“In her smile, you will see an example of God’s grace,” my favorite priest and spiritual director pointed out, eight years ago, when we asked to have Franki baptized. I remember being so excited, my hands shook when I pulled her from her infant carrier, held her up so family in the pews behind us could see her in her white, silk and lace gown.
She smiles at me now, standing in front of the full length mirror on the back of my bedroom door. I’m again struck by the reality of her: she is my daughter, my baby girl. Franki slips her arm into the sheer sleeve, pink and purple fingernails press through delicate lace cuff. She rocks on her hot pink socked feet, fights the urge to twirl. Kneeling beside her, I slowly zip the back closure, smooth the ancient ivory fabric, reach my arms around her, pick up the ribbons at her sides, and draw them behind her, securing a perfect little bow.
It fits perfectly. I exhale; nostalgic wishes come true.
“So, can my daughter wear this, too? If I have one someday?” she asks, now twirling.
“Absolutely!” I tell her. I’m reminded of my own First Holy Communion, and I tell her about how we celebrated with a big family dinner. I refused to eat because I feared spilling marinara from the mostaccioli on my dress. The same dress my daughter tries on now. The same dress my mother, her sisters, and my sisters wore for their First Holy Communions. The gown survived three generations, nearly fifty years.
Franki’s eyes widen with anticipation as I reach above her with another piece of sheer fabric, trimmed in lace and anchored with an embroidered cross. I pin the veil behind her ears. Franki folds her hands in front of her, as if in prayer. I tell her about Grandma Mac (my father’s mother) and how she loved to tell the story about her veil, how it dug into her scalp. It hurt terribly and distracted her from enjoying the sacramental experience. Sixty years later, she’d say, and she could still feel the pain in her skull. “You would have loved Grandma’s stories,” I tell Franki.
As she twirls in front of the mirror, I consider how my own childhood memories are connected to the ones I’m making with her. How, for so very long, I believed I wasn’t destined to have a daughter of my own to share these experiences with.
When we found out we were pregnant with her, our sixth child, it came as a greater shock than facing those two pink lines at nineteen. We were recovering from a job layoff and the financial turmoil that resulted. Our youngest was barely two; I was finally feeling alive again after enduring a postpartum depression that nearly ended our marriage. It’d been two months since my nine year old brother passed away tragically and I was navigating a spiritual life crisis. Another baby? We were done. We had no room in our house, our car, or our wallet. With four sons and a step daughter, we were exhausted. We actively tried to prevent another pregnancy.
“You just had perfect chemistry,” the doctor had said, when I showed him my calendars and ovulation notes and…how could this be? We’d successfully used Natural Family Planning before. This should not be. Or, maybe it’s just meant to be. I was nearly twenty weeks when the ultrasound tech squirted goo on my belly and rolled her wand across it, pausing on an image of the baby’s spread legs long enough to type above it: GIRL.
While I recognize all of my children as gifts from God, share a special bond with each of them, and love them equally, Franki’s arrival was different. I appreciated it more; I was made greatly aware, by the timing and circumstance of her pregnancy, that even though I don’t always understand, God is in control. For many years I’d prayed for her and wanted a baby girl so desperately. Rather than when I wanted her, she arrived when I needed her.
In moments like this, sharing family heirlooms and stories between mother and daughter, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and awe. Now, as Franki makes kissy lips at her reflection in the mirror now, I giggle. She turns to me and beams her wide grin, open gaps where baby teeth once stood. Tugging at the ribbon behind her she asks, “Can I go back outside now?”
I help her out of her dress, peck her cheek. “I thank God for you, mi bella principessa, “ I whisper, as I’ve done thousands of times since the day she was born.
“I know. Love you, too,” she rushes for the door, looks over her shoulder, smiling.
And it’s just like the priest said, when she smiles, I witness God’s grace.