Last week I forgot to do something — a thing I haven’t forgotten to do for the past 12 years in a row. On the first day of school, I forgot to take the picture.
For most moms — and especially the more sentimental ones — the traditional back-to-school photo is mandatory. I do it the same way each year. I make our three kids stand shoulder to shoulder on the front steps of our house, each one wearing the school uniform. Coaxing something resembling a genuine smile is nearly impossible at that hour of the morning, so this group picture requires several minutes. I always take extra shots, since a poorly timed blink, squint or smirk is inevitable. Out of 20 shots, I might get lucky and capture a good one.
Once the close-ups are done, I have my school-bound crew walk down the stone pathway that leads away from our front door, up the slight rise of the yard and out to the sidewalk and street. I shoot the picture from behind so I can show the three of them, backpacks at the ready, heading into a new academic year full of potential.
I didn’t realize I’d forgotten this annual tradition until after the kids had already finished the second day of the new school year. I saw someone else’s back-to-school picture on Facebook, and that’s when it finally hit me.
“Oh my gosh, I forgot to take the back-to-school picture!” I announced to the kids.
“Yeah, I was wondering when you were going to do it,” said the 15-year-old.
“Why didn’t you remind me?” I asked.
“Because we don’t like the back-to-school picture,” he replied.
“But we always do it!” I insisted.
“And it’s always annoying,” said the 17-year-old.
Little sister chimed in: “Well, it was raining pretty hard that morning. I thought that’s why we weren’t doing it.”
“I wish you guys had reminded me. But that’s OK. It would’ve been hard to take it in the rain. We’ll do it next week one morning before school,” I said.
“Oh good, can’t wait,” said the 15-year-old, dripping with sarcasm.
But I didn’t take the picture again this morning as they were leaving for school, even though the sun was shining and I was out of excuses. I told the kids we’d get up early and take the picture tomorrow.
To be honest, this year’s back-to-school picture task doesn’t feel as good as it usually does. That’s probably the real reason I forgot to take that picture and the reason I still haven’t done it.
For our firstborn — the one who’s beginning his senior year of high school — this is the last first day of school. The last time he’ll stand on the front steps with his younger brother and sister and force a smile in my general direction. The last time he’ll wear that school uniform on Day 1. The last time he’ll wake up in his childhood bedroom to get ready for the first day.
Perhaps there’s a part of my mama brain that thinks if I don’t take the annual back-to-school picture, I can hit “pause” on this new reality. He can’t possibly finish high school and move away to college if there’s no photographic proof that he began his senior year, right?
It’s silly, I know. But there’s no denying I’m feeling the same anxious feelings I had when he started kindergarten. Even though I knew he’d love it and it was time for his big adventure, part of me wanted to tuck him under my wing and keep him safe at home forever.
I know it’s not possible. I know it’s not even what I truly want for him or for his brother and sister. I want them to fly off into a wonderful life of their own. But this “last first day” milestone will be repeated two years from now when our middle child starts 12th grade and yet again when our youngest child does it two years after that. How many shocks to the heart can a mama take?
I’ll take the picture tomorrow before school. I’m promising myself I will. I’m writing it down. Picture or no picture, kids grow up, traditions change, and mamas must adjust. But it doesn’t mean we have to like it.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at email@example.com. Her book is available on Amazon.