Priceless Self Portraits

Seven years ago, just before my son started kindergarten and my daughter started PreK 3s, I scored a deal at the Target dollar section—two blank hard-cover books for $3 each. These $3 books are now invaluable as they hold the thoughts and feelings of my kids as they start each school year.

Every September, we have a little family joke about me not being able to find the books, but, miraculously, by the end of the month, they usually show up somehow. I turn to a fresh page spread, and write a list along the left side: name, date, age, height, weight, grade, teacher, school, signature, favorite food, favorite colors, favorite games, favorite toys, friends, favorite animals, favorite sports, favorite teams, pets, and favorite things to do.

The kids sit down to start completing their list on the left side and their self-portrait on the right page. There is just one rule: no peeking at the previous years until you have completed this year’s pages. We set this rule after our second year when Jordan flipped back to his kindergarten portrait and decided to draw the exact same picture.

Once the kids are done, the fun begins. They giggle and reminisce as they flip through the previous year’s pages. They remember friends who have moved away (“I remember Holly! I miss her!”), pets that have moved on (Pets: 2 hermit crabs—used to have 3, but they ate one), and games they haven’t played in years (“That’s the year I was obsessed with Minecraft.”) We also see how some things have stayed the same—baseball (Jordan) and singing (Becca) have appeared in every single year’s favorites list. They remember things that we have done as a family, like the year that Becca chose yellow-bellied marmot as her favorite animal because we had been to Colorado in the summer and she was obsessed with seeing one there since yellow was her favorite color. We discover new things, too, like when we figured out that the friend she listed in preschool is the daughter of a fifth grade support teacher in a class down the hall.

The portraits give us a good look into their younger selves, too. Jordan gets a kick out of seeing the correction tape on his kindergarten portrait, remembering how upset he was that he didn’t draw his shoe the way he wanted and insisted that I put tape over it so he could try again. He has featured Indiana Jones Lego mini figure, Pokémon, and Xbox in his portraits. Becca has drawn herself singing into a microphone, running in the park with a friend, and with a giant Shopkin.

Last week, the kids completed their eighth self-portraits and questions. It is now time for me to store away the books to hopefully find again by the end of September next year.