May 28, 2008

Enfolding

In the fall of 1913, a mother in Chicago picks out a christening gown for her baby daughter. Delicate ivory batiste and whitework embroidery cascading into a scalloped hem, with tiny sleeves tied at the wrist with a slip of ribbon. In a photograph of the little girl in the dress, the baby's left fist holds tight to the front of her gown while she looks contentedly off to the side. I like to think she is looking at her parents, who adore her, their only child.

That baby is my grandmother. Thirty-three years later, she slips her own daughter into the same christening gown. It is summer in Pennsylvania, so she pulls the sleeves up high into small puffs on her arms before tying the ribbons. This baby--my mother--smiles at the camera in her picture, already the gregarious person she still is today.

Twenty-nine years later the gown is pulled over my red-haired head and I glare suspiciously at the room while my picture is snapped. It's the 1970s now: the ribbons at the wrists are brighter and wider, and an unfortunate splay of pink bow is tied to one shoulder. But the simple gown holds its own, quietly billowing under my clenched hands.

Now I dress my own daughter in that same gown and stand to the side while a photographer cajoles her into turning her coffee-colored eyes toward the camera. Her tiny arms windmill, sending the ribbons at her wrists waving through the air. She grabs at the aging fabric and pulls it high toward her face.

More than the court date waiting in our future, seeing Firefly in the christening gown--the one four generations have worn and five have touched--marked her enfolding into our family for me. As a little girl I would stand before the row of christening pictures and study their details. I was comforted by the sight of my own face among the ranks. It reinforced that these were my people, my family. We were the ones who wore the gown.

I write a lot about our efforts to maintain my kids' ties to their families of origin. I think most advocates of openness in adoption feel some push to compensate for how far the pendulum swung away from that in recent generations. Any tangible expression of those connections is so precious to me. The first time we met Ms B's mother, she handed us a quilt for Firefly that had been sewn by her own grandmother (the woman after whom Ms B was named). I get a lump in my throat when I touch its worn squares, so moved by what an expression it is to Firefly that they still see her as part of their history.

Before adopting, I wondered if those efforts would come at a cost, if making space for first family would mean my children would seem less a part of my own. Now I know that could never happen. Nothing could change the contentment of moments like today, when I watched my daughter clutch at the folds of ivory fabric just as her great-grandmother once did. Soon her christening gown photo will join the row of pictures now spanning ninety-five years, our way of saying you are ours and we are yours.

27 comments:

Kohana said...

Wow, that was so beautiful! What a moving piece. Now we certainly want to see her picture (and yours!) in that family heirloom!

Jenna said...

You need to publish this somewhere. It is beautiful and moving.

And I get it.

When both boys were baptized, they were wrapped in a shawl that has been used now eleven times. My Dad, first, his two brothers, me, my brother, our four cousins, Big Brother and Little Brother. My brother and cousins will use it someday when they have children. It's just our family thing to do.

Mindy said...

Lovely imagery. One of my favorite things you've written.

calliope said...

what a beautiful & touching post. I also have a Christening gown that is several generations old and one of the things that keeps me going is the hope that some day it will be removed from its storage box and worn again.

It makes me think of the spirit of all the people that once held a baby in the gown- and now your family is all holding your child.

Dawn said...

I'm with Jenna. Take this down and send it to Adoptive Families or Christian Science Monitor. It's beautiful.

Emily said...

Thanks for sharing...beautiful!

Tammy said...

It is a breathtaking image of your daughter literally being enfolded into your family through this beautiful event. I am in tears, wishing I could be there to witness this moment first hand. Blessed we are...

mama2roo said...

Sometimes its really not bad to have tears before 10 am!

Simply beautiful. Might I suggest that you print this up and place it either in your scrapbook or behind the picture in the frame so that someday your precious Firefly will read these beautiful words?

You have such a gift with your words.

mayhem said...

Thiis is lovely. Thank you.

Thanksgivingmom said...

Absolutely beautiful.

Clementine said...

This is beautiful--I got chills reading it. I hope you will share it with other readers as some of your commenters have suggested.

Kim said...

This was absolutely beautifully written. I could actually see the photos in my mind.

Even more beautiful is your efforts to connect your daughter to all parts of her family.

Oceans... said...

Simply beautiful...

Roy and Lori said...

Just wanted to say hello!
Have a great night!

JJandFive said...

Totally cool.

Ariella said...

Oh darn I missed it! I hope it gets published. Where are you thinking about sending it to?

Baby Step said...

I am visiting from NCLM. I am going to be very interested to read your adoption story...I may be following that path in the not-so-distant-future. I hope you do get to repost the missing post, but I guess if you don't, it means it is getting published! Good luck!

Mar said...

Good move -that is totally publishable (and moving and beautiful and will be so wonderful for firefly to read when she is older -- and possibly thinking about her own baby!)

Clementine said...

Yay! You'll have to tell us what happens.

cynthia said...

Wah! I was on vacation and missed the post! Hope to see it somewhere published soon :)

Hope said...

Ahhh I missed it, dang it...hope to read it was published :)

~Jess said...

I didn't get to read it, but GOOD LUCK! I just submitted my first piece ever, in April! I hope you get it published!

GLouise said...

Ah, darn, I missed it!!! ;-0 I am sure it was gorgeous though! ;-)

Jendeis said...

Aw, I missed the post. Darnit.

Cloudscome said...

This is beautiful and I am glad you put it back up. One of the things I spent a lot of time doing in the months right after adopting my two youngest is framing and hanging family pictures. I have a B&W portrait of my three sons hanging right under a B&W of my great-great grands sitting with their grown children. I want my sons to see themselves anchored in our family history. They are the men of my father's family name going forward. My youngest has a first name from his first family, am middle name from my mother's family and a last name from my father's family. Thesse things are important. It's so special that you have the gown and the photos!

Patricia said...

I'm here via la Creme...

Your post blows me away. I love the sense of history and have nothing to compare it to.

I can only wonder and hope that I might be able to one day be the "one who touched it" and started the tradition.

Cassandra said...

Here from the Creme...

How magical for your daughter to be enveloped in two sets of family histories and traditions. Her adoption didn't diminish the love or belonging, but expanded it. She will cherish both heirlooms someday, and hopefully pass them on to her own daughter.

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