See Me Here, Your Face Says

Dear Caroline,

That’s you in the photo right there. You’re maybe two years old and wearing kind of a court jester outfit, a red jumper with a frilly polka-dot blouse, plus a polka-dot cap. But the outfit, adorable as it is, takes a backseat to the expression on your face.

You’re giving off a little smile, showing just a hint of little teeth, and your eyes are bright and alive. You know the camera is on you. You know it’s a performance. And you’re ready to do your stuff.

Here’s another shot now, this time the camera in close, maybe a foot away from your face. You’re older here, possibly three. You’re smiling again, your eyes wide, your eyebrows raised. You’re connecting with the camera, delivering yourself through the lens. Your face takes up almost the whole photo.

I’m here, your face says, and I’m happy, and you should be happy, too, and – guess what? – I can probably make you happy. All you have to do to be happy, your face says, is to look at my face.

Oh, you know how to play to the camera all right, how to give a performance.

Now we move on to a photo of you with with Grandma in a restaurant, maybe Frost in Williamsburg. She’s seated against a banquette, red linen in the background, with you squarely in her lap, her arms around your waist, her fingers interlocked. She’s holding you as securely as anyone has ever held you.

And you’re smiling so hard, all your teeth showing, you’re almost laughing. Maybe Grandma had said something funny to you, or tickled you, or you simply delighted in occupying her lap, or all three.

Will we ever know?

Does it even really matter?

As always, the photo says it all.

Let’s look at one more shot today (we could go on and on – we have so many photos – but we have to draw the line somewhere). It’s you and me and we’re lying in bed. You might be four or five years old, your face narrower now, more defined. Our heads are propped against some pillows, our faces right next to each other. We’re both looking over to the side at the camera, smiling modest little smiles.

It’s a quiet moment, no teeth showing, a glimpse of contentment. My left arm is wrapped around your back, my left hand on your shoulder, pulling you close. We’re probably just hanging out on a rainy morning in December, in need of nothing else but each other. You’ve got nowhere to go just yet – though of course soon enough you will – and so we’re just savoring our time together.

See me here, your face says. See me here with my Daddy. My Daddy loves me. My Daddy loves me with all his heart forever and ever.

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