Do you ever look at your children and wonder how they were ever sweet, cute, and innocent?
When it comes to writing about babies I tend to find myself at a loss for ideas. One would think that for a guy who has five children, spitting out stories about babies shouldn’t be a problem by virtue of the sheer amount of material that many kids could generate. That’s logical reasoning, although my two stepdaughters should be removed from the equation since Allie and Avery were ages 5 and 4 respectively when I first met them. I was, and always will be, a spectator to the lives they lived prior to our fateful union as stepparent and stepchild. But even with that being the case, I’m still privy to the details of Allie toddling out the back door to find a dead cat, and the circumstances of Avery gloriously entering this world three months ahead of schedule, (which incidentally, must have filled her quota for being on time, because the child is never where she’s supposed to be, when she’s supposed to be).
Of course with my sons, Noah, Sawyer, and Harrison, it’s different. I was there when they were born. I’ve seen their faces smeared with strained carrots, and cleaned “accidents” on the carpet, but wracking my brain for a good story about them as babies can be difficult. I’m not sure why this is. Am I a bad parent? No. That’s like saying you’re a lousy driver because you forgot where you put the car keys. My theory on why it’s hard to sometimes recall the details from those days of diaper rashes and teething is a matter of context.
Maybe I’m not making sense here, but what I am meaning to say is, that when an 11-, 8- and 6-year-old are beating the snot out of one another or tearing through the house like wild banshees, the thought of them being chubby, squirming masses cuddled up in a blanket is not immediately on your mind. Yeah, they once used to be exactly that; it’s just that that’s not what I thinking about as I’m hollering at them to knock it off. Furthermore, when they’re acting like this day after day for weeks on end, then those moments of cutesy helplessness get filed deep in the back of your mind, and it takes something else to bring those very real moments back, something that becomes a vehicle for the context of those moments.
There are several examples of this that I can think of—a holiday or a location that holds special meaning for instance. What works best for me, though, are old photographs. I have tons, most of them are recent which means they were also taken with a digital camera and never printed. The photos that are developed, stand rank-and-file inside a plastic container. These snapshots capture glimpses of a life that seems so distant when dealing with whatever immediate reality requires tending to in the present. So, as I sat at my desk brainstorming article ideas about my sons as babies, I felt an urge to pull out that plastic box which had been stashed away in the bookshelf cabinet since our move a few months ago. All it took was one picture and the memories of my infant boys returned in an instant.
It’s a cliché to ask where did eleven years go, and yet I ask it anyway, thumbing the edges of a glossy four-by-six image of my son Noah dressed in a miniature pair of overalls and laying on the quilt my mother made for him. Today the boy talks a mile a minute, but before he turned into an unstoppable force of conversation, he would quietly lie there, staring up at you, breaking his concentration just long enough to make a spastic kick with his legs. On the weekends, I used to get up with him early in the morning and place him in his car carrier so he could watch me with that same curious gaze as I made blueberry muffins and chatted with him.
Working my way through the section marked “Harrison,” the first thing I notice is his smile. He’s flashing it in almost every picture. Crawling out of the sink after a bath, standing on the front steps of the house, or clutching a melting popsicle—in each one there’s a little boy with tousled, light brown hair and a big grin, which would be toothy if he had any. Yet, for as happy asHarrisonwas, he suffered from horrible reflux which made it miserable for him to sleep. Besides medicine, there were several techniques we used to help alleviate his pain, my favorite being to put him in his car carrier seat (those things really are versatile), and then swing him back and forth. For ten or fifteen minutes I would watch as Harrison’s eyes slide closer and closer together until they eventually shut and his mouth curled into a slight smile.
Finally, I come to Sawyer’s section which is much thinner than his brothers’ because the majority of his photos are saved on a disk or in my computer’s hard drive. But of the few that I do have, they capture Sawyer at his youngest. Of all the boys he looks to be the smallest as a newborn, or so it seems by the way he’s hidden neatly away in the crook of my arm. As I study Sawyer’s face, it always strikes me as odd that he could have such a dark complexion at three months, and then have such blonde hair and blue eyes today. I know this is a common transformation in babies, but still, it fascinates me.
It all fascinates me. With each still-frame shot of Noah, Harrison and Sawyer, I am enthralled at how the boys learned to walk and talk and hold eating utensils, and figure out which button turns on Teletubbies. How they each reached these milestones at their own pace and solved them using their own unique thought processes. These are the minute details that get blurred by time.
Putting the last photo back into it’s appropriate place amid the others, I realize two hours have passed. It didn’t feel that long. Then again, after having the details of my baby sons’ lives brought back into focus, the 11, 8 and 6 years since they’ve been born doesn’t feel that long either.
—Photo Jakob Montrasio/Flickr