Picture Them Doing Nothing: The Search For Super Henry

Today is my son Henry's birthday. He's 17. A strapping 17, almost 6'3" with a voice so rumbly and deep that sometimes I'll hear him from another room and think "Oh my god there's a man in the house! Who let him in?" We've come to the point in our mother/son relationship where his friends are riding shotgun, and I'm in the backseat. And that's okay, since he's my third child to reach this almost-grown stage it's getting easier to not only accept it, but to kind of enjoy it. Emphasis on the words "kind" and "of".

He's spending his birthday night with his friends. We'll celebrate this weekend, as a family, most likely at the hibachi restaurant down the road, where we'll get steak and shrimp and fried rice and leave reeking of oil and with a slick sheen on our faces. We'll laugh together, all of us, as we always do. We will talk about funny things from our conjoined pasts and gloss over the less funny parts, as we always do. Going out with my four kids now feels almost like having dinner with a group of friends. Except nobody fights me for the check at the end of the evening.

It's become a tradition of sorts for me to write something pithy on facebook as an acknowledgement of each child's birthday. I'll search for the perfect picture to post along with the words, and both of us (me and whichever kid it is) enjoy all the likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAY comments. I'll get a little misty-eyed as I reminisce, for a few whiles, about their day of birth and all the anniversaries of that day that have passed.

Which I was all set to do this morning. I thought about which picture I'd use for Henry's birthday ode. That's when I thought about Super Henry. When he was about 3-ish, I bought him a little Superman costume. One of those cheap, thin one-piece deals, that tied at the back and came with a separate,but identically thin and cheap, cape.

Henry became obsessed with that costume. He wanted to wear it all the time. And because he was my third child, I let him. One of the first things I learned as a mom was to choose your battles. Wanting to wear a Superman costume day after day after day? Totally not a battle. 

I'm an old mom. How old? So old that I have actual shoeboxes full of actual photographs taken with an actual point-and-shoot camera. I'm sure at one point in my dewy young mothering career I envisioned all of those photographs either gracing the pages of sweet, memory filled baby books or adorning a wall in a tastefully kitschy collection of mismatched frames.

Ha. The shoeboxes (there are about 5 of them) are shoved in a small cabinet that sits in my bedroom. You'd think there would be some modicum of organization, right? Like, all pics of Kid #1 in the Cole Haan loafer box, or all pics from 1995-97 in the Converse box. Ha, again. Have we met? My ADD has ADHD, folks. That's what I'm dealing with.

So, I knew there had to be a few pictures of Henry wearing the Superman costume in one of those boxes. I mean, the kid wore it nonstop for a year...how could I have not snapped a shot or two of my feisty three year old clad his beloved superhero garb?

I began the search, keeping one eye on the clock. I had to get to work, but that wasn't as pressing as my need to get Henry's picture all Instagrammed up and posted on the Facebook. Priorities, you know. I gots 'em. 

The search became a little more intense with every minute that ticked away. I became angry at my unorganized self. Why the hell do I have pictures of me, drunk in Mexico in 1989, mixed in with pictures of me, holding my newborn babies in the hospital? And glossy 4x6 reminders of how much fun my ex and I had before our marriage went to shit mixed in with faded 70's prints of my brother and I sitting on my grandma's couch?

I could see him in my mind, dammit, see his white-blond hair, his chubby cheeks and his tiny limbs clad in pilly royal blue and red fabric. I could feel the weight of his small body, leaning against me as I knelt next to him and tied the cape back on for the hundredth time that day. I could hear him crying in the morning, as I rushed to get his big brother, his big sister, him and my pregnant self ready and out the door in the morning, crying because his "SUPAman" outfit was in the wash.

I had all of these things as clear as lead crystal in my head, but where were the mother effing pictures?

The sweat began flowing as I flipped through stacks of memories. WHERE THE HELL WAS SUPER HENRY? There was a slippery Henry being pulled from my belly, Henry elbows-deep in his first birthday cake, Henry sleeping on the floor with his eyes open (that was the creepiest phase, ever). Henry playing t-ball, Henry tubing on a lake, Henry wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume and a hippie costume and of course a ninja costume. COME ON, SHOEBOXES! Where was my kid wearing that godforsaken Superman costume?

Finally, finally. There in the Nike box. I found him. I found Super Henry. One picture:

I smiled. I laughed. I might have shed a tear or two. There he was, cape and all. Super Henry. Just as I had remembered him.

The picture, with the accompanying birthday tribute, was posted. The likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAYS rolled in. All was right in my cuckoo world.

Except, I was mad at myself. Still am, a dozen hours later. I was mad at my current self for not having anything in any sort of order. And I was mad at my younger self, Super Henry's mom, for not stepping back a few more times and getting just a couple more pictures of her toddler who was sure he could fly, sure he could leap tall buildings in a single bound. For not having the foresight to know that somewhere down the line, when that little boy was towering above her and spending more time with his friends than with her...she'd want to see him again. See Super Henry, with his white-blond hair, smiling and wearing a cheap little costume like it was the most natural, the most everyday thing in the world.

The lesson I learned today, aside from the one about how being unorganized can turn the most benign morning into a frenzied clusterfuck, was this:

My favorite memories of my kids are the seemingly mundane, no-big-deal moments in their childhoods: eating freeze pops in the shade of the apple tree that used to stand in front of our old house. My daughter, wearing nothing but a tiara and her underwear at the breakfast table. A determined preschooler pushing his Fisher-Price Bubble Mower behind daddy as he mowed the lawn on a summer evening.

And a little Henry, all cheeks and big eyes, just chilling in his Superman costume. Cape and all.

Mamas? Stop the action now and then, won't you? Take a minute out of those neverending days and catch your babies doing nothing. Nothing but being themselves. Trust me when I say... you'll be glad you did.


  1. Love it. I've been barreling through a 365 project, not trying to get anything epic... but trying to capture this year, my two little girls and all of their fun.

  2. You are so right! I have two boxes full of of pictures that are in no particular order. I recently realized that I have zero pictures of my son. He's five and was born when cell phone cameras were new and exciting. I am on a mission to print more pictures of all of my kiddos! Thanks for the great post and words of wisdom! xoxo

  3. Lovely. Personally, I think that the crystallized memories you have are more valuable than the printed photos. I'm terrible with a camera but have been trying to pause now and then to take in the little things -- jam crusted faces, giggles, epic messes, etc... and remember that whatever happens in the future, these are some good times. Cheers, new reader

  4. I am a card carrying member of the shoebox club, too. I have fond memories of waiting by the mailbox for the envelope of photos to come back from the developer. And then opening the envelope to find the one or two good ones. So often, the best ones were the "mistakes".

    In our house, the Superman costume was a pink tutu. It got worn every day for a very long time. (She was going to be a ballerina bus driver so she could wear tutus to work every day and drive BIG busses). I made albums for each child as they turned 18 and gave them my favorite photos of their growing up. Best gift ever.

  5. I have shoe boxes too of photos and now have randomly started shoving them in albums. Not sure if a disorganized album is in any way superior to a disorganized shoe box. It just looks neater on the shelf I guess.

    1. :) I'm with you, although someday when we die they often, unfortunately somehow just get dumped into the garbage by our great-grandchildren, who have no idea who or what the pictures signify...at least we tried...lol

  6. I love you Jenny. That is all.

  7. I have no shoeboxes. I have ... facebook. And my photo stream. Hmmmm. I need to do some pondering on this.

  8. Well now I'm all misty eyed, damn it. Super Henry is positively adorable. I think I'll take a picture of my baby playing with his legos right now. Thanks for the much needed advice.

  9. Oh wow - is Super Henry ever cute! I can see why you were desperate to find that photo! Such wonderful memories - both in the photo & in your heart!

  10. I miss the shoe boxes! I still print almost everything, but it is still digital, and I yearn YEARN YEARN for the days of film, for the days of waiting for it to be developed. I am such a nostalgia-addict. I just loved this post! I feel less alone!

  11. Cue lump in the throat! Thanks for the reminder to stop and just be. I need to remember this as I end this summer getting frustrated at the endless exclamations of my 3 boys: "Mom, I'm hungry. Mom, I'm bored. Mom, I can't find my swim trunks. Mom, I'm not tired. Mom, I..."
    I want to refocus on the small delights of my children and to *try* to let all of the mundane stuff roll of my back. Thank you.
    P.S. Your "Supa-man" is just plan adorable!

  12. When I was around 17, and was starting to prepare to go off to college, I decided that I'd try to do something nice for my mom that wasn't really giving her a gift, per se. I chose to organize all the photo boxes. We had 4, actual "Photo Boxes" that my mom had finally bought probably 3 or 4 years before. But, there'd never really been an organization to it. My mom is Lady McOrganized, so it was actually really an unusual slip. But, as a single mom raising two kids, working full time, and getting first her BA, then her MA, and two teaching credentials (and then eventually planning her wedding to my now step-dad), it just got missed. So, before I went off to college, I did it. I got note cards. I separated by year, I separated out special events. Sometimes, I had to guess. Other times, I was helped by the old style time-stamped pictures (god those felt like heaven sent gifts after awhile). Occasionally, I did have to ask my mom, which meant my gift wasn't really a surprise beyond my declaration to do it.

    Even to this day (a decade and some change later), my organization mostly stands. The boxes went with my mom when they moved to Florida, but the only reason she can locate a special photo when she wants it now (like when she wanted one of me as an infant that she could recall taking that looked so much like a photo of my own infant daughter) is because of that organization. So, all I can say is: someday, maybe one of your own will make that same choice. It was really neat looking through all those photos of parts of my life and my mom's life I have no real memories of, and it was nice remembering the moments I did recall. I would highly recommend it.

    (Although, I did learn a valuable lesson in organization, and even though all my daughter's photos are now digital, you better believe they're organized into folders based on times and events because crap, man, that project took me weeks.)


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