It's the week before Labor Day, and for many kids, school's already back in session. I don't know this because I have a kid of my own, or because I pay particularly close attention to TV commercials or other youth-focused advertisements; I know it because I'm on Facebook. Just five or so years ago, a person like me might have been vaguely aware that school was starting up again but wouldn't have necessarily known the precise day that each of my Facebook friends' kids were strapping on their backpacks for the first time that semester. I wouldn't have known their exact ages, the grades they're in, what their lunch boxes look like, or what they wore on that special first day before stepping onto the school bus. For decades, this is how we all lived, ignorant to such important details in a youngster's life, focusing only on our personal fall wardrobes and/or adult lunchbox preferences, but now, with the help of Facebook, we can be ignorant no more.
In 2014, you'll learn a lot about your friends' kids throughout the last half of August and into the first week of September. That's because school milestones are increasingly abundant on the social network whose core audience is getting older, and whose kids are growing past the potty training stage (thank god) and entering the academic phase of their lives. I've seen pictures of kids entering preschool and kindergarten all the way through high school, and the older the parents in my Facebook sphere get, the more I inevitably learn about their children. At some point, a person like me might even stop and ask herself, "If I have kids, will I do this?" (According to 99.99% of parents in my newsfeed, the answer is a resounding "YES, DUH!") More specifically, I wonder what kind of back-to-school parent I'll be, because the larger the BTSP (back-to-school parent) sector gets, the more fragmented it becomes.
There are parents who post a single picture of all three of their kids standing casually on the driveway, and then there are parents who take individual, posed photos of each child, at various angles, daily, for at least a week, so you really get an idea of how those first five to seven days of classes are shaping up. There are parents who don't mention lunch at all, and then there are parents who take photographs of the inside of each homemade sandwich (almost none of them containing peanut butter, nuts, gluten, dairy, or anything that tastes good). And there are parents who half-heartedly expect their friends to be excited by these updates, which seems reasonable, versus the parents who almost seem to expect their friends to pop up on Day 11 and ask, "What did Nevaeh wear today? You didn't post a picture and I've been waiting all day in suspense!" These are the parents who essentially stalk their children every day with their smart phones, teaching them that every.single.important.moment. must be captured and broadcast on Facebook in order for it to have really happened. How will we remember these key instances in our children's lives -- or better yet, how will they? -- if we're not literally taking matters into our own hands by trailing them like paparazzi with our camera phones? How?!?!?
It's hard to believe I'm writing my fourth back-to-school column installment on the subject of "Parents Be Cray," but each year, I find it's helpful to remind parents that it's okay to rein in the pride. It's okay to post pictures that stem from that pride, too, of course -- no one is suggesting that kids shouldn't have their picture taken on the first day(s) of school, and/or posted to Facebook -- but let's also take a second to reflect on what kind of back-to-school parent you want to be. Just like teachers tell their students that it's a new school year, and everyone has the same opportunity to be the type of student he or she wants to be, I'm here to remind parents of the same thing. Are you an A+ BTSP, or would you give yourself more of a C-? And how do you qualify those things? I've seen some parents say they feel "guilty" for forgetting to snap 100 photos of their child leaving for school, but based on the zillion tiny faces in my newsfeed, I'm guessing their friends don't really mind and probably didn't notice. I'm guessing their kids didn't either.
Here are just a few types of back-to-school parents you'll see in your newsfeed this year (...and next year, and the year after that, and the year after that...):
1. First Day Of School Pictures (FDOSP)
This picture was taken last year, so I can only imagine what Amanda's chalkboard skillz look like this year. Landon is a cute kid, and a good sport, considering his mom made him stand next to this Pinterest Mom's craft dream (or nightmare, depending on who you are), and sure, there's nothing wrong with making this overachiever chalkboard DIY project and photographing it for Facebook -- nothing wrong at all! But what will Amanda's projects look like as Landon gets older? Will we continue to learn about his weight, height (in inches, preferably), interests, favorites, and maybe even when got his first kiss or smoked his first joint? If you think it sounds preposterous to assume that parents will continue posting pictures of their kids on the first day of school throughout high school, think again.
If you take Stacey's pride in her 12th grader and apply Amanda's craft sense, you can begin to see the kernels of what will one day be an extremely kick-ass, life-sized chalkboard on wheels detailing Landon's entire life. On the back, Amanda will re-write Landon's college application essay in fine-point calligraphy for all to admire. I'm guessing by this point there will also be sponsored awards for this type of thing, and Amanda will take home the top chalkboard prize (several months' stay at an AirBnB rental situated within 500 feet of Landon's college campus).
2. Casting Spells
Rawr, y'all! Don't make T bust out her nonretractile mama bear claws, because she's not afraid to use them! May God help the Fool who messes with her little boy or ruins his first day by looking at him wrong, not picking him first for dodgeball (as if kids even play that game in school anymore), or implying that he's a mama's boy. That kid will have the Wrath of the Lord rained down upon him, and yes, T. *is* in protective mummy overdrive, and no, she will *not* play nice with kids who don't play nice with her son!! lol
3. Stupid State Laws :((
This is one of those updates that I wish I never, ever saw, but they're really quite common. To all the parents who wish their children could stay home with them forever and have some kind of Norman-and-Norma Bates-ish relationship: Can you guys please keep this information to yourselves? I want to believe that parents are excited for their children's education and socialization, not intimidated or saddened. Don't be the parent who wishes her little boy would stay a little boy forever to the point of posting that you'd keep him from starting school if you could, if only for those goddamn state laws!, because it makes you seem a little wacky and in desperate need of some additional "adult time." Sometimes the forced separation that school brings isn't just for the kids' benefit; it's for their parents', too.
4. Teacher Drama
Ohhh, Jordy. You are the cherry on top of this bratty, punch-happy sundae.
When a kid misbehaves at school, it's okay to talk about it online, if only to remove the fantasy that all kids are perfect. However, if the "status" update is that the kid punched his teacher and threw a massive tantrum, the response shouldn't be, "Only so much I can do," which sounds a lot like, "What can I say? The kid likes to hit! And he's good at it!" Maybe before posting that your kid is an asshole, figure out how you're going to handle his bad behavior. Otherwise, you'll come off sounding like an even bigger asshole (especially if you're friends with people like Jordy, Cassie, Jennifer, and Heather).
5. Mom's Gold Star
Megan's picture is one of my favorite back-to-school submissions, if only for its sincerity. This kid REALLY doesn't want to go back to school. He knows what awaits him. He knows about the homework. He's got to get dressed and suck it up and ride that school bus and make new friends and get to learnin', and he is anything but happy about it. Thank you, Megan, for keeping it real with your back-to-school picture. While it's always lovely to see pictures of smiling kids wearing their cleanest, brightest, most recently laundered clothes with their shiny new backpacks and hair bows, it's way more entertaining to see pictures like this. Pictures we can all relate to, if only in our minds.