Among the many mementos in my apartment are a collection of family baby photos. My father, barely two, wearing a sombrero, wedged between his two older cousins. My grandmother lounging outdoors, perfectly made up, lifting my tiny smiling mother into the air. My grandfather, riding a tricycle and blowing a small gold horn. A little blonde boy–my husband–tanned and happy, playing in the Indian Ocean.
Looking at these photos never fails to make me smile. The frames contain miniaturized versions of the faces I know so well–the same expression, the eyes. It’s as though all of the things I love about them are reduced to their most basic elements and crystallized there.
When my husband does something that drives me crazy (which is only once a year, right, sweet husband?), passing by his childhood photo in the hallway brings my temper down a few notches. I see the impulsive boy in him and know that he will be sorry, just as I am, that we said those stupid things.
As I’ve been (sporadically) cleaning out my office to make it snazzier and more creative, I’ve been going through boxes of old albums, scanning baby photos for safekeeping. It’s been a while since I really sat down and relived my own childhood through photos. Doing so used to remind me of lost things: my parents divorce, forgotten friends from 20+ moves, loved ones who are long gone. But, as in so many aspects of my life, I find that, here too, there’s been an emphasis shift.
As I flipped through the plastic sleeves and removed smudged Polaroids and musty prints, I saw my small face, my big blue eyes and messy blonde head and I smiled. One or two photos even made me laugh out loud. Who was this precocious little thing who looked just like me, only tinier?
She is light years away from me, and yet she is the essence of me: curious, unselfconscious, naughty, fun. For her, life is full of discoveries: sugar! and salt water, baby birds and bright colors. There is no place yet for jadedness or criticism, expectations or regret. The field is wide open, the score set to zero.
Gazing down at those photos, I experienced that same wave of affection I feel every time I pass my sombrero’d father or laughing mother.
Unapologetic, all-consuming love.
Ahh, how heartbreakingly easy it can be to see the light in others but not see it in yourself. How hard we can be on ourselves for not earning enough or being nice enough or successful enough or thin enough. It can become a white noise soundtrack that we don’t even realize is playing in the background. Looking through my baby pictures reminded me that the very best part of me is the part that embraces life openly, without expectations or preconceptions or guilt. The me that accepts the world as a gift.
So, I’ve decided to frame this photo and place it among those other tiny faces I love so well.
Thirty years, an ocean really, of happiness and heartache, experience and expectations lie between us. But she beckons me back to that place of unknowing anticipation, reminding me of the Shel Silverstein poem I once loved and read so many times:
Listen to MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me–
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.
Do you keep any baby photos, of yourself or others, around?