The "end of summer" has been discussed at length on social media since the last week of July, so you guys know what that means: The first week of school is upon us! Of course, not everyone on Facebook actually has kids (myself included), but somehow it still feels like school is upon each one of us because there are dozens of photos acknowledging as much in our newsfeeds. Four years into writing this back-to-school column, I'm halfway wondering why JanSport or American Eagle isn't directly sponsoring it. Parents have inspired me to write essentially the same thing five times in a row, because minor irritations like witnessing a flood of "first day" photos never seem to go away. If anything, those irritations get just a wee bit more irritating, year after year, as we say to ourselves, "Wait, I thought Brayden just "graduated" from third grade. You're trying to tell me that was only kindergarten? FML." I'm not trying to be crass here; as a scholastically-minded student in my youth, I took the first day of school pretty seriously. I had my outfits planned and pencils sharpened (I guess kids today just sharpen their iPads, I really have no idea). But no matter how much importance I placed on the first day of school, I was never delusional enough to think everyone else cared, too. My own parents had a firm disinterest in snapping "first day" pictures (why waste perfectly good 35mm film on that?), and I can't imagine even my own grandparents saying, "Where's the photo of her getting on the bus?" They were too busy living their lives, which didn't revolve around me.
I think that's partly why some people get irked by back-to-school pictures. Aside from the sheer abundance of photos, coupled with the fact that, to the average Facebook friend, this year's photos hardly differ from last year's photos, it's hard for many of us who are a certain age to understand why this showiness is necessary. Parental pride is a wonderful thing, but it can be experienced offline, as well. Do the photos that Mom and Dad are taking of little Ryleigh at the bus stop really deserve to be Liked? Or are many of us just Liking them out of forced obligation, so that Ryleigh's parents know how proud we are of her for climbing up some bus steps and going to school like it's her job (because it is her fucking job)?
When people justifiably criticize kids receiving "participation trophies" in sports, they're criticizing the idea that every kick of the ball deserves lavish praise. And the way detractors like me seem to feel about first day of school photos is similar. It's cute to witness our friends' children growing up and starting school (or in some cases, high school or college), but it almost seems like parents are rewarding their kids before the kids have really done anything other than get dressed, eat breakfast, and MAYBE tie their own shoes. I'm sympathetic to the parents' pride, but it's hard for me to experience that pride myself. Hence, I often feel a wave of boredom set in through the month (or at least the last half) of August when I'm on Facebook, because every other photo is a celebration of the mundane.
*Note: While they can't possibly rival "first day of school" pictures, summer camp photos may get their own column someday, too.
Every phase of life should be exciting, and every first day of school is as important, if not more so, than the last. But in my opinion, those milestones are personal, and no one else can possibly care like you do as a parent or did as a child. Even if my mom had snapped 100 pictures of me trying to braid my own hair and dressing myself in head-to-toe neon (hey, it was the late '80s), no one else knew what I was thinking or feeling. No one knew that I had memorized every single word of "Cantaloop" on the school bus, or had a toilet explode on me in the middle of the school day, or got punished for talking too loudly in the cafeteria. Those were my experiences, shared only with myself or my classmates, and not with my mom's giant network of friends, or all of my friends' parents (who probably wouldn't have been remotely interested anyway). Now that I'm grown up, I'm usually happy to see my friends' children's smiling faces and crisp new outfits during back-to-school, but I'm still a little uneasy with the onslaught of bus stop galleries in my newsfeed. (PopSugar even has a post called '25 Must-Take Back-To-School Pictures' which suggests that parents "Set up a mini back-to-school photo session with your tot the weekend before school starts.")
Like the kids in those pictures, though, I'm trying to learn. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll photograph my own little STFUP, Jr. casually holding an apple, a ruler, and a stack of books while shaking the bus driver's hand (but I really doubt it). Let's check out some examples of how parents handle photos during the month-long back-to-school-fest on Facebook. And remember parents: If you named your kid 'Kempton,' your friends (and kids' teachers) might not be able to take you seriously no matter how great the Pinterest-inspired, high-definition photo is that you post.
1. Just Wait Until You Have Kids
I feel you, Kim and Corey. Amber and Kristen, y'all have your perspectives, and I'm not going to be the asshole who tells you they're invalid. I will, however, say that you might be missing Corey's point. What he's saying is, "Every freaking time I check Facebook, there's another useless picture of a kid with his hair combed crying over his oatmeal or a portrait of a lunchbox. What's up with that, and can a few of you guys give it a rest?" Yes, a child going off to school is a big deal, but no, I won't "be prepared for next year when Gavin starts school." There's a handy Hide feature for that.
2. Professional Back-To-School Photos (Unedited)
Having professional photos taken of your children before they start school is the hip new trend that I was recently alerted to and wholeheartedly despise. First of all, this is teaching kids that for every "first," a shiny, professional photo must be taken. It's only a few steps away from sending kids to the Kim Kardashian Selfie School Of Flawless Angles. But secondly, part of my issue with this prop-laden photo trend is that many parents calculate the "first day of school" in different ways. For some, it's the first day of preschool. For others, pre-K. For other still, kindergarten, and then of course beyond that there's a large and annoying group of parents who believe that EVERY first day of school is as important to photograph as the one before it. Wouldn't it be more fun to take these girls camping or swimming rather than doll them up and tell them to look precious for the camera? Just an inconsequential, judgmental thought.
3. "Anti-Kid Photo Posts"
"The anti crowd," oooohhhh. Sounds so dangerous! I always thought that I had to earn my street cred for being hard by smoking cigarettes against brick walls, but apparently all I have to do is dislike the constant stream of back-to-school photos for people to consider me rude and "exceptionally nutty." On the one hand, I do agree that it's silly to get upset over seeing a back-to-school photo or two. But on the other hand, I know it's never just a photo or two that pushes someone into 'annoyed' territory. It's dozens of photos, posted by dozens of people, of their kids standing in mostly the same position. (On the driveway, outside the front door, by the rose bush in the front yard, etc.)
Not to mention, I rarely see entire galleries of pictures in which the child feigns the same level of excitement for photo 1 as she did for photo 11. So here's a thought: If you're online participating in discussions about "anti crowds" and making jokes about "bombarding Facebook with our adorable kids," you almost certainly have too much time on your hands. I realize this is an ironic statement given that I've spent a significant amount of time writing about this subject, but trust me, there are better things to do than disparage the people who don't want to see 17 pictures of your kids zipping up their backpacks. Those people are not crazy.
4. Back-To-School Deluge
If you don't believe me, re: the last image, here's an example of what "the anti crowd" is a little sick of:
Aww, cute! He'll do great!
Okay, maybe Mom is almost more excited than little Ayden, but can you blame her? Her little boy is starting kindergarten tomorrow!
What a cutie! There he goes! This needed to be captured across a few different photos, you can probably understand that!
Ooookay, Becky. Seriously. Stop. This isn't even a good photo, and you're probably starting to look like a momarazzi. I wonder how many school buses are delayed as a result of parents doing this.
Girl. Tack this up on your fridge, take some fish sticks out of the freezer, and call it a day. Guess what EVERY kid has on the first day of kindergarten? A "purrrfect" day, because they're kids. Unless little Ayden decided to bring his daddy's pistol to school and shoot a classmate in the face (it's happened in America too many times to count!), he's probably skating by on Day 1. Keep it to yourself, 'cause we all assume as much. He's five.
No. Nope. Nah ah. Shut it down, Becky. Shut. It. Down.
5. Mom's Gold Star: BTS Edition
Sarah, you are a QUEEN. This post is hilarious, but more than that, it's ballsy. It's judgy. And Sarah is a MOM. These are not qualities that moms are supposed to display on Facebook during back-to-school. Another time, perhaps, but back-to-school is some sacred shit -- and Sarah could not possibly care less. I applaud her zeal for mockery, not to mention her precision with the tone. The truth is, most kids just want to make their own memories -- photographed or not -- without posing for a bunch of artificial Facebook fodder. When I mock the endless parade of back-to-school photos on social media, I'm not just criticizing the parents for being narcissists. I'm attempting to point out that their kids aren't totally into it either. Thankfully, Sarah's drawing exists to explain that some parents are hyper-aware of that fact, too. A+!