Many, many times, we’ve looked at pictures of our daughter while she lay, sat, played, or slept right in front of us. Still photos hold a charm separate from live babies: they slow the rush of time and let you hold a moment in your hand (or on your camera). To get one, though, the baby must be still long enough to take a photo, and that’s not always the case.

Here are some of my favorite pictures that I haven’t been able to take:

Her animal imitations. With a big smile on her face, she bunches her fingers together and touches then lifts the tips of them across her chest. While she knows many animals and their sounds (cow – moo; horse – neigh; cat – mao; dog – [insert panting sound]; pig – oi), she makes her frog (and rabbit and kangaroo) hopping motion across her little chest, just the way my mother taught her. “Hop, hop, hop!” I say, and she does, with great glee. She’ll also pound her chest like a gorilla (also courtesy of Nana) and peck like a chicken, courtesy of her daddy. That one comes out when she sees a picture of a chicken or, strangely, at night once we’ve read books. She’ll pull the pillow to her and peck, peck, peck her face into it, then lift her beatific face to me. If the sun shone as brightly as her face, we’d all go blind, even without looking directly.

Her intent reading face. Whether she’s reading Baby Animals or Animal Orchestra or Kitten’s First Full Moon or a book of French verbs or Hungarian cooking, she looks searchingly. She studies the page, looking at the pictures or the words, if there are no pictures. Does she see something like The Matrix, letters streaming and incomprehensible, waiting for everything to fall into place? Does she enjoy the heft of a book in her lap and the comfort of the motion of flipping the pages? She looks at books as intently as she’s ever looked at anything – until a camera distracts her. I’ve tried to capture this one, but a camera breaks the spell.

Signing for milk. This one’s fading but insistent when it comes. It lasts a short while, and the milking motion, which is a rather ridiculous sign unless you are really pulling on a cow’s teat, combined with the deadpan seriousness of her face (yes, Mama, I mean milk and I mean now!), makes for a comical pairing.

Signing for potty. I just love that this one’s gone on for so long, although she doesn’t sign for it as often as I’d like, and she’ll often sign while I’m driving and not able to see, unless I catch a glimpse in the mirror. Another sign unphotographed, another unmarked milestone.

Quick kissing. She’ll often give three or four air kisses in a row, sometimes accompanied by the hand gesture for blowing kisses, sometimes just letting them float on the air, drifting across the space between us (or her and the cats, or her and Daddy, or her and the woman behind the register at the Piggly Wiggly, or her and the sofa…she’s full of love, this one is). “Boo!” she’ll say, and quick kiss. I swear they become solid real kisses because I feel their warmth.

Sleeping. This is not wholly true because I do have photos of her sleeping from months ago. Now I feel like I’m the guardian of her sleep, and part of my protection plan is keeping the camera, with its light for focusing and its loud shutter click, out of the bedroom while she’s sleeping. She’ll cozy up to the crib bars, head pressed against the slats like she could squeeze through if she tried hard enough. Other times she pulls her blanket over herself, as I’ve said before. She still curls up like a bean, feet crossed sometimes, arms tucked under her and between her legs. Tonight she dropped to sleep in her carseat, looking like a little frog, with bent knees turned out and her hands together over the carseat buckle. In bed with us, she’ll often turn ninety degrees, head butted up against one of us, feet pressed into the ribs of the (unlucky) other. Sometimes she lies on her side, head splayed back as if in mid-laugh, affirming her dreams or denying her nightmares. Perhaps my favorite, as described by someone else in something else I once read, is when she sleeps like a starfish. Arms, legs, and head each juts in a different direction, ensuring that one part of the bed doesn’t really feel any better – or worse – than any other part. Even in a queen sized bed, she manages to make room for three a tight squeeze. Not that I have photographic proof of this – but I wish I did.

Cameras help us to capture fleeting moments, but sometimes even the camera is too slow, and life is too fleeting. When that happens, I try to remember that, much as I might like to have photos as reminders, the moments themselves are the reason for the photos. The fact that they happened should be – and is – enough.

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