I Think I Am Starting a Meme.

I have several little items I keep near my deskish area. My rabbit cartoon, a Valentine the nurses made us, which bears Simone’s not-quite-a-week-old footprints, a purple ribbon a friend gave me (in college?), which reads “HOMEWORK CHAMP,” a paper-clipped stack of miniature index cards, which once hung on my Crazy Person’s Bulletin Board—you know, the usual. Precious detritus.
I also have a few photographs, and one of them is of me at five or so. It is singularly unflattering, but it is Very Alexa. It’s what I keep around as an antidote, should I begin to take myself too seriously. I am going to show it to you now. Ready?

That, right there, is the author of this website. No artfully composed self-portrait could capture me half as truthfully. The setting, I believe, is my grandparents’ house in Minot, North Dakota. I am not thinking about how I will look in the picture, which means I lack the slightly frightened, frozen visage that has become the hallmark of Alexa on Film, the expression that says “the person holding the camera has taken me hostage, and I am smiling in order to appease him and hopefully escape with my life.” No, in this picture I am fairly shimmering with enthusiasm and manic, chipmunk-y glee, mostly because of the nightgown, which I remember very well. It came with a matching miniature version for my Cabbage Patch Kid, but that isn’t the source of my giddiness. Mostly, I am intoxicated with my own wit: First Class FEmail! “First class,” like postage, but also like EXCELLENT! Fe-MAIL—like letters! It could mean FABULOUS, UNSTOPPABLE GIRL, or a really important postcard! Why aren’t you laughing yet?

As a youth I was a big fan of clothing based upon wordplay of any kind, and my favorite shirt at that age was a turtleneck covered with pictures of cats, dogs, and umbrellas. (GET IT??) I’d take a break from a subtraction worksheet, look down at my chest or sleeve, and oh how I would chuckle. Another favorite I am just now remembering was a pair of underwear with Garfield on the front, wearing Groucho glasses. The caption, ala Garbo, was “I VANT TO BE LEFT ALONE.”
(Typing this out, I am realizing that a pair of little girl underwear with “I VANT TO BE LEFT ALONE” printed across the pubis is maybe a tad questionable, but there you are.)

My brother’s boyfriend, a devastatingly handsome Brazilian for whom Simone has conceived a hopeless passion, is in medical school. For a while, it looked like he might choose dermatology as a specialty, and this excited me terribly, because I would finally have someone for whom to make my “Dermatologists Do It With The Largest Organ” T-shirt (remember?) But then he had to go and change his mind again for the trillionth time, and now he is looking at Peds, and my “Pediatricians Do It With Children” shirt idea was not nearly as well-received, for whatever reason. The point is, I am still that girl. That nerdy, excited, easily amused girl in the picture, even if sometimes it’s hidden under anxiety or self-consciousness or curmudgeonly grumbling. Most of the time, looking at that picture is enough to remind me to be delighted—that being delighted is my natural state, whether that delight is the byproduct of an unintentionally hilarious sign or a balcony in the bathroom or the really fascinating book I’m reading, about the bubonic plague.

Do you have a picture of yourself that is especially, quintessentially you? I don’t mean this to sound like some cheesy “inner-child” exercise (though all children DO need exercise, even the inner ones), but for whatever reason it does seem that these are usually photos from childhood. If you have one, and have a place to post it, I would love to see. Or you can just tell me about it. Or tell me anything at all. I’ve learned how to respond right in the comment section now, so I think I am going to do more of that. We can talk! Like our own cozy little parlor! Or a literary salon, but with less “literary” and more bad puns.


  1. Kimberly says:

    I laughed hysterically at the “Pediatricians Do It With Children” shirt idea. I’m sure there’s a market for that somewhere (although I’d be sure to keep my own kids away from anyone who purchased one). And I LOVE seeing pictures of people as children… The uninhibited, excited way kids pose for the camera is adorable. Plus, it’s neat seeing how people change (or stay the same) as they get older. I love wordplay, so I totally appreciate (and laughed at) all of your cool shirts.

    I have one picture of me at about two-and-a-half hand-feeding a wild raccoon. My parents took it. I look back on it with a mixture of fascination and shock. Fascination because I am still a huge animal-lover (I’m going for my MS with a focus on wildlife biology/ecology). Shock that my parents thought it was a good idea to let their toddler hand-feed a wild adult raccoon that had just wandered out of the woods. In the picture, I’m standing in the middle of a patio at the edge of Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, cheesing like crazy (at the ‘coon, not the camera) as the raccoon is grabbing food out of my extended palm. The perspective is interesting, because there’s no one around me, and I know for a fact there couldn’t have been anyone within 10-15 feet of me. If I can get our scanner working, I’ll add it to my blog.

    • Alexa says:

      A WILD RACCOON? No one was within 15 feet of you because they didn’t want to get RABIES, probably. You must have been annoying the spit out of your parents, as toddlers are wont to do, and they were hoping a nice family of animals might be persuaded to raise you as their own.

      This is just the sort of thing I mean though, and as you’re going into wildlife biology you should really have that picture blown up and framed in your office or something. But please refrain from hand-feeding any more raccoons.

  2. Casey says:

    Seriously, I love that photo. It is–you are–precious. What a great reminder. I look at my own children and I wouldn’t want anyone or anything to take away their excitement and yes, delight, in the world around them. So, why shouldn’t we indulge that for ourselves? A perpetual state of delight sounds far preferable to self-loathing, self-importance, or self-doubt any day.

    When my husband and I sent out our “save-the-date” for our wedding, I created a newsletter with our fourth grade school photos side-by-side. That was perhaps my quintessential image. Ponytails askew, two front teeth growing in opposing directions and a maroon, velour shirt with a cat emblazoned in rhinestones on the front. Not that I’m a cat person. Velour on the other hand…? Yes, please.

    • Alexa says:

      “I look at my own children and I wouldn’t want anyone or anything to take away their excitement and yes, delight, in the world around them. So, why shouldn’t we indulge that for ourselves?”

      This. Yes.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Love it! I share your long- time love of puns. My favorite T-shirt in 8th grade had a picture of Mt. Rushmore on it, with the words “America’s favorite Rock Group.” As a missionary kid I did worry a little bit about this reference to secular media – people might think I actually endorsed or condoned rock music – gasp! – but couldn’t pass up the awesome pun. And it made me feel a little, I don’t know, daring, I suppose!

  4. fraujoolie says:

    OH, I feel like that dysfunctional friend that no one will want to invite back over, but here goes: Having been sexually abused throughout childhood, I don’t have any pictures that I can chuckle with a, “Ho, HO! Look at that girl in a Scünci headband and Frankie Goes to Hollywood t-shirt!” When I come across a picture of me as a child, I feel a sort of disconnectedness, like I don’t really know who this person is. And I feel sad, because I know it’s me. My memories are all so fractured and upsetting, like trying to recall a bad dream. When I see a picture, it’s like the flashbulb going off back at me, blinding me for a moment, stealing a bit of my soul.

    • Alexa says:

      I’m so sorry. And please, never hesitate to share your comments here–I’m honored to be trusted with your stories, whatever they are.
      I am sure there are many, like Kimberly, who can relate to what you’ve said. I am fortunate enough to have happy childhood memories, but I do know the punching sadness of seeing a picture taken before a Bad Thing, knowing that the younger self in it has no notion of what’s before them.

  5. Swistle says:

    The one that springs to my mind is of me sitting on one of those big metal radiators, which was located behind the door in our dining room. I’m reading a book and grinning. I’m really happy: I have a book and I have a private, hidden, SMALL place to read it in.

    • Alexa says:

      We would have gotten along very well as children–reading in small protected/hidden spaces (corners, nooks, closets, etc.) was my favorite activity from about 7 to 14. Add in a snack and you have my idea of heaven.

    • Alexa says:

      I am distracted by how much I love your outfit in that photo, and would very much like a grown-up version for myself. Alas, I think I may be past the age at which I can pull off saddle shoes.

  6. Laura says:

    One day when I was 5 my entire family (that includes grandparents, some of my aunts, uncles and assorted cousins) went swimming at a lake near my house. Giddy with lake water and togetherness, the adults in charge decided to take a picture of the group standing by the water. Everyone is slightly sunburnt, smiling happily and in the front of the group is a very small me, smiling gleefully and pulling up her shirt so you can see her striped bathing suit. Why, here is the picture (don’t mind the blog, it is going to be overhauled soon):


    In almost every picture taken of me since, I am doing something silly or inappropriate. Devil horns in my wedding photos? Of course! Pretending to vomit (one of the few times I actually wasn’t) in a picture depicting a day of IV therapy during my first hyperemesis pregnancy, of course! Making bunny ears on my brand new babies? Certainly. I have always been a nerd and I always will be. Life is too short to be serious and cool. To indicate the level of nerdom I posess, I had trouble writing this response as the predominate thought in my brain right now is the name of the book you are reading on the Black Plague. I have a fascination with that time period and disease as evidenced by the number of papers I wrote on the subject when working on my Bachelors in History. Good times y’all!

  7. HereWeGoAJen says:

    Almost all the pictures of me are in my parents’ possession, but I am sure there are some in there. I was such a little dork then. (Still am now, but I hide it a bit better. Well, at least I think I do.)

    I think that picture of you is just adorable.

    • Alexa says:

      Yes, I only have a few. Many of my pictures were victims of the Car-napping Imbroglio, and are lost to me. One of the only happy things to come of my father’s move to a nursing home has been the discovery of bunches of old photos…

  8. Clarabella says:

    I WISH I could find it, but there is a picture of me, around 5, I think, at my Opa’s garden in Germany, & I am unceremoniously smooching a large bass (yes, a fish) on the mouth. Someone had pulled the fish out of the man-made, shallow & decorative stream running through the garden (seriously, you could just reach down & grab them), & I wanted to kiss him. Anyway, in the photo, my braided pigtails are a bit frizzed out & GOD KNOWS what I’m wearing (hey, it was the early 80s), but there is unadulterated glee exuding from me. I like it so much b/c it reminds me that I am a bit inappropriate, daring/surprising & don’t mind getting my hands dirty. Also, I tended to obsess over fairy tales, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to kiss a few animals, just to see what might happen.

    • Alexa says:

      I wish you could find it, too! It sounds like a marvelous picture–you sound like rather a marvelous child as well. “A bit inappropriate, daring/surprising & don’t mind getting my hands dirty” sounds like an admirable set of descriptors to aim for.

  9. Anne says:

    Oh my god, You. Are. Adorable. That is one of the cutest things I have ever seen! And I TOTALLY would have laughed with you over that nightgown, had I known you as a child.

    I don’t think I have a “quintessential” picture of me, but if there was one, it would probably show me as serious, earnest, diligently working away at….*some*thing. I read a great deal, but was also very physically active, and was really, really fast as a kid. However, I had no hand/eye coordination, so team sports were always a drag.

    (My husband doesn’t have any hand/eye coordination, either: he found his niche racing bicycles. Our kids are doomed!)

    • Alexa says:

      Aw, thank you!

      (For your sake, I hope your children don’t inherit your speed. Fast children are a menace to maternal sanity, I tell you.)

  10. Alexa, I have not seen your rabbit cartoon before tonight. Its been three years since that post where you referenced it. Anyways, you had asked your readers to post a joke or comic that they found funny.. well!! I have one that I cut out of a newspaper 8 years ago. I have it now sitting next to me by my desk. I will attempt to paraphrase.
    Its called NON SEQUITUR The scene is a kitchen with a frumpy slightly annoyed older lady is cooking at the stove and her husband is standing in the doorway with a coffee cup in his hand and he says to her ” Hey honey, have you ever thought about applying for one of those Extreme Makeover shows?” .. and then there is a box that says (Bob creates his reality show ‘Extreme Concussion’) I still pee myself a little when I read this comic and I hope I did it justice.
    Cheers, and please keep sharing! – Shannon

  11. Cristina says:

    What is it about nightshirts when you’re a kid? An ’80’s’ baby no less? I swear, I don’t remember much of my wardrobe as a child, but I can remember every-single-one of my novelty nightshirts. Among my favorites were my tweetybird gown that showed his front and back on each side of the gown (which blew my little mind in it’s cleverness) and my postcard shirt that was an italian (so sophisticated!) photo montage on the front and (AGAIN! so clever!) a postcard back on the backside. Your gleeful smile in yours made me laugh because I can totally remember that feeling.

    I swear, if I could find those to wear as an adult, I totally would.

    The photo that springs to mind for me in one that my mom took through my bedroom window so I wouldn’t see her. I was 7, and helping my dad paint the picnic table. Because I believed in being appropriately dressed for any task, I’d made a tunic dress (with belt) out of garbage bags and put on my older sisters beret. A wee artist painting her first masterpiece – an orange picnic table.

  12. Kate says:

    Ha! I have just the picture. It is at the bottom of the woefully out-of-date About page on my woefully neglected blog: http://kateflaim.com/about/
    In it I am about….three, maybe? We are in a restaurant (an exciting and Major Event in my young life), and I am eating an enormous bowl of ice cream. I am so delighted that my eyes are closed and my free hand is clenched. There is another photo taken at my 26th birthday party as I bite into a homemade hostess cupcake and I am making the exact same face.

    Not that I’m a little obsessive about food, or anything. Ahem.

    Honestly, I just love how joyful I am in that picture, and how un-self-conscious I am about a simple pleasure. I am still easily thrilled by things.

  13. Oh how I love that photo and – possibly even more – how it reminds you to be delighted. That’s a lovely feeling for a photo to evoke!

    The picture that comes to mind is of me at age three or four in a tutu and tights, spinning in the living room for a group of my parents’ friends. That little girl was so certain that the world was made for her and her alone. So sure that everyone was interested solely in her. So eager to perform and entertain. So un-self-conscious and confident and happy. I look on that photo and that girl fondly and wish I had retained more of that surety and assurance.

    P.S. I giggled at the “Pediatricians Do It with Children” shirt idea. And the Derm shirt idea is priceless. My husband is going into gastroenterology. Imagine the horribly inappropriate and – let’s face it – gross shirts just waiting to be created for that specialty!

  14. Liz says:

    My scanner is out so I can’t send the photo but here is a description….
    I have a twin sister, we are about 5 and we are sitting on our “hoppity horses” (bouncy balls with horse heads that you can hold on to). We are sitting on a dirt path in our pasture, the sun is in our eyes, we are end-of-summer tanned, hair is bowl-cut and faded blonde, both smiling like crazy. Elaine (my twin) is wearing a pair of long pants, no shirt or shoes. I am wearing a lon-sleeved shirt and underwear, no shoes. Between us, we have on one entire winter outfit! We could totally give a shit less, life was that good!

  15. Meghan says:

    for me it was the whole “Get In Shape Girl” brand outfit…tshirt, leg warmers, head and wrist band…and accompanying Get in Shape Girl tape with motivational lyrics. Sigh. Those were the days

  16. Sara says:

    Wow, I think you really have struck an untapped meme-vein, at least among women (or should I say fe-MAILs) who were dorky kids in the late 70s/early 80s. When I found this photo — https://picasaweb.google.com/sara.hornstra/WonderWoman?authkey=Gv1sRgCJzUo-OO_paVFg#5626435208106931810 — awhile back, it occurred to me that I still have trouble thinking of myself as someone other than this goofy kid, and whenever I’m clumsy or say something socially inappropriate, I assume this is what everyone else sees.

    Do you still feel like other people see you as you appear in this (adorable) photo? And do you find it hard to avoid projecting your own goofy image onto Simone? (I have a daughter the same age, and although she’s got her own personality and was lucky enough to have my genes diluted by her dad’s, she undeniably a lot like me as a kid, so I have this problem myself).

  17. Miss Grace says:

    I do! It is this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/grace134/2746166492/
    My hair isn’t brushed. My hair is never brushed.
    I’m wearing a party dress, but that fashion is completely obscured by the fact that I have a t-shirt pulled on over. Because I love both and cannot decide. The dress is perfectly girly, with flowers and poof skirt and ruffles, the shirt is perfectly comfortable, and rainbow. My style hasn’t changed.
    you can’t see it, but I assure you that I’m barefoot.
    I’m holding a newt that I found in a puddle. Because I want to show it to you.
    Here, look at my newt.

  18. patrice says:

    I loved this post. Even before I read it, I looked at the picture and thought to myself “I love that nightie!” and then I thought how much even more my 5yo self would have loved it. And why don’t they make nighties like that anymore?

    I don’t have a picture, but what this post brought to mind for me was an evening I was lying in my parents’ bed, watching their little black and white recording the Muppet Show (pretty sure it was the Blondie one) with my little (well, by today’s standards, rather large) black cassette recorder. I would have been, I’m guessing, about 8, so this was the late ’70s. I guess I got a little bored during a commercial, because I was standing at the mirror on their dresser, my chin tucked down on my chest, tracing the words on my t-shirt with my finger: “Anything boys can do, girls can do better”. It was a tan t-shirt, with pink/purple glittery plastic-y iron-on-y words. My recording caputured my voice which was abnormally low and distorted due to the way I was looking straight down and talking soooooooo slow as I traced the letters: “aaaaannnnyyyythhiiiinnnngggg bbbbbooooyyyyyssss ccccaaaaaannnnn ddoooo…” etc… I remember realizing as I played back the recording what I had done, and been super embarrassed about sounding so silly and annoyed about ruining my Muppet Show recording.

    Funny how vividly I still remember the details… the shirt, the show, the scene…

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    Also, I’m from Minnesota too. Duluth.

  19. Amanda P says:

    I don’t have a place to post pictures, so I can’t show anyone, but I have a photo of myself in a nylon slip – a full slip, not just the skirt – with a jumprope belt, singing into a fake microphone. I think I was 6 or 7. I miss that joy (although I come close to recapturing it when Build me up, Buttercup comes on the radio and I’m alone in the car).

    On the other hand, my favorite current sweatshirt is cream with the greek letter pi made out of pumpkins. My husband only allows me to wear it between halloween and Thanksgiving. :) My father gave it to me 15 or more years ago.

  20. agirlandaboy says:

    There’s a picture of me at age 2 or 3 sitting in a pile of books smiling the cheesiest smile that says both “Cheeeeeeeese!” (obviously) but also “Look at my books! Do you see these books? These are my books!” That’s me. Cheesy, lit-nerd hoarder.

  21. Dana says:

    Well, it seems I’m always late when it comes to responding, but here goes.

    I have several goofy pictures of myself as a child. In them, I’m usually hamming it up in some way or grinning at the camera with a tooth missing. But, this particular picture just makes me smile because it was very quintessentially me as a kid. I was tall for my age (still am) and was given a Dorothy Hammill haircut. I don’t think I need to say much more than that. ;)


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