My daughter Julie has an app on her phone that makes it simple to create a digital collage. So I am used to getting photos from her, which juxtapose images of last summer with images of this summer or that show her children at multiple ages on multiple first days of school.
She recreates poses, too, driving to a spot where a picture was shot and taking a photo of the same people in the same pose, from the same angle a year or two later.
I have seen dozens of these compilations. So I shouldn’t have been floored by her most recent. And yet I was.
It came in, as all of them do, as a message on my phone. There it was, a little photo square the size of a Triscuit, with no warning label, or Siri saying, “Be careful. This may break your heart.” Only these words that Julie wrote: “Just FOUR YEARS between these pictures,” which were under the photo, after the fact.
In the first image is my grandson Adam, blond and tanned, wearing a black T-shirt with Camp Meraki spelled out in bold, white letters. He’s sitting in front of a paneled glass door, his arms hugging his bare legs and his eyes are not looking at the camera but are focused on something in the distance. Adam looks relaxed in this shot. And pleased. He seems unaware that he is being photographed.
Next to this image is Adam now, Adam just a few weeks ago. It’s a professional shot, one of many taken for his high school yearbook. One he probably won’t choose because the collar of his shirt is awry and because it’s not the best of the bunch. In this picture, Adam’s hair is shorter at the sides and longer at the top and he is wearing a black suit jacket, not a T-shirt, and he is not hugging his legs, he’s playing his guitar. But again he is looking away from the camera, looking at something the camera can’t see, and though his gaze isn’t quite the same as in the first photo, there is something of the child still in his eyes.
But that’s it. All the rest of the child is gone.
There’s a song that I’ve loved for years, that made me cry the first time I heard it and that can still make me cry. It’s from the musical “Big” and it’s called “Stop Time” and this is how it begins:
“Two months old, he looks up at you
How his smile melts your heart
You want to say, ‘Stop, time’
Don’t move on
Even as you watch that look is gone”
And this is how it ends:
“Birthdays fly - 7, 8, 9, 10
Every kid he becomes you clutch and say ‘Stop, time’
Hold this one fast
But it’s not supposed to last …”
Birthdays fly. Children grow up. None of this is news.
But when do children grow? When exactly do they put on pounds and inches and lose their little kid voices? We see them every day but we do not see them changing. So when do they do this? While they’re at school? While they sleep at night? While we sleep?
We’re not oblivious. We recognize that they’re growing every time we measure them against the wall where we’ve marked their heights at different ages in pen. We recognize that they’re growing every time they need new sneakers and pants and pajamas. We recognize that they’re growing every September when they start school a little bit taller and in a higher grade.
But we don’t see their growth until we line up their school pictures from kindergarten to now. Or until we look back at old photos. Or until they’re in the backyard, playing football with their younger cousins.
Or until our phone pings and we look and see on our screen two images that combined could be a before and after shot. In the before sits a beautiful child. And in the after sits an even more beautiful young man.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.