Lately when she calls out in the night, it's for Mommy. When she needs help in the bathroom, her voice rings out down the hall, "Mommy!" When she wakes up in the morning, her first request is Mommy. Sometimes she gets me instead, but she just sets her jaw and frowns. "No," she says, "I want Mommy."
I'm not sure exactly what it was she was writing here—the title of her next show, most likely—but I think I see "Daddy" in there. It's nice to know that she thinks of me sometimes.
March, two years ago. She was a year and a half old, running, climbing, playing on a cool Easter morning on a huge backyard lawn in Virginia. The breeze on her face made her squint and squeal with laughter; it's something she's always loved, which she has in common with me and her sister, but not her mother or brother. She's bigger today but so far she still fits in my arms. Sometimes when I pick her up I still like to blow into her face, and her eyes sparkle and her manic little giggle warbles, she takes a breath to blow back at me and I quickly blow again, a little puff into her open mouth and she shrieks in delight, covering my lips with her hands and blowing back, blowing back, blowing back, her breath still sweet as a baby's, her joy still just as radiant and unguarded.
He really started noticing the camera when he was about three. That is, he'd seen it before, but that's the age when he really started to understand what it meant, and that I was looking at him. I don't know that it was self-consciousness, exactly, though that came too, eventually. But sometimes he didn't want to play along, and so he began to hide himself. He would duck his head down, or sometimes simply close his eyes in protest. Back then, it came with a scowl.
That was when I started asking his permission to take the pictures.
Nowadays, he will agree or disagree to being in a picture. Sometimes he will come along grudgingly, sometimes with enthusiasm. Sometimes not at all. Just before I took this picture, I told him that the light was really nice, and asked him if he would sit up so I could take a picture. He said OK, and closed his eyes. I asked him if he was sure it was OK, and he patiently said yes, so I clicked the shutter.
Shortly afterwards, a mischievous grin stole across his face and he pulled his pants down, shoving his back side toward the lens. "Take a picture of that!" he shouted gleefully.
So I did.
He said it was his favorite picture ever.
Juliette sometimes looks at photos and says that his feet look like mine. His toes haven't quite lost that round, chubby, baby toe-ness, not yet. But his feet are getting longer and narrower.
Last night he decided that he wanted to take a shower—I think he was tired of waiting for his sister to finish her chores. He doesn't do this often yet, but he will. And then this kind of picture—of which I must have hundreds—will get fewer and farther between. The girls will still be taking baths for a while, of course. I suppose that softens the blow a bit, but each child is an individual, and parenting each one is its own story. Having younger kids doesn't really make me miss the oldest's littleness any less.
"Dinner is just about ready," I say. "It's time to clean up and come inside."
"OK!" she says.
A few minutes later I return. She is stooped over in the middle of lawn, picking up leaves one by one. The yard is still littered with toys.
"Eve, come on," I say. "You can play with the leaves some other time. You have to clean up and come in to dinner now."
"No! I'm not playing!" she insists. "I have to put the leaves in my collection!"
Around the corner, next to the crowd of tricycles and scooters, lies a little pile of yellow and green, fading to brown. She crouches down and places the leaf in her fingers right in the middle.
"Is that your collection?" I ask.
"Yes," she says. She's so proud.
It is October. A cool morning that settled into a pleasantly warm Saturday afternoon, the way an October Saturday does in San Diego. Around the house, the Halloween decorations have begun going up, and the kids are excited. They have only recently finished being excited about a birthday, and soon they will be excited about Christmas. Every season has its presents or candies to look forward to. Sometimes both.
By this time she is three, but on the wall she is still a baby, and her brother is barely done being a toddler.
There above the dining table she is still a baby today, younger than her baby sister. And—for now—she is the same age as the brother that smiles above the spot where she used to eat her cereal. The brother that eats his cereal in the living room these days is, of course, still her senior.
If the shift in tense is confusing, just stop and consider the layers of "now" that are in that kitchen. An October afternoon. A morning in May. An April weekday as I write this. Whenever it is that you read it. Photography is weird.
The boy took one look at the new floors and started to cry. "I think I'm going to throw up!" he said. I always thought that my sentimentality and resistance to change had to do with the fact that we moved so many times when I was a child, but he's the same way—perhaps even more so.
The girl took a few steps in, turned her head to take it all in, and with a sunny smile declared, "I like them!" Though, it was not immediately obvious whether she actually liked them or was just saying the opposite of what her brother said.
The baby hasn't given an opinion yet, nor do I expect her to. By the time she's able to say anything, she will have long since forgotten that there was ever carpet in the living room—if, indeed, she hasn't already. Her knees slip a bit more when she tries to crawl in her pajamas, but she takes it all in stride, like everything. Onward and upward, that's her motto.