Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Cara's Christening Gown

In many families, the christening gown is a cherished heirloom, carefully preserved to be handed down to the child who wore it when it's time to christen his or her own child. Few items of clothing in baby's first year hold as much meaning for new parents as the outfit in which they first present their precious gift to their community. Nearly every culture around the world has traditions associated with christening and naming their children, from church ceremonies to joyous celebrations. It's a universally understood wish - to present a new member of the community - whether that community be your church congregation, your tribe or your family. Just before my oldest daughter was born, I decided that I wanted my daughter to wear a gown made by my own hands on her christening day. I chose a pattern that incorporated a complex stitch known as 'The Tree of Life'. It seemed appropriate for a day that would mark the beginning of her spiritual life within the Church. I bought skeins of white fingering yarn, and a new crochet hook specifically to work on the lacy confection that I planned. My husband gifted me with a carryall to hold the work in progress and the yarn, a bright yellow and green bag that opened to stand at my feet wherever I set it -- and I set it everywhere. For the next six weeks, the christening gown went with me everywhere. I crocheted en route to work, to home, to family parties and to meetings. I worked on it during my breaks at work, drawing up stitch after stitch after stitch. My coworkers and family measured the progress of the christening gown row by row - and each row was a full 60 inches long. Day after day and week after week, the christening gown grew, and as it grew I found myself explaining to strangers in coffee houses, demonstrating the tree of life stitch to passers by in the park, and building memories into the weaving of the skirt. The half-finished christening gown came to the hospital with me when Cara was born. She was three hours old the first time that I measured its length against her tiny body, marveling at the way her little toes poked through the openwork lace of the skirt. It accompanied us home, and on our first excursions as mom and baby. I worked on it at La Leche League meetings and mommy-and-me massage workshops. It was a never-ending labor, with every row taking nearly two hours to complete. The night before her christening, I stayed up late to put the finishing touches on the frothy lace of the gown, weaving a pale green ribbon - for life - through the eyelet opening at the waist and around her throat. The day was hot, but she was the very picture of angelic innocence in the crocheted gown over which I had worked so long. She wore it two hours that day - it was far too hot to let her swelter in such a lavish confection. I wish I could say that the christening gown has been tucked away, carefully preserved for her own daughter, but it would be a lie. For the first two years of Cara's life, it hung in her closet, a reminder of all the wishes of fortune I'd worked into every stitch. She was three the second time that she put it on - running barefoot from her room and turning in front of me to let the skirt flare wide and ask me to tie the ribbon. She was four when she wore it in her preschool play in the role of the Princess. At Halloween, she reprised the role, adding a crown of silk wildflowers to be the Queen of Earth. For a year, it clothed a doll that was larger than Cara, standing in corner of her room. The christening gown has been worn for dress-up, for celebration, for play and for comfort. It was only the intervention of her grandmother that kept Cara from wearing it on her First Communion Day, and on the morning of her Confirmation, she laid the by-now bedraggled and well-worn christening dress out on her bed, and carefully worked the pale green satin ribbon free so that she could wear it in her hair as she took her place in the Church as an adult. The christening gown that I started on a whim has followed her throughout her life as a child and into adulthood. It finally gave in to the wear and tear of use and began to unravel - but Cara has the ribbon still, and a small ball of white yarn she salvaged from the carefully worked dress. I have no regrets about allowing her to wear and play in her christening gown all her life. I only have this wish for you as you choose the garment in which your own child will be clothed - may it bring you and your child all the blessings and joy that Cara's christening dress has brought to our family.

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