The Madonna and Child, circa 1475, Giovanni Bellini (c.1431-1516)
I have friends who have produced all kinds of children. A friend who has given birth to two strong boys; another who has made three children who have slept through the night from Day One of their tiny lives. I have a friend with two almost identical well-behaved girls; a friend who has had three wildly different children: different weights, personalities and very different faces.
And me? I make Marys.
Both of the Little Lattes have taken the role of Mary in their nativities this year - for the Eldest Latte, this was her second outing in the blue robes. I make children who can be trusted to sit still for five minutes whilst smiling a beatific smile (though this seldom happens at any other time); children who can keep their head still enough to prevent a headdress falling off; children who can handle a Baby Annabel wrapped up in sheeting.
It is a very good job that we stopped at two. What would have become of a third Mary? Openings are rare, and the third Latte might have found herself with nowhere to show off her talents: forced into a row of miserable angels, or screaming her head off at the injustice of it all while dressed as a sheep (to be fair, the child who did this in the Littlest Latte's nativity did so because she wanted to be Joseph - even a three-year-old realised that displacing a natural-born Mary wasn't even an option).
Our two Marys are definitely not sheep. Each had her own individual approach to the role, particularly with regard to their handling of the Christ Child. The Littlest Latte held the baby gently before tipping him with a thud into his manger. The Eldest Latte, however, concerned that he was getting cold, embarked on a complex rewrapping that was so thorough - with the sheet being held up, shaken out, and properly redistributed - that her face was obscured for much of the scene.
I don't know what becomes of Marys when they are past the nativity stage. I don't know what skills they keep to take forward into their lives. But for now, they are unbearably cute to watch, surrounded by their Josephs, their donkeys and their stars.