These children look suspiciously familiar

Special to The Times

BACK when I first started getting my own holiday cards with family photos, I was moved on two fronts.

First, I was opening them as a single adult in my family-free apartment, instead of with my mother, with whom I shared the sweet, holiday ritual of opening them together as a child.

Second, the cards were annual proof of the constant life changes of others and how stubbornly the same my own seemed by comparison. The kid who lived down the block has a kid? When did second cousin Laura have a third baby?


These cards and their child-rearing reminders sneaked up on me like my car registration renewal and bore a similar effect -- panic and pessimism in the face of time’s steadfast march forward.

Like everything, though, I got used to it. The cards arrived, holiday after holiday, a seasonal string on my finger that turned my inner thoughts to my maturing ovaries and was reinforced by everyone’s favorite holiday mantra, “Christmas is really for children.”

Grinch-y feelings aside, I would dutifully line the cards up on my bookcase, the irony of obscured Dorothy Parker and David Sedaris spines not lost on me.

As I recently sorted through this year’s batch of photo-filled merry missives, I experienced another shot from the season’s stun gun. It seems as if the countless infants and toddlers whose little bows and baseball caps were probably glued to their bald heads not so long ago were turning into full-blown children. Suddenly, this army of tots had grown into an age group that I, myself, can remember being. As babies, the holiday card posse members were like little aliens -- tiny flesh balls with faces that all blended together. Now they were growing into kids.

Furthermore, many of these aging still-life children looked exactly like what their parents used to look like as kids -- the way I once knew them. There was little Justin, who, save for his gender, could have played the role of my cousin Regina in the made-for-TV movie about her family circa 1971 (was Ernest Borgnine still alive to play Uncle Stuie?). And there sat little Carla, perched on the lap of Santa, the spit and image of her mother, Dana, a friend who wore a fairly similar smile -- for different reasons, to be sure -- just five years ago atop the lap of a hot guy who crashed her bachelorette party.

Then there are the sister-brother duos that look like the bonsai tree versions of Mom and Dad. Put a briefcase in that little boy’s hand, send him to the office in a suit and tie, and watch Dad’s boss do a quadruple-take and realize he really does need a vacation. Dress up 6-year-old Suzie in a Juicy sweatsuit and have her go to Whole Foods


for turkey burgers and see if anyone notices. (She can skip sneaking a cigarette on the way home.)

AND if these former babies were looking so much older, then was I turning into one of the elders of yesteryear? Sure I steal Splenda packets from coffee shops on occasion, but did that make me the modern-day equivalent of dinner roll-stealing Aunt Lena? My ears always stuck out, but were they getting worse -- the curse of Uncle Danny, perhaps? Did I trail a specific scent behind me, like that of Aunt Dollie’s Jean Nate?

Yes, this year, the holiday cards packed quite a punch. A friend revealed that she throws hers in the garbage after the holiday every year. I was shocked. I had always saved mine, more out of habit than anything. But I think I’ll continue to keep them, nestled in with the countless pictures of my mother, who, if she were still alive, would say something like, “Leslie, you think too much.”

As usual, she’d be right.


Leslie Billera can be reached at