We were running late this morning. Well, that’s not true. We weren’t running late. We were walking…plodding…ambling late because my children felt no urgency about the time whatsoever. Despite my pleas and protestations the girls stumbled and mumbled around the house like Joaquin Phoenix with a concussion.

Now before I tell you what happened, I’m going to offer a defense. And here it is: Occasionally my children’s Catholic school has a “dress down” day for the kids for which parents have to pay a dollar each. I don’t mind. The school has to break even somehow. And earlier this week, I stuffed three dollars into an envelope for a “dress down” day for the three girls. So today when they slumbered downstairs wearing regular clothes instead of their uniforms I, being intelligent and eager to find explanations for odd occurrences, settled on the obvious connection.

Seems right, right? But I was wrong. And not just a little wrong. I was the kind of wrong that’s going to live in infamy in the Archbold house. The kind of wrong that is acknowledged immediately as a mishap, quickly evolves into a spectacle, and germinates into a cautionary tale. Yeah, that kind of wrong.

You see, today was PICTURE DAY. And I didn’t know it.

Now, most mornings the children and I sit around and talk a little bit. In the mornings I’ve found their defenses are down and I get a lot more out of them. But like I said, today we were run…uh…we were late. So I threw some waffles into them, scrunched their hair into ponytails, and rushed them into the van where they asked for the radio so we didn’t talk much at all.

Life seemed rather fine at that moment, I must tell you. Got some tunes, kids were happy and dancing in the back row of the van. The baby was quiet mainly because her mouth had so much waffle in it that she was unable to move her jaw. The boy had his Power Rangers which he only dropped three times in the ten minute drive and begged me to pick up.

But then we pulled into the parking lot behind school and right away I noticed something different. I beheld ribbons in a girl’s hair. I spotted a silk shirt on a ten year old. I spied a second grade boy with creased slacks and “product” in his hair.

Oh Noooooooo! Ribbons? Silks? Slacks? Let me tell you, nothing says “Picture day” like a second grader in slacks and “product” in his hair.

I looked at my children in the rear view mirror and turned the radio off. “Uh guys, is today picture day?”

A little background is necessary here. The girls aren’t allowed to say “Duh” anymore. A few weeks ago my second grader came home with that word and it became a staple of every conversation for a few days.

“You doin’ your homework?”

You wanna’ go outside and play?

So I stomped the word right out of existence. So my girls didn’t say it but boy did they radiate a silent “Duh!” at me. The raised eyebrows. The extended arms with hands open. And the bemused sneer. You don’t know from being a parent until you realize your six year old thinks she’s smarter than you.

So I hastily parked in the first spot I found away from all the other vans so I could have a little privacy to turn the van into a cosmetic triage. I hopped out and flung open the side door, picked up the two Power Rangers that fell out, and looked over the girls as they jumped out. To me, their clothes screamed, “My Dad didn’t know it was picture day.” I watched jealously all the responsible parents parading the braids, bows, ribbons and curls into school. There was not a ponytail to be seen. Not one. And I wondered if I should run home, grab dresses, combs, and maybe a curling iron and run back. Or maybe we could all just go home. Call it a day. We’ll reschedule. But that even seemed stupid to me.

I looked them over to decide what to fix first. Their socks matched. Not too too many flyaways. No obvious stains. Hey, the girls weren’t a complete mess. Now, it might not be “Picture Day” good but I’d say their appearance was “Good enough for a Wednesday.” And I realized something. I don’t know how to do anything different than I’d done it. Job done. I wouldn’t know what to do with a curling iron anyway. So I relaxed. I kissed them and walked them into school and they talked about whether Wonder Woman could beat up Hawkgirl. They were happy. So, so was I.

But I know in about two weeks the pictures are going to come home and my wife is going to open them excitedly and then she’ll see them and know exactly what happened. She’ll ask me, “Did you forget it was picture day?”

And I’ll say, “Duh!”