The stranger in school photographs

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I thought we had a deal, fifth grade and I.

I had accepted our school district puts fifth graders — mere infants — into ‘middle school.’

I had bought into the idea that ‘middle school’ is merely a figure of speech and fifth grade was just a number — and a low one at that, grade-wise. My boy was still a mere child, not even halfway through his school career.

Then yesterday I innocently opened a big paper envelope of ‘school photos’ and all bets were off.

Fifth grade how could you do me this way?

Who

When I sent in my $15 I expected to get back photos of my baby. Who the heck is THIS kid? Elongated neck, chiseled jaw, not a hint of baby fat in sight?

Gone is the toothy ‘say cheese’ grin. In its place there is a slight curve to the lips, the merest hint of self-assured smile.

Come to think of it, I think I saw that same indifferent smirk in an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog recently.

On the same refrigerator where I have tacked up this latest photo hangs yet another snapshot of the same boy. In it he has wispy hair, a toothless grin, and cheeks just begging to be kissed. His personality — his entire BEING — is written all over his face. You can almost feel the puppyish excitement of him wiggling out of the photo.

Going back even further, one of my favorite photos of the, say, 49,000 photos I’ve taken of him in the past decade (so not kidding here), is of him and me.

I am about 28 and he is about 10 months old. He gazes up into the camera. I gaze only at him.

This kid had me at hello. He taught me my life was secondary to his. He taught me what it feels like to have my heart forever walking around outside my body.

He taught me I better keep my camera handy because he was going to do — or be — something amazing nearly every single day.

Thus, no child short of a member of the Kennedy family has been more photographed than my son. I should have seen the progression here. How then did we go from Gerber Baby to GQ in the blink of an eye?

Then

That adorable little guy with the dimpled grin who used to bound around making airplane noises has become a more controlled person.

He holds things in a bit more, has become the ‘strong silent type’ and has developed a newfound habit of smiling with only half his mouth — James Dean style.

And I find myself asking, just as every single parent on the planet asks, “How did this happen?” I miss finger paints, modeling clay and the confirmed knowledge girls do indeed have cooties.

Don’t get me wrong — he’s far from a mini-adult. He bickers with his little sister as if it’s a lucrative part-time job — both of them taking turns starting trouble and overreacting. He still enjoys action figures, and (shh…) stuffed animals too.

Yet, I cannot dispute that today he bears only a passing resemblance to that small boy in the photograph I still gaze at every day. In every physical sense my ‘baby’ is gone. He’s a new boy now.

And the most exciting, heartbreaking and thrilling thing is I know a year from now he’ll be yet another boy too.

I don’t doubt someday I’ll look back and miss the boy he is today, in this latest photo still new to me.

Today’s photo will all too soon become ‘yesterday’s boy,’ and while I look forward to meeting the new boy — man — in future photos, I’m sure I’ll miss this one too.

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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.

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