It's back-to-school season, and you know what that means: Your friends are posting first-day-of-school photos of their kids on Facebook. It's an American tradition as old as, I don't know, Dancing With the Stars. Here is a field guide to the phenomenon and the people about to turn your timeline into a land of likes and hearts and smiling emojis.
In the twinkly eyes of this upbeat little twerp, learning is an adventure and school is a perfect little snow globe in which to dance and laugh and discover the wonders of the world.
The Look: Chin up, one foot forward, fingers radiating toward the heavens like some Mesozoic fern, smile as wide and full of potential as a slice of Lorenzo's pizza.
The Subtext: This kid doesn't know what's coming.
Proper Social Media Response: "OMG! So cute! This kid doesn't know what's coming!"
After a summer of carefree play, the Wailer looks upon school as the ultimate parental betrayal. This boiling puddle of a child is stuck in the denial/anger/bargaining stages of grief and won't move on until everyone feels it too.
The Look: Tears streaming, gums exposed, neck muscles straining like a den of recently Tazed snakes. Hanging off the shoulders is a backpack bearing the weight of all things, and this child accepts the burden not like Atlas or Sisyphus, but like some whinier archetype unworthy of a place in mythology texts.
The Subtext: This kid knows what's coming.
Proper Social Media Response: "OMG! So cute! So doomed!"
The academic season is upon us once again, and the Serious Child knows it's time to put away non-serious, childish things. School is an essential part of life, and every lesson is a step toward adulthood, a career, financial independence, and a well-attended funeral.
The Look: No likenesses of cartoon characters or superheroes adorn the backpack. All hair is shaped with geometric precision. All pleats and laces are in place. On the child's face: an expression of resolve rarely seen outside Soviet propaganda posters.
The Subtext: You will work for this kid one day.
Proper Social Media Response: "OMG! So cute! I'm thinking of refinancing my mortgage. Is your kid available for a sit-down this week?"
Most children are genetic amalgamations of their biological parents, but every once in a while you meet one with a little devil DNA in the mix. Things seem to get weird when a Spooky Child is nearby. Is it their fault? Couldn't be. Could it? Nah, just your imagination. Right?
The Look: Dark clouds overhead. Dead leaves on the ground even though it's barely September. Eyes glowing red whether a flash was used or not.
The Subtext: To look upon the Spooky Child is to consider humanity's biggest questions. Is evil real? Is God? Is hell? Should I make some changes in my life?
Proper Social Media Response: Click "like," move on. Don't draw any unwanted attention.
According to Sad Parents, every second with the kid is a year in paradise. "Aw, my little baby is growing up so fast. I hope my child won't come to hate me for trying to protect them from the awfulness of the world."
The Look: A small collage of photos depicts parent and child embracing in a beam of yellow light beneath a cloudless blue sky that stretches from horizon to horizon like a yawning cherub. Some images may bring to mind Michelangelo's Pietá.
The Subtext: O education system, thou art society's most unbearable cruelty for dragging this sweet little bunny away from the warren to learn math and grammar.
Proper Social Media Response: Vomiting emoji. Harsh but fair.
After feverishly booking play dates, day camps, zoo visits, museum trudges, and other time-sucking distractions all summer long, parents and guardians can now look forward to nine months of making their kid somebody else's problem.
The Look: Sweatpants, wild hair, slumped shoulders, tired eyes, and a grin that speaks more volumes than the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The Subtext: They love their kids, but, you know, enough's enough already.
Proper Social Media Response: "#freedom"