Let’s Get Real
ONE OF my favorite childhood photos shows my older sister and me getting onto the school bus. I’m wearing a sundress, knee socks, and jelly shoes (the ’80s, baby). Melissa’s got a too-cool-for-school smirk. Scrawled on the back, in my mother’s cursive: “First day of school, 1986, 5th and 3rd.” Everyone has these pictures, right? But instead of living in a dusty photo album, these milestones are now set free on Facebook and Instagram for anyone to thumbs-up and heart. Ask anybody with a school-age kid what their feed looks like at this time of year, and they’ll tell you it’s a steady stream of adorable kids with oversize backpacks and brand-new, fully laced sneakers. “The first day of school is my favorite day on Facebook—i get carpal tunnel from liking all the pictures!” says Nettie, a mother of two in Huntington, New York. Even friends who rarely post will come out of hiding with the “obligatory back-to-school pic.” “I always equate back-toschool time with a new year more than the actual new year, so these shots feel like holiday cards to me,” says Meredith, a mom of two in Baltimore. “I get to see how all of my friends’ kids have grown, and how sun-kissed and happy they look because, let’s face it, by Week 2 we’re totally over it.” It’s also much less formal than the holiday photo shoot. Nobody has to force their kids into itchy dresses or onto a bearded man’s lap. They’re snapped in a few seconds on front stoops and at bus stops. Well, mostly. Some parents stage shoots that require planning and props. A budding industry of chalkboard signs has popped up. Designed specifically for the back-to-school shoot, they range from the basic “First Day of ______ Grade” to fancy-fonted ones with fill-in-the-blanks for details like favorite school activity. Last year, an Alabama mom’s post went viral. It featured a picture of her floating in the pool drinking OJ from a champagne flute while her kids stood on the deck with backpacks and pouts. “I particularly love the funny ones,” says Adrienne, a mom of two in Pittsburgh. A favorite of hers is a friend’s photo of her kindergartner along with a stick-figure drawing of her noncompliant 10th-grader. The caption: “At least he smiled.” Really, anything goes—and gets likes. A few years ago, I posted a shot of my three, with the youngest running toward the camera in a blur, and wrote, “Let’s hope the first day of school goes better than the first-day-ofschool photo shoot.” This year? I don’t think I’ll be doing anything elaborate. Unless cropping out dead hydrangeas counts. But I will be posting that shot of me and my jellies #TBT #backtoschool #bangsfordays.