Years ago, my wife bought me two 5″x7″ picture frames so that I could put pictures of the kids on my desk at work. I’ve carried these frames everywhere I’ve been over the years from Seattle to Beijing, back to Seattle, and now to Atlanta. They’ve been the two constants in my decidedly minimalist offices through the years.
Since the kids started school, I’ve used these frames to hold their annual school pictures, so each fall when the kids bring their official photos home, I cut my copy from the stiff photo sheet and take it to work to replace last year’s photo in the frame. Since I can’t bear to part with pictures of the kids, I usually flip over the last photo and put the new photo on top squishing all of the past photos into the frame. While everyone else sees just the most recent photo, I know there are several years’ worth of photos lurking behind the glass.
The majority of the pictures I have of the kids are in digital form. I have tens of thousands of digital photos saved and backed up in multiple places so that nothing short of the apocalypse could destroy my treasure trove of pictures. These kids have just about every angle of their childhoods covered in photographic evidence. As they have become teenagers, the accumulation of pictures of them has slowed dramatically. If I can get my son to appear in a photo, it’s unlikely he will smile for it. He’s perfected the resting bitch face that’s indicative of being photographed by his dorky dad.
If I’m feeling sentimental, which happens quite frequently as I’ve gotten older, I’ll click on one of my photo folders and flip back in time. Some pictures make me wonder where all of the time has gone. Surely it hasn’t been that long ago since my now teenage daughter used to run from any corner of the house when she heard the theme to Dora the Explorer play on the TV. Maybe it has been a while. Somewhere in my aging mind time has been compressed or truncated so that two points separated by a vast number of days appear seemingly close together. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking.
Last week, my son finally remembered to bring his school pictures home so that I could have a physical copy of the true marker of time. For this picture he managed something that resembled a smile or a smirk. I’m not sure which it was, but at this point I don’t care as long as I have my picture. I dutifully cut it from the photo sheet and took it to work for the ceremonial flip of the photo in the frame on my desk.
When I cracked open the back of the picture frame, the photos from prior years spilled out onto my desk. One of them from several years ago landed right side up on my desk, and I was struck by the little boy staring back at me. Unlike his current photos, he had a big, jovial smile in this one. His face still had the round fleshiness of childhood. I shuffled through all of the photos and laid them out in chronological order. I could see the transformation from little boy to young man. For some reason, I felt like I had lost something. I had lost track of time. I had blinked and something happened that I didn’t want to happen.
I stared at the pictures for a moment before I gathered them up and put them back in the frame with only the mirthless teenager staring back at me through the shiny glass. Somewhere back in the annals of time is a baby who took ten hours to arrive, a toddler who used to do a funky little dance while he sang “Elephants Have Wrinkles,” a little boy who once jumped into my arms with joy when I returned from a long business trip, and a little boy who’d get so upset when he got water in his eyes during a bath or swim lessons that he spawned a phrase that his mother and I still use to this day. Those memories make me happy. I’m still undecided about the smirking teenager.