East Alabama mom earns fame with viral back-to-school pool picture

A back-to-school pool photo quickly turned viral for a mother of three in East Alabama.
A back-to-school pool photo quickly turned viral for a mother of three in East Alabama.

VALLEY, Ala. — One East Alabama mother is earning widespread fame for her viral back-to-school picture of her and her kids.

Jena Willingham grew up in the Valley-Beulah area and she’s now a mail carrier for the USPS. But the mother of three never expected her social media post to catch on with millions around the world.

A back-to-school pool photo quickly turned viral for a mother of three in East Alabama.
A back-to-school pool photo quickly turned viral for a mother of three in East Alabama.

The post began as a favor. Willingham poses in her cousin’s backyard pool, with her three children looking on in disapproval. The staged picture was taken the day before the kids went back to school.

“I love them, and I love having them around,” Willingham told News 3. “But, I mean, they do get on my nerves when they start acting crazy.”

Social media and broadcast media outlets like CBS News and Buzzfeed, and even magazines, quickly shared the viral sensation. Willingham says she’s taking all the fame, replete with a bevy of interview requests, in stride.

Jena Willingham grew up in Valley, AL.
Jena Willingham grew up in Valley, AL.

“This is really exciting for us and neat for our family,” Willingham said. “I don’t want it to be bogged down with a bunch of mean people that don’t really know me. And if they knew me, they’d know it was just a joke. Every week, I post something silly, and they’re like, you’re going to go viral one day. You’re going to get your own reality show. You’re so crazy.”

Willingham says she tries not to focus so much on the negative feedback from the photo. Rather, she’s using her newfound fame to inspire other mothers who have big hearts for their kids.

“They are everything to me,” Willingham said. “My whole world revolves around them. All I do is take care of them and go to work and go home, then take care of them some more. I love them with everything I have.”

Jena Willingham's husband Edd holds a canned meal, with the caption reading: "When your wife is rich and famous, but you're still eating cold Spaghetti-O's for lunch at work."
Jena Willingham’s husband Edd holds a canned meal, with the caption reading: “When your wife is rich and famous, but you’re still eating cold Spaghetti-O’s for lunch at work.”

Willingham recounted one instance where a complete stranger reached out to her just to say thank you.

“She had just dropped her child off for Pre-K, and she was crying the whole way home,” Willingham told News 3. “She saw my picture and it cheered her up. That made me feel good. She said ‘I shouldn’t feel guilty that I’m leaving my child.’ They have to go to school. It’s not like we’re sending them somewhere just to get rid of them. They have to go to school. So why not enjoy a little time for yourself?”

As far as how her kids are handling the past couple of days?

“[My son’s] been watching himself on the news,” Willingham said. “He thinks he’s famous. My daughter…saw the 13k shares, and she’s like, ‘you got 13 kazillion shares?'”

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