There is a picture of me on the day I received my first Communion. I am wearing white lace gloves, a veil, and a frilly white dress in the front hall of my childhood home. My hands are folded in prayer and my eyes are as wide as saucers. My mother tsked in admiration when it came back from the photo shop in Cleveland Park: “Oh,” she intoned. “You look…beatific.”
She explained what she meant, but I still — to this day — instinctually invoke an idiosyncratic, personal definition when I occasionally cross its recherche path, and it’s the same as the one I conjured when my mother first used it so many years ago: a wistful, expectant kind of beauty.
I can’t separate the memory of receiving my first Communion from the Mother Mary parade I participated in one or several years of my childhood. They’re conjoined, infused with the same rich and holy significance: I feel a damp, late-spring warmth in the air, my fingers clutching a tight posy of peonies as I stand in the cool vestiary of the Church, lined up with my classmates, singing “Hail, Holy Queen,” my stomach lurching at the responsibility of walking first into the Church, as I am the littlest girl in my class and we are arranged by height. (Do I wait for Sister Teresa’s cue? Do I start walking when the music starts? I panic, and then little Angelica, arguably smaller than I am but somehow placed behind me, nudges my back and we throttle into our expected gait, my face burning, my stomach jittery in anticipation.) A stray ant climbs onto my hand from the peonies my mother had cut from her garden that morning, a wad of wet paper towel around the stems: “To keep them alive longer.” I am determined to remain composed; I flick it quietly onto the ground. I take in the mirrored marble of the altar, the click-clack of my white patent leather Mary Janes echoing across its expanse. The frilled lace of my party socks itches my ankles, but I set my jaw. I place a flower at Mary’s feet in the chapel and then I stand before Monsignor’s flowing white cassock as I receive my First Communion: am I supposed to say something after receiving it? I am stricken. I whisper: “Amen,” a flurry in my stomach. He nods. As I return to the kneeler: Am I different now? My mother, my father, my grandmother, my grandfather are sitting in the pews not far from me. I am one of them now. I look specifically at my mother: I am like her now. At the time, I understand my faith through the lens my mother. I know the rote definitions: “a sacrament is an outward sign of God’s grace.” But she signifies my faith. Half of receiving my First Communion is believing that I am now different in her eyes, that I am more like her. I feel heavy with purpose, somber with responsibility. I am changed. And then bells, the smell of incense, a recessional. Back home, flowers and a white cake with thick blue frosting back; a small white leather-bound missalette from my mother; a pearl-bead rosary from my grandmother, this last gift a cherished possession that will be dear company for decades to come–or, more aptly, for decades to say over the course of decades to come, including during the pregnancy and birth of my own daughter twenty-odd years later.
I have been visiting this cluster of late spring memories for the past many weeks: my mother, the Church, Mary, the warmth and thaw of the month of May, the vision of a beatific version of myself prayerfully, anxiously awaiting a change bigger than I am. I am now five months pregnant with my second child and I feel as though I am walking along a continuum of emotions first born that May when I was seven, when I nervously anticipated my first Communion, when I placed that pale pink peony from my mother’s garden at Mary’s feet, when I looked at my mother in the pew and thought: “I am like her now.”
I feel the same agony of anticipation, the same attentiveness to trivialities now as I did then, all spooled together in an unbroken ribbon from a seven-year-old-me to a thirty-four-year-old-me. And I expect and hope for the same satisfying shapeliness of initiation come May, when my son will be born.
“How do you feel, the second time around?” friends ask of this pregnancy. I think privately of my picture from my First Communion; it’s about as accurate a presentation of my state of mind and soul as I can get. I am nervous, expectant, prayerful, and — if I can say it without seeming too self-assured — paradoxically beatific, both according to my personal lexicon and the more traditional one. I feel more forbearing than I normally find myself, and yet I am also more anxious. I am able to brush certain things off, gain an appropriate sense of perspective more quickly, but I brood over other trivia with disproportionate angst. In the first trimester, I was a nervous wreck. I counted the days and weeks and calculated miscarriage statistics with an alien kind of neuroticism: just three weeks and then I’ll be at less than a 10% risk of miscarrying. I approached each sonogram with a knot in my stomach. But I would also find myself radiating with happiness when my hand would brush over my stomach and I would think: “He is mine.” I strolled the familiar three-block radius around our apartment countless times, carrying my own secret in a kind of serene bliss. I feel less apprehensive in this second trimester, but I still fret over the mild aches and pains and twinges that seem to emerge every day or two.
And so I toggle between tranquility and taut suspense, those twin emotions I first felt so keenly that May day of my childhood. Together, they form a personal kind of beatitude: a wistful, expectant kind of beauty.
+This post in part explains my recent musings on novenas. I have long cherished a special dedication to Mary, and reading through what I have just written, I understand it better.
+This post might also explain my recent ramblings on what I would do differently if buying baby gear all over again. Ha!
+For my fellow preggos: get thee to the sale section of Ingrid & Isabel. I already own this in the oatmeal but just added it in the other colorway to my cart. I also added this in the pink stripe. I MEAN. Extra 30% off? Free shipping? Done and done. Not on sale, but do I need these? Y. Also, I was pretty squared away with maternity clothing, but I did add these to my closet. (The price!!!) I love wearing them with an ivory cableknit duster cardigan I own and some flashy shoes.
+I kept nearly all of my maternity clothes and gear, but I did chuck the maternity pillow — it was so bulky! I’m just getting to the stage where I need one of these again. Also, swore by this the first time around and you better believe I’ve doubled down on it during this pregnancy.
+The first things I bought for baby boy? A quilted car coat (now marked way down!) that reminds me of Mr. Magpie (my goal is to dress my son just like Landon, in miniature) and these jammies. Otherwise, I’m trying to bide my time and not get too excited with the over-ordering. (Just wait for month nine, ahem.) I’m also chastened by my experience with mini’s wardrobe: I had a closet full of starchy, crisp poplin bubbles and dresses, sized 0-3M, that she barely wore. I eschewed them in favor of the softest cotton coveralls and onesies. (Incidentally, the best are by Kissy Kissy (<<this is a contender for take-home outfit) and 1212.)
+I’m into this mauve-y pink color (“Organdi”) for early spring. I wear a lot of red nails during the winter (OPI Big Apple Red is my current favorite), but I’m craving a change now that we’re in January.
+These keep selling out and I am SO INTRIGUED. I’ve long wanted their dryer but the airwrap…?! I think I need it. (More hair goodness here and for those asking, I ended up getting an edgy little chopped bob that I LOVE. My stylist gently offered that bangs might draw attention to my new scar given its placement, and I gladly heeded her counsel to opt for a fresh, choppy little bob instead. I’m smitten. This is the first haircut I’ve ever had where I can truly let it airdry and it looks decent! I use a lot of this with it. And ALSO for those asking, I went to see Melissa at Cutler Salon in Soho. She and her salon are beyond my level of coolness, and I am indebted to both for making me feel hip for a minute.)