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.