Her wings are small at first, like the rest of her: feathered little nubs, lying folded against the skin of her back. They flutter against your arms while you’re nursing her; you see them twitching while she sleeps. And even though you wouldn’t say it in public, even though you gently remind strangers and friends alike that she’s not a supernatural being but an ordinary flesh-and-blood human baby, you can’t help but call her your angel once in a while.
When she learns to walk, you buy one of those child leashes. They have nice ones now, not horrible at all: The one you get is a furry backpack that looks like a monkey, with an extra strap to secure it around her waist. As she zigzags down the street, three feet above the sidewalk, you keep a tight hold of the long tail.
Safety issues are different than they are with other children. She can’t sit comfortably in a stroller or a car seat without some jury-rigging. When visiting friends, the first thing you do is look around for ceiling fans and open windows. You have to be extra careful with breakable items and cleaning products and medications. Whenever you see the phrase “Keep out of the reach of children,” you feel like calling the company and not hanging up until you find the right person to speak to. You want to explain your situation; you want to talk until you can make someone understand why you’re going to need alternate directions.
At the park, reactions are mixed. Other parents are kind and interested, or else they won’t meet your eyes. “Watch her, please,” one mother says sharply when your daughter zips up and tries to land in the stroller that holds the woman’s new baby.
Your daughter wrenches a shovel away from a little boy in the sandbox, carrying it up as far as she can go on her tether. As you’re handling the negotiations of sharing and apology, tugging gently to pull her back to earth, you see the moment when she realizes the paradox: She can keep the shovel away from the other children, but only if she never settles down in the sand to dig.
Your second child is born without wings. This is something that none of the parenting books cover. You find yourself loving this new child, this ordinary child, almost guiltily. Before you became a parent, this is what you’d imagined it would be like. This baby rolls on a blanket and finds tiny pieces of carpet fluff to put in her mouth. Baby-proofing takes place much lower to the ground. When you put her in her crib, you don’t have to zip a mesh tent over her to keep her from gliding over the railings during the night.