Faces of a Child

When the first born, T, was an infant, I stared at his little mug for hours. Nursing. Napping. Strolling. Playing. Really. Whatever he was doing, I was watching. That smile? Total gas. That perplexed look? Definitely spit up coming. That adorable pensive face? Oh, well, that’s his little boy face.

Every so often, T would give us this look that I would gasp at and clutch my metaphorical pearls. I just knew that was what my baby, my darling, chunky-cheeked, goofy-smiled baby would look like as a little boy when he’d shucked the chubby skin of infancy and toddlerhood. I would point at pictures and label them to the hubby: “There. Little boy face.”

And damn if I wasn’t right. Because here he is. In front of me now. All boy. All that look.

Part of me was pleased as punch to be right about something. To have that motherly instinct so early prove correct. And not about the bad feeling in the pit of my stomach as they cruised along the coffee table only to bash their face into the corner of the sofa and bawl for the next 15 minutes. But about something good. Something sweet. Something I just felt in my bones was right.

Then today. Oh, today. Today, I took my 8 year old big boy shopping for a suit for his upcoming First Communion. Buttering him up with frozen yogurt, off we went to take advantage of the season’s Easter dress-up sales. And he was surprisingly helpful at picking out what he wanted and then I forced him into the fitting room to ensure a good fit on my skinny minny little man. And there it was. In a tie and glasses and the pull of a cuff as he shrugged on that jacket. A face. Not the little boy face anymore, but the grown-up man face. In the mirror of a department store, in pants that need a belt to stay on his nonexistent hips, in a tie he picked by himself, I saw a new future.

I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready as I type this, acknowledging the momentousness that occurred in between scuffed walls, on well worn brown carpet strewn with the detritus of dress shirt packaging. I know it’s a long way off. I know I have no reason to worry and every fart joke to still look forward to. But glimpses of the future. This big, independent future where I am probably not solving problems with frozen yogurt or needed to help prepare for anything? Not ready for it.

And so I become the keeper of the faces. The serious baby face. The joy filled toddler face. The no teeth first grade face. The awkward big toothed second grader face. The sad faces. The excited faces. The relieved faces. The I’m-so-glad-you’re-here faces. And every face that is in between. Someday my son will gaze at his own little one’s face with wonder and name what he sees in this new little being. I will join him and smile, knowing that I, too, see faces. Faces of the past. Faces of babies and toddlers and little boys and men-to-be that have become.

Maybe then I will be ready to accept the future faces. But I doubt it.

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