
Eli was the only kid who genuinely enjoyed school picture day, so he had followed his sister down when it was her turn. There was no reason to make the wait longer by having to be called down. Besides, the sooner he got his picture taken the brighter his new green tips would look on the photos - and he wanted all the attention on those as opposed to the bits of his natural brown hair that was starting to peek through the blonde dye.
"Do you like my hair, Dad?" he asked, though he already had a feeling of the answer he was going to get. "Alex and I spent all morning on it."
Mendel thought the mix of colors made him look like a pineapple, but of course he wasn't going to say that out loud. "You didn't go for the same green as your old man?" Eli was the only kid he felt he could - very very lightly - joke around with.
That wasn't the answer he was expected, but Eli laughed anyway. Mostly because he was remembering Juliette's comment from earlier. "Nah, I went with a pastel color so I could match with Alex."
Mendel chuckled. "That was considerate of you. And your hair does look nice."
"I know." Eli strided over to the stool and took his time getting into his pose, giving his dad time to finish looking through and setting up the camera again.
Once Mendel was ready for the next round of photos, he looked at Eli's chosen pose and immediately snorted. "I don't think that's the school-required pose, Eli."
He was leaned off the stool with one leg thrown over the other, one hand holding onto the seat for balance and the other up in a peace sign. Just because he enjoyed getting his picture taken more than his siblings didn't mean he took it more seriously. "The school will just have to use the picture I take there then. Or both of them again." Eli kept a copy of that particular yearbook in his room.
Mendel knew he was right. "At least keep your tongue in your mouth. Try to look semi-professional here." But he knew that wasn't likely to happen and just accepted the situation, not wanting another stand off.
The request was indeed ignored, as each time the camera flashed Eli would try to swing himself into another ridiculous pose, resulting in most of the pictures taken being blurry shots. Those then ended up being deleted, much to his shock.
"You should be keeping all those. I look great in them!"
"You can barely be seen in them," Mendel countered. "I'm keeping all the non-blurry ones for you. Speaking of which-" he handed the camera over to his son "- pick which one you want to send to school." Knowing that he wouldn't pick right away, Mendel took the liberty of going ahead and erasing Eli's - and Juliette's - name off the list to save time.
Eli took the time provided to him to pick the best photo, carefully scrolling through each one. He realized he should have stayed in his first pose, as in the later pictures his limbs are blocking his tips. At least in made choosing a picture easy.
"Send in the first one." Eli requested, tossing the camera back at his dad. "But make sure to still keep the others."
"Thank you, Eli." The camera slipped out of Mendel's hands initially but he caught it the second time. "Tell Ivy it's her turn."
He assumed the the footsteps he heard going up the stairs meant that Eli heard him. What he didn't expect was to hear the same footsteps again before he finished putting the camera back on the tripod.
"Ivy is still working on her hair," Eli reported.
"Then tell Rita it's her turn."
"Rita's helping her."
"Then tell Alex it's her turn."
Mendel watched Eli dart upstairs again. He didn't have much time away from photo taking however, as soon enough he spotted Alex walking downstairs.
Alex walked right past her dad and to the stool. Unlike her siblings, she had no strong opinions about picture day, and saw it merely as a requirement for school. She sat on the stool with little fanfare, shifting around the teddy bear she carried to match the direction she was facing.
According to the school's rules objects were not allowed to be in the school photo, but Mendel didn't bother bringing that up. He knew that Alex wouldn't set down the bear unless she was forced to, and he had no desire to make her. That, and it would have been hypocritical of him to let Juliette and Eli get away with breaking rules and not her.
As the camera started flashing, Alex forced the corners of her mouth upward to form a kind of smile. She felt a slight pain in her face, but kept it up until the pictures were finished. She was supposed to smile in pictures, even if it meant that she had to rub her cheeks to ease the pain afterwards.
Mendel wished he had mentioned not needing to smile beforehand, but instead had to settle for just taking less pictures of her. He looked through them by himself first, to give her time to relax. He wanted to delete all of them expect for the first one where she hadn't started smiling yet, since it was obvious to him that she was in pain in the later ones. But he also knew that she would probably want to send in one where she was smiling since she forced herself to do so. So he silently sighed and handed the camera back to his daughter for her to choose, starting a conversation along the way.
"I like your new hair color, Alex. It showed up well in the pictures."
Alex paused to run her fingers through her hair, as if she needed to see the excess chalk on her hand to remember that she had colored it light purple. "I guess. I wanted it to be blonde like Eli's." She didn't like her dark brown hair - she felt it clashed too much with her naturally pale skin.
"Maybe if you really like having a different hair color, you can get it dyed for real in the future," Mendel encouraged. "I'm sure Eli will help you then, too. It's nice you two are sharing interests like this."
"I guess," she repeated. Since there were so few pictures to chose from, it didn't take her too much longer for her to pick one of them and hand the camera back. "The second one."
"Thank you, Alex." He used the bottom of his coat to wipe the chalk dust off the camera buttons, purposefully pushing down the delete button on the pictures after the first two. "Tell Ivy it's her turn again when you're done with the list."
She ended up not needing to, as the moment Alex left the room she bumped into Ivy, who in turn fell into Rita. Alex was momentarily startled to see the two of them already downstairs, but quickly regained her composure and left her sisters to their own business.
It didn't take long for Ivy to recover either, and after looking behind her to make sure her sister wasn't in immediate pain, she scanned over her clothes to make sure no chalk dust got on them. Satisfied with the lack of purple, she continued into the room.
"Does my hair look good?" She asked her dad. She ultimately decided on rolling her coils into a low-hanging bun - originally on top of her head until she saw Kylie sporting the same look - hoping that simplicity was key. "I want to look professional."
Mendel was more prepared for the sudden entrance of another child this time. "It looks very professional," he agreed. "I have a colleague who wears her hair very similarly." Well, the last time he saw her anyway, but that was close enough for reassurance sake.
"Good." Ivy looked visibly relived, ready to stop thinking so much about it. "Rita is down here too, when we're done."
"That'll make finishing these last two photo shoots a lot easier then. Come have a seat on the stool, it shouldn't take too long." He knew she would have done so even without his request, but he was trying to keep the mood relaxed.
Ivy complied, making sure to look directly at the camera when she sat down. She didn't want to risk blinking in any of the pictures this year.
Learning from his previous mistake, Mendel reminded Ivy that, "You don't need to force your eyes open, they'll be multiple pictures to chose from," before taking the first picture.
But like her sister before her, Ivy still strained her face, occasionally moving it in an attempt to make it less obvious. She blinked away the pain once shoot was over and briefly considered responding to her dad's comment by saying that she was only doing so because of the flash, since that was partially true. But she decided it wouldn't be worth partially lying to him.
Mendel let his comment be ignored as well, again looking through the photos himself first to give his daughter a moment of relaxation. He noted that Ivy was better at hiding the pain in her face than Alex was, and figured that to the untrained eye the pictures would look completely normal. He hoped this would make her happy.
"Did I blink in any of them?" Ivy asked, leaning over her dad's shoulder. "You can delete any I blinked in."
"All of the pictures look great, Ivy, you didn't blink in any of them." He pulled the camera away from his body so she could see and reach it easier. "Pick your favorite to send in and I'll save it to the family computer as well." He didn't feel to need to save the others.
Ivy clicked through the pictures. She scrunched up her nose at most of them, displeased that either her pose hid her hair bun or made it clear she was forcing her eyes open. She just wasn't photogenic. But she was still able to find one that wasn't too bad. "This one."
"Thank you. That's a good choice." Mendel went to work deleting the other pictures.
"I'm going to go take my name off the list," Ivy announced, making her way towards it. "Can I go ahead and take Rita's name off the list too, since she's already down here and the last to go?"
"Sure, go ahead."
Ivy wiped the last two names off the list, momentarily pausing to finish cleaning off the extra bits of marker still on the whiteboard. As she left the room she nodded to Rita to indicate it was her turn, but instead of heading back upstairs, she simply took her sister's place to wait for her to be finished.
Rita tried to walk into the room quietly, not wanting to disturb her dad while he set the camera back up.
"You can go ahead and sit down, Rita," Mendel called out, not looking up but already knowing that she was in the room. He could hear her buckled shoes against the ground.
She insisted on wearing those shoes in every picture. They were her nicest pair, and the fact that she could still wear them after multiple years was her only condolence for still not hitting a proper growth spurt. She was not looking forward to the camera being tilted down to get her centered properly.
Mendel tried to alleviate that concern by having the camera already positioned in that manner by the time she had taken her seat. He was always trying to fight against her overwhelming self-consciousness.
"That's a lovely jacket you picked, Rita, it matches your skirt perfectly. I think if you move your braid in front of your body, your hair tie would too." The shoes did as well, but the pictures were only taken from the waist-up, and he wasn't going to encourage her to disregard the required pose if she didn't initiate it first.
Rita didn't, not even bothering to move her braid as suggested. Instead she straightened out her back and put on a small, polite smile, no teeth showing. Just because she didn't mind getting her picture taken didn't mean she wouldn't get to the point with it.
Mendel bit his lip to avoid frowning and resigned himself to taking fewer, quicker pictures, to match the limited excitement in the room. Perhaps it was a good thing that Rita wasn't in the mindset to trying to develop her outward confidence, though - at least he wasn't having to debate with himself about rules with this photoshoot.
"Choose your favorite picture, Rita," he requested the moment he was done, offering her the camera before even glancing at the photos. He made sure to smile, so Rita knew he wasn't upset with her.
She still furrowed her brow. "But you haven't looked at them yet."
"I took the pictures, I already know they all look good. You should choose the one to send in to school."
"It would be easier if you pick it," she countered, hesitantly accepting the camera. She didn't want to pick one her dad wouldn't like.
"But it's your picture. It would make more sense if you're the one to do so." If he couldn't develop her outward confidence, he could at least encourage her inner confidence by having her making her own decision.
Rita browsed through the pictures. She was comforted by the fact that there were so few of them that she couldn't really make a bad choice. It also helped that she couldn't really spot any differences between them, and all looked nice enough. She did think that she had a nice smile in them, though.
"The final picture," she eventually decided, handing back the camera. She paused for a second, then added on, "I like my smile in that one." She hoped that would satisfy whatever answer he dad was hoping for.
Mendel grinned. "Excellent choice, thank you Rita. Do you want me to keep the other pictures as well?"
"If you want to that's fine."
"I will then, thank you." Mendel slipped the camera into his pocket and began to disassemble the tripod. "I'll clean up in here. You and your sibling get into more causal clothes, and we'll all reconvene in the kitchen to discuss dinner. All right?"
"All right," Rita agreed. She slipped off the stool and quietly left the room, knowing that Ivy had already wiped her name off the whiteboard.
Mendel listened as Ivy and Rita's footsteps disappeared upstairs. Once the room was entirely quiet, he continued cleaning up, now faster than before. He wanted time to upload the photos onto his computer and organize them without much noise - it was better for reflection that way. But he couldn't just leave an unkempt living room behind to do so. That would set a bad example.