Somewhere we have a Polaroid that my dad took when I was seven. I am in a stair-step line with three of my sisters, and sitting up in a hospital bed behind us is Mom, smiling and holding her sleeping fifth daughter. After one looks at the photo and processes that much, he then laughs at the realization that my mom is the only one out of the six people actually smiling. Frown after tearful frown marks the faces of the four girls in their hospital visitor gowns.
We were not unhappy with our new sister. I had objected to the notion of a fifth at one point, when I realized that frozen pudding pops and some other treats came in multiples of six, and another mouth would throw off this neat symmetry. Eventually my gluttonous nature took over and soothed me with the thought that having to buy two packages meant that there would be food left over. Maybe it would occasionally filter down to me.
No, we were all very pleased. Just that morning, I had been pulled from my very heavy sleep by Daddy and the girls, who had gathered around and kept repeating, “Annalisa, it’s a girl! It’s a girl!” At least that point of symmetry had been left intact, to our relief. We would have loved a brother, but we would not have known what to do with him. We scrambled off to the hospital to meet our long-awaited caboose, as yet unnamed.
The baby was soft and precious, with reddish golden hair swept into a soft, wave-like curl on the top of her head. I had never seen a nurse fix a baby’s hair before, and it struck me as being astounding that she could already have such beautiful hair. The nurses were kind and obviously enjoyed our excitement. Our parents were cheerful but cautious, and herein lies one reason for the frowns. Based on previous experiences, they decided not to ask the nurses to allow us to hold our sister, leaving us to only imagine the joy that that would eventually bring. Imagined joy is incredibly different from experienced joy for a child. We were stunned, but this was followed by another blow. When they learned that Mom could have another night in the hospital to rest, our parents took advantage of it. Devastation ensued. Our mom wasn’t coming home? Our baby wasn’t, either? We were crushed. Apparently, Daddy was too happy with his new girl to notice our grief, for this is about when he took the photo.
We slogged home and struggled through a dinner that someone from church had generously brought us, thoroughly mourning the circumstances to my poor father, who tried to soothe us a bit. But really, our whole family was soon together, and we did all the holding, rocking, kissing, dressing, and changing that we had longed for. Without that photo, I’m not sure we would remember that minuscule sorrow, but now it always brings a chuckle and the first enjoyable memory of our baby sister.