“That’s what you’re wearing?”
Lily looked down at herself. “Yes?”
She was wearing purple striped tights, a pink ballet skirt, and Rodney’s old Schrödinger's cat t-shirt. With a pair of pink combat boots.
Normally Rodney didn’t care what the kids wore, so long as all the important parts were covered, but it was picture day at school and those pictures would be sent to all the family. Family who might judge his parenting skills on superficial data points.
“I’m not sure that’s appropriate for picture day,” he said.
Lily shrugged. “I like it. Can you braid my hair?”
“What about the dress with the flowers?”
Lily made the sign for get over it and handed Rodney her brush and a couple of hair ties. Rodney scowled, but gave up arguing since he knew it wouldn’t get him anywhere; Lily could really dig into an argument. Instead he started braiding.
“John! Ten minutes!”
“On it!” John yelled back.
“Pop, can I have some money? There’s a book fair this week.”
“Of course.” Rodney never said no to books, or educational toys. Well, almost. “No sticker books or poster books of boy bands.”
Lily sighed. “That was one time when I was little.”
“You’re ten. You’re still little.”
“Po-op,” Lily whined, dragging the word out in a drawl that echoed John’s. It made Rodney grin despite himself.
“Poppa!” Robbie ran into the living room. He was wearing his cowboy costume from Halloween. “I’m ready!”
“You can’t wear that,” Rodney said.
Robbie’s eyes immediately welled with tears. “But I want it!”
Rodney could feel a headache starting behind his eyes. “It’s picture day.”
Robbie’s lower lip trembled, and two big tears rolled down his cheeks. Another lost argument, because Rodney certainly didn’t want his son going off to Kindergarten with his face blotchy from crying.
“Okay,” he said hastily. “You can wear the costume.”
“C’mere, pardner,” Lily said. She pulled Robbie up on her lap and used her thumbs to wipe his tears away. “You look great!”
Robbie beamed at her. Rodney and John had never considered, when they decided to have more children, that their offspring would gang up together against them.
“Here we are,” John announced.
He strolled in carrying Leia on his back, and Rodney supposed it was inevitable that she was wearing one of John’s shirts as a dress, belted around the middle with the oversized woven lanyard Lily made at day camp several years ago.
“This is your fault,” Rodney said to John.
“Okay,” John said agreeably.
Lily adjusted Robbie’s cowboy hat. “Pop doesn’t think we look good enough for school pictures.”
“You all look good to me,” John said. He dropped Leia on the couch and helped her tie her shoes. “Originals, every last one of you.”
He was right, of course. Rodney was proud of raising three free-thinkers every other day of the year, just not picture day.
“All done,” he told Lily, handing her back the brush. He’d gotten very good at braids, French, fishtail, and upside down.
“Thanks. Hey, guys, I think Pop needs a group hug.”
In seconds Rodney was swarmed by his children, with John embracing him from behind, and it was hard to feel anything but pleased and grateful.
“It’ll be fine,” John murmured in his ear.
Rodney hugged his kids, and then it was time to gather up backpacks and lunches and herd everyone into the minivan. And maybe they weren’t dressed up and neatly put together for picture day, but they’d look one hundred percent like themselves.
Which was exactly how Rodney wanted them.