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COLUMNIST: Baby pictures peering back in time

There are several pictures of my two granddaughters pasted inside the glass doors of my kitchen cabinets. They are now more or less one year old. Each time I go to fetch something from whatever cabinet, they are there peering out at me. Well, actually, they're peering at the camera, but the effect is the same. Almost every time that I go to those cabinets, I pause and study those pictures, study those baby eyes.

And their eyes seem to study me back.

Their eyes seem focused in a studious scrutiny of me and this amusing universe, a universe that to them at their age, must seem to flow by them like some kind of circums tance-laden river. New scenes and people and events - and parents with cameras - come floating down that river in a never ending nautical parade. It's their parade, theirs and theirs alone. They probably feel that they rule it.

After months of study, this is as close as I can come to describing the studious look that most year-or-so-olds have.

Admittedly, their look contains several individual components, with the biggest one likely to be their certain and unshakable awareness that HEY! I'm the center of this universe and you're some part of a parade and don't you forget it!

But there are other components as well, and one seems to me to be the reverse of my studying those serene eyes looking out of my cabinets. For upon further examination, those eyes appear to be studying me. Or us. Or whomever. I don't think that there is anyone who hasn't felt the steady stare of a child upon them, a stare more from a star around whom the rest of the world rotates, rather than some mere planet.

Sure, there comes a time when that same center-of-the-universe stare begins to realize that some of these planet-people who come into their orbit have some specific effect on their personal gravity, their situation, their parents, their something. Then that stare becomes one less of the knowledge that they are indeed the heaviest planet holding everything to them by their huge gravity and more of a study to see how you're going to affect their up-til-now rock steadiness.

But at one year, everything is still a flow by them. That's a serene look coming from them at this stage. Some component of that serenity seems to be one of their time stream imposed upon ours, some sharing of their age and ours. This component is much more difficult to put into words; in fact, it was much more difficult to even identify, and it may be that single element that causes us to enjoy peering back steadily at baby pictures. We're peering back in time. More on that in a bit.

It's quite likely that we also find, as we pause in our daily routine and examine those baby pictures of our descendants, subtle features of ourselves that draw us into further consideration of them. Alas, try as we might, such subliminal features once twice removed from us become other than blatant and overtly obvious. (Although I did find my ears on my brother's daughter's first child. Poor thing.)

Try as we might, it is usually difficult to find specific identifiable features of ours in our grandchildren. At least, consciously find them. So we still need an explanation for why we continue to be captured by those pictures, and that explanation may be that our physical similarities come through not consciously but subconsciously, below that level at which we can absolutely--most usually--point out the one or two specific similarities between them and us. It is those subliminal likenesses that draw our fancy into continued enjoyment of looking at those pictures.

It is that subliminal attraction that may well be the biggest attraction we have toward those pictures: namely, a little bit of time travel.

Honestly, don't you feel that some of the baby that was you so long ago is peering out at you from those eyes, almost as if those eyes were your eyes so long ago and are now helping you link up to that long-ago time when you were the center of the universe? To that time when you were the biggest planet in your solar system? That's what I meant earlier about traveling across time from you to their eyes.

Hello, you want to say to that picture, to those eyes. Hello, it's been a long time since we met, hasn't it, as long as ever since I was you.

Hello, you want to say, I'm here, and every chance I get, I'm going to help you find your way toward me, because it's a very long trip, and I'm telling you this now because you will soon grow up a little more, and this "now" that we're sharing is about the only time our individual circumstances--mainly your age and my age--will allow this time travel between between us. Will allow this communicative link-up.

You're going to mingle with so many other planets so soon that you'll be too busy for this weird two-way time-sharing between us, but deep down, you'll remember, and so will I. And someday you'll peer into your child's eyes, and then your child's child's eyes, and you'll make this connection.

You won't remember, but it's been nice meeting you.