The Tiara and the Baptism Bonnet

FullSizeRender (6)When I was growing up I had a science teacher whose true calling was outdoor education; he was a good teacher, of course, but he was a beautiful outdoor educator.  He led every outdoor education trip I took in Middle School, one per year for four years.  None of these were particularly arduous (though we felt like they were at the time, because, ugh, Middle School girls), and it’s safe to say that I didn’t exactly emerge an outdoorswoman (ahem, in these shoes?).  Still, if I had to drill down to one takeaway from those journeys, it is that he taught me how to experience solitude in a brand new way.  He reminded me how very small I am — not insignificant, not unimportant, but small: one, tiny piece of an infinite universe.  He taught me not to be afraid of that, but to marvel at it.

When we were in 5th grade I was ten years old and we were in the Marin Headlands.  If you’ve never been to the Marin Headlands, they’re dotted with these abandoned military bunkers that make for excellent exploring (and now that I’m writing that, I really need to take LittleMan and Babygirl to the Marin Headlands).  Anyway, there was a spectacular sunset on that particular evening back in 1989, and we clambered to the top of a bunker to look out over the Pacific Ocean as the sun made its final descent into the western seas.

These were the days of Kodak disposables, mind you, and we all had them tucked into our backpacks, along with our water bottles and extra layers, and suddenly my teacher called out that All cameras are forbidden at this moment! DO NOT stop looking at the sunset to get your camera!

What you do, he said, more quietly, meditatively, is you stare out there and you breathe deeply.  And then you blink your eyes, like a camera shutter.  Do that again and again, and I promise, this picture will never leave you.  

That was 27 years ago.  It sounds cheesy, but if I close my eyes I can still see it, in perfect relief.  And not just the sunset: the rust on the bunker and the vast expanse of sea, my friends in scarlet silhouette all around me, the wind rolling up the hills and how we were cold but no one wanted to move until it was over.

The other night, with some between dinner and bedtime, my husband and LittleMan were playing cards and, for no reason in particular, Babygirl and I dragged the box with my hermetically sealed wedding dress out from under the bed.  I propped up the box so she could peer through the plastic window at the dress material, and then I dug around in the dust and located the periwinkle blue hatbox that holds all the little things — something blue, the penny in your shoe — that I wore and collected that day in 2002.  Criss-cross-applesauce across from one another on my bed, we sifted through the crumpled tissue and pulled out the hairpins, the tiny ringbearing pillow, the tiara (no veil for me).  Babygirl gasped at the tiara and turned it over in her hands.  “Did Daddy wear a crown, too?  Like a king?” she inquired, with total seriousness.  I wanted to respond that yes, he did, and he wore a red velvet tux with gold trim, but instead I said, “No, love, he wore a suit and his hair was normal.”

“Can I wear it?”

“Someday you can wear it for real, but tonight you can wear it until you brush your teeth.”

She slid off the bed and clambered up onto my desk chair to look in the mirror, adjusting the tiara to keep it from slipping down her nose.  I briefly thought that I should go grab my phone and photograph her preening, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her, all four years of her, standing on a chair in her purple nightshirt with the stars, and her damp, sandy pageboy hair topped with the oversized bridal tiara.  Instead, while she admired her reflection I breathed deeply, and I blinked hard a few times.  Click.

“I need my cape!” she announced, and bounced off to her dress-up box, then down the hall to show the boys.  Back in my room, I carefully re-wrapped all the wedding trappings.  My husband ushered the kids to toothbrushing and returned the tiara.  The last thing I laid in the pile was Babygirl’s baptism bonnet, a keepsake designed to be snipped into a handkerchief for her own wedding day.  I feebly smoothed out the wrinkles, and closed the lid .  Then I dusted down the boxes and tucked them back away for some other decade.

Sometimes, when I am lamenting our general lack of space, I wonder what compels us to keep these silly things, these bits and bobs that may or may not ever be used again.  Pure sentimentality.  Trappings.  Stuff.  But then…holding all those memories in my hands, sharing them with my daughter, I thought about my 24-year-old self on her wedding day, thought about how — whatever she imagined then about family, and children — she never in a million years saw LittleMan and Babygirl coming.  Part of me felt like calling back to her on the space-time continuum:  Look, Jaime!  Look what you did!  Look what this marriage made!

We are so small.  Each of us, such a tiny, beautiful blip.  And we can’t predict anything.

Sometimes I just have to marvel at it.

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The Baptism Bonnet, 2012

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