Sage’s birth announcements have finally arrived, two months to the day after the actual birth that the cards are designed to announce. You know, since they are called birth announcements.
Now who in our circle hasn’t yet heard about my youngest daughter, I don’t know, but here I am in any case, applying ugly 41 cent Liberty Bell stamps (it was that or Star Wars) to the top right corner of a hundred envelopes. Etiquette dictates that This is What You Do and who am I to argue with etiquette. Besides, I need one for the page of the baby book that says “attach announcement here.”
Never mind that I don’t have a baby book. Minor detail.
Of course the timeline of this announcement business is quite different than it was the first time around. With Thalia, I heralded the news of her abandonment of my womb mere days after the actual event. By this time roughly two years ago, the cards were already delivered, torn open, and tossed into junk drawers across America. All I had left to do was manage the returned envelopes marked addressee unknown from Nate’s family members who move with the frequency that most people change their underwear.
I wish I could say that the delay in Sage’s cards had something to do with fatigue or juggling a toddler or even announcement apathy, that underrated affliction that runs rampant among second-time moms.
The truth is, I just couldn’t find the perfect photo.
There was something very specific I had in mind, and I believed I’d know it when I saw this one brilliant snapshot (out of the roughly 42 billion) I had taken of Sage. Within its borders, the baby would be looking directly at camera. Of course she’d be smiling, piercing the lens with a joyous intensity that proclaimed to the world just how happy she was to be cooing and gurgling and passing exceedingly loud gas among us. It might even have a sort of otherworldly glow around it, if not a flashing neon sign proclaiming THIS IS THE ONE.
But nope, no such photo to be found.
Sage’s smiles were never big enough. Her gaze was not direct. She just sort of lay there looking serious. Sometimes severe. Occasionally sweet. And when she did smile, which was not too often, she mostly seemed to be smiling for herself. So I kept snapping. Dozens more every day.
I’d diligently upload the set onto my computer and lean into the screen to scrutinize the entire lot until my lower back started aching, before rejecting each one for falling somewhere short of magical.
With every day that I failed to take the perfect photo, Sage grew (as babies tend to do). By six weeks she looked less like a squished, fresh newborn and more like a child. My time was up.
That’s when I realized: The picture I had in mind was nothing I’d ever have taken.
Not if I snapped a hundred more photos, not if I snapped a hundred million more photos. Because it wasn’t a description of Sage.
It was a description of Thalia.
It pained me to become aware of having already fallen into the one trap I swore I would not with child #2.
Sage is not her sister. She wasn’t born smiling. Sage’s earliest toothless grins were slower to come, her gaze less demanding of your attention, her expressions somehow newer. Quieter. Softer.
Now that she finally does smile, she will not be compared to the Gerber baby. Her eyes nearly squint to closing. Her tongue hangs out over her bottom lip and her cheeks puff out to her ears. It’s the smile so honest that it can’t be held back or even contained within the perimeter of her face. It’s awkward and goofy and utterly enchanting.
Sage may not become the child who stands up in the center of the circle at music class and dances by herself. She may not become the child who’s speaking in full sentences at two and knows the names of birds and fish that even I can’t identify. She will have her own quirks and her own accomplishments and her own funny traits for me to write about so I can embarrass her in years to come. I thought I knew these things from the start. But I didn’t. Not really. Not until I spent six weeks looking for a representation of Sage that didn’t exist.
I went back to my photo library with a clear mind and no expectations. Wouldn’t you know it, there were dozens of beautiful pictures of my littlest girl. Too many to count. To many to even send to her grandparents to fawn all over.
The one I chose, it’s perfect. Because it’s her.
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