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Montessori School of Greater Lafayette Blog

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One Duck's Destiny
 
 
 The Duck - portrait by Harriet.

He could have landed anywhere. A bathtub in Chicago or maybe a swimming pool in Des Moines. But this rubber duck found a home inside an Illinois photographer’s toolbox. And for the past 30 years, he and his person, Harriet - a.k.a. “The Ducky Lady” - have traveled around the Midwest photographing school children.
The Duck’s job is to draw a smile from the child just before Harriet makes the portrait. He does this by “tickling” the child’s nose or Harriet’s nose. Sometimes he sits on her head and waits for the child to “blow” him off. It’s theater, really. Ducky theater. And it’s wildly successful. The Ducky Lady’s school portraits are the best because the children’s smiles are real. They’re smiling because they are laughing at the goofy antics of this dynamic duck duo. Harriet explains her tactics.
“In order to get the smile I am looking for, I try to make them feel comfortable,” she said. “For a second they forget they are supposed to smile and they just smile.”
If you have been a student or teacher at MSGL you have smiled for The Duck and The Ducky Lady - probably many times. They have been taking photographs together at our school for 20 years. And, like me, you probably have questions about The Duck and his amazing person that you were too timid to ask. This year on picture day I was able to hang out behind the camera with The Duck and Harriet. They agreed to an interview for our blog.
The first question I had to ask was, is this really the original Ducky? Is it the same one I smiled at 15 years ago?
“Oh, that's the original one,” Harriet told me. “He’s thirty years old. He doesn't squeak anymore and he's glued all over.”
So why doesn’t she just get a new duck?
“This is the only duck I really like,” she explains, “because it’s perfectly flat and it sits on my head.”
This is one lucky duck. He gets to see the world and he makes thousands of children smile every year. He is quite possibly one of the most famous rubber duckies in America - second only to the one in Ernie’s bathtub on Sesame Street. Over the course of his career he and The Ducky Lady have traveled to schools in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. He took to his career like, well, like a duck to water. But does he miss the water?
That brings up another sensitive but important question. Why is he so dirty? Harriet explains that people think The Duck is dirty, but his feathers are just worn from years of being in show business. Getting picked up and placed on Harriet’s head every day has caused discoloration that won’t wash off.
“I wash this duck every single day,” she admits.
Just for fun, here is a photo of one of The Duck's siblings that was hatched at about the same time. Sure, he looks great but he hasn't spent his life on the road like our story's handsome hero. 

   

I should mention that there ARE other ducks in the toolbox. They are small ducks that fit in Harriet’s pocket when she carries her camera and tripod to the classrooms to take group photos. But The Duck only works the main room. There is also a rubber frog that sometimes gets called up on the rare occasion that The Duck can’t get a child to laugh. Harriet’s experience tells her which toy to try.

 
 The Duck and friends hanging out in his custom toolbox.

The Duck and the Ducky Lady do this show all day long. From September through November they are on the road 7 days a week. But Harriet is not complaining. She accepts her schedule with a smile.
“I used to travel the entire winter, spring, and fall,” she says. “I don't care much for winter.”
Now she spends the winter months doing freelancing work close to home. She also used to photograph weddings but discovered that her heart wasn’t in that business.
"I just love children, so that’s what I do,” she says.

 
 Sometimes only your big brother can get you to smile.

Harriet’s love for children shows in the way she works with them and sees them as individuals. She visits the same schools and remembers the children from year to year.
“I do remember kids,” she says. “For some reason its easy for me to remember. I don't remember names but I remember behaviors, you know. And I remember the faces.”
Harriet is one of the few photographers who still takes group photos inside the classroom. Most photographers today create a composite class photo made up of individual student photos. Harriet believes you can see more of the child’s personality when he or she is standing with their classmates. She also does all of the photo proofing and editing herself.
“I have to because I know the children," she says. I know a child from the moment I started to work with them and no one can make this decision but me. For someone who has never interacted with the child it’s impossible because they don't know. I insist on doing this, always."
Sometimes parents are frustrated when their child gives a cheesy grin in a photo or refuses to smile at all. The Ducky Lady has excellent advice for parents looking to get a nice photo of their child. She explains that children cannot really control their smile before the age of 5 or 6.
“There is an age after that when the kids can control their smile. They want to look the way they want to look,” she says.
Until then, we have to find ways to encourage them to be themselves. That’s why The Duck is so important. It’s practically impossible to say “Hi, silly ducky” and not smile. (Go ahead. Try it. See? Practically impossible.)

She also encourages parents to let their children wear something comfortable on picture day. “Don't overdress them because children don't act the same way if they are overdressed,” Harriet suggests.


  
 Lena and Ian had VIP passes to meet The Duck backstage. Ian brought along his star-struck friend.


It was great to spend picture day with Harriet and get answers to all of my (and your) questions about The Duck. But I had to confess that up until a few years ago, I didn’t even know she had a first name. I had always known her, as we all do, as “The Ducky Lady.” That seems to be how she likes it. But she was willing to share just a few personal details.
Although The Duck doesn’t spend much time in the water outside of his daily bath, Harriet enjoys being outdoors when she’s not behind a camera.
“I go kayaking and hiking. I belong to a kayaking group. That's what I do when I don't photograph," she says.
A few years ago, our school director Suman invited Harriet and some friends from school on a trip to India. For Harriet, that was a dream come true. One favorite memory is of riding on an elephant with her friend Beth.
“That was nice," she says, smiling. "India was my dream country. That's where I always wanted to go. I wanted to go there before they lose their saris and all the colors and become jeans people."
At the end of picture day as Harriet packed up The Duck to leave MSGL, Lena and Anita made sure she got one of our tie-dyed school t-shirts. The shirt made Harriet really happy and I asked her why.
“It’s yellow and orange,” she exclaimed. “My favorite colors!”









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Avatar  Lena 7 months ago

Harriet and The Duck make a great team and magically capture perfect smiles from my two children every year! Thank you! And Ian and I are still star struck from our VIP time with The Duck!