Before I was pregnant with my first son, or even trying, I had dreams of babies, boy babies in particular.
Really visceral dreams of good witches in ballgowns surrounded by children in the empty urban moonlight; they would point to a small boy of about four.
“Is that mine?” I would ask and they would smile and nod.
I dreamed of kitchens full of Caribbean grandmothers passing a baby boy from arm to loving arm, until he reached me, his mother.
I dreamed of clutching a baby boy while being chased by aliens.
I had no idea what that last one meant, but when I became pregnant, and it was a boy, I decided I was psychic.
In my mind, I had a strong image of a baby with curly black hair and very pale skin with rosy apple cheeks. I think I got this idea from a Baby Gap ad, but I was convinced that this was my child.
So when my son was born, with olive skin and hair the color of straw, I was startled. I remember thinking, this is not my baby. When I held him in my arms for the first time, he was thrusting out his tongue over and over again, curiously, as though tasting the air and lapping it up. He had large almond-shaped eyes and bore a striking resemblance to E.T.
Like all eager new dads, my husband had his camera ready and caught this moment on film: my new baby, squinting, with his tongue, long and pointy, to his chin; like a heavy metal baby from outer space.
This was the photo we shared with the world announcing his arrival.
Whenever I look at it, it reminds me of that split second of uncertainty I felt–on a superficial level of him not looking like I thought he would; then, much deeper, of what it truly meant to become a mother; of having to protect a being this fragile for the rest of your life; of a real, tiny person, not a fantasy baby from a Gap ad or my dreams. In a single photograph, so much.
Seconds after the picture was snapped, I fell madly, incoherently in love with my son.
Today, the 7 year-old Owen thinks this picture is the funniest thing ever and asks to hear the story of his birth (and pointy tongue) again and again. The photo itself has become a symbol for him; not only is it proof of his existence, it represents who he is—a quirky and funny guy who marches to his own beat. About a month ago, he made prints of this picture and carefully cut them out for all of his classmates. In his school play, his character is going to be Baby Owen, with his tongue sticking out.