I woke up yesterday morning to a Facebook feed filled with underage mug shots. Sweet little faces, slightly over-coiffed and equal parts excitement and nerves, proudly holding up home-made signs of their salient details – name, age, date. Then I noticed most of the signs also had the school grade and maybe a teacher name, and I remembered that for many school districts, Monday was the first day of school.
When I started kindergarten, and first grade (and fourth grade, and Brownies), my mom certainly took pictures. Luckily, I’m nomadic right now, so I’m unable to pull these from storage and provide evidence of their existence. But they never had placards. And the placards I saw yesterday got very specific: some included the height and even weight of the little person holding them.
As a child-free person, I have no emotional connection to your child’s first day of school, so when I saw this mugshot-fest, it reminded me of every conversation I’ve had recently with friends at their wit’s end. Summer is too short for students, but way too long for their parents, who spend the last two weeks of it lamenting the end of camps and day cares and counting down the days until their busy schedules will return to normal and one can get things done without the constant presence and need of a little person. The feeling that one’s children are just little misbehaving criminals-in-the-making is common at this time of year, and maybe that is why they’ve all been paraded around social media mugging as such?
I get it: the first day of school is a big deal for everyone involved, and you want to document it. But to a person without kids, this is a weird montage to wake up with. And as one who watched a Criminal Minds marathon over the weekend, I was certain when I saw these photos that the real purpose of them was to provide current, dated, data to the FBI should a parent’s worst fears come true, and your child fall victim to an abduction. I even called a reliable parent I know to confirm my suspicion, only to learn that I was dead wrong.
And then I remembered what else was happening that day, which actually is a parent’s worst fear – worse than seeing an actual mugshot of their child, or handing over one of these first-day-of-school mugs to the FBI: it was the day that Michael Brown would be memorialized by his family, his friends, and political pundits who never knew him. This was the day some parents bury their child.
Brown’s family didn’t raise a criminal. They didn’t raise a victim. They raised a child. After the focus on Ferguson, and corollary discussions about the things Caucasian moms don’t have to worry about when sending their little people off to school, maybe this parade of little kid mug shots is a reminder that looks can be deceiving, and you can’t determine who is a criminal by the color of his skin, the look on his face, or the badge on his chest.
On a day when we honor the cracking open of new books, we must remember you can’t judge them by their covers.