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First day of school! Here’s a post about my kids! And something deeper we all share

There is something primal about our need to note the passing of time in late August and early September. (Denys Lebedev/Dreamstime/TNS)

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By MICHAEL MERSCHEL | The Dallas Morning News | Published: August 30, 2018

If you, like me, are a Facebook user and a human, your feed probably reads something like this right now:

First day of school for the girls!

Obligatory first day of school pics!!

Happy first day of school for my not-so-little guys!

Such posts (and the words noted here are not my friends’ but edited versions of strangers’ public posts) are, of course, usually accompanied by a photo of a child or two. If the photo features small children, they are probably standing next to a backpack that’s half as tall as they are, and they are smiling, possibly showing off spaces where a couple of teeth are missing.

First day of school. We are all so excited!

How is this guy already in second grade?

How in the world did this happen so fast? Oh my heart.

If the post is about older children, they are probably grimacing, or maybe not actually in a photo.

It was a little difficult to convince them to act right to take these pics but we got it done.

It was a struggle to get first day of school pics. I think the dogs were the only ones who wanted in the picture.

More than a few photos show young adults, next to a packed car or in a newly decorated dorm room. Posing for a back-to-school photo for the last time, probably.

Here’s one happy college freshman and two melancholy parents.

What a bittersweet moment in time for me. One proud dad. Can you say college student?

And just like that she is a college freshman. Cried, got the dorm set up and cried some more.

A couple of the photos will be of cats, but that’s another topic.

The mass-posting of back-to-school photos seems, on the one hand, an entirely modern development. Facebook built a multibillion-dollar data-mining operation on the sharing of such photos. I mean, I suppose it’s possible that sometime in the 1970s, I posed in the entryway holding an Adam-12 lunchbox while my mom shot an Instamatic photo of me as I started third grade. But film was expensive, and if she had done such a thing, the photo probably would not have been developed, much less shared with anyone, until I was about to start fourth.

On the other hand, this is a timeless thing, about much more than humblebragging or peer pressure to make sure you are not the only parent who fails to show the world a photo of your kid on this day.

I think there is something primal about our need to note the passing of time in late August and early September. I have always agreed with a great philosopher I read as a teenager. He pointed out that the calendar year may begin in January, but everyone knows that the real beginning of the year is in September, when school starts. (Disclosure: I am fully aware that the philosopher I just mentioned was Andy Rooney; no matter how much time goes by, it is never cool to acknowledge that you were an Andy Rooney fan as a teenager.)

But I suspect that the drive to mark this particular passing season is even older than Andy Rooney. It’s probably tied to the earliest farmers, marking the end of the growing season, looking ahead at the long autumn and winter to come.

And even if we are not thinking about crops, we humans are fascinated with growing. Especially when it happens in ways that catch us off guard.

Happy first day of school for my not-so-little guys. Where does the time go?

Where does the time go?!? First day of school and she’s a junior in high school and driving herself?!

I feel like I blinked and we’re here. Slow down time.

My wife, well before Facebook, took monthly photos of my children in their infant carriers on their monthly birthdays. In those early months - with the endless bottles and diapers and cryings and other things I slept through as often as I could get away with - time moved at the speed of frozen syrup.

But at the end of the year, photos offered evidence it had: That little stuffed giraffe that overwhelmed the newborn suddenly seems not so tiny being waved in the hands of the almost-toddler.

It seems even smaller when that baby is headed off to her senior year of college. Or her last year of high school. Or his last year of junior high. Which is where my no-longer-babies are headed this fall.

Which catches me off guard. Not that I miss the bottles and diapers and late-night cryings. But I miss those little kids, and the happiness they brought. And I’m wondering - where did the time go?

Move-in complete!! Now it’s time to relax and enjoy our last meal together for awhile.

She’s ready but I’m not. Another nail in the coffin. Damn I’ll miss her.

So I think the back-to-school photo is really our annual acknowledgment that time is fleeting. That we know it’s important to pause, every now and then, to take stock of its passage.

And even if it’s a cliche and annoying and makes the kids roll their eyes and makes me and my wife late for work, yeah, my friends will be seeing my back-to-school photos this year. I want to think back on all the years that led to this point in my kids’ lives. I also want look forward to watching them continue to grow, right up to the moment where, if I am lucky, I will tearfully leave each one in a dorm room or apartment or in some other exciting new place when their school years are done. I might even brag about them a bit. And smile when my friends do the same.

We’re only human.

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