Reflections on Ironing a Christening Dress

By Maureen Ursenbach Beecher
Originally published in the Winter 1976 issue of Exponent II

Careful not to catch the iron in the lace. Hand knit lace, three wide panels of it, making the organdy dress a yard long. And another wide edging here at the hem. Made by Grandma Barker, Mom said, for the first grandson. And now, three generations later, for the first son of the first son of the first son. Sounds like a succession of kings.

It almost seemed that way, the day of Daniel’s blessing. Surely a mother can be forgiven the sin of pride in the presentation of such a little prince of a fellow. For such he seemed that morning. And I the honored retainer, performing the offices of his levee.

The bath first, in the big blue plastic mixing bowl—he’s much too tiny for the baby tub—seemed a holy washing, a ritual of preparation. And then the administration of oil to the tiny head—to prevent cradle cap, the nurse had suggested—which seemed a sacred anointing. But how, when no priest was present, but only a mother?

The undergarments, in prescribed order, ritual established through no long tradition, but only the inexperience of the three weeks of his life so far. And then this dress, now so hard to press. Ah. Another crease in the sleeve. So short, the little sleeves. And even at that, the hands barely showed beneath them,

Mom had arrived in time to assist with the gowning, and we two, handmaids to the prince, wriggled his unwilling little person into the ruffles and tucks of the ceremonial dress.

There was no coach and four waiting to carry the young ruler to his coronation. Only a stroller, and two proud grandparents pushing, and two thoughtful parents following, the way to the ward house.

Organ music, a far removal from the grandeur of the Abbey’s majestic pipes, intoned a quiet welcome. A hush, almost, and then the order of service. At last, the moment for Daniel. A weighty circle of priesthood surrounded the infant softness. No mitered archbishop intoning ponderous ceremonies, but a young and humble layman. “Our Father,” he began in preamble, “we thank thee for this little boy.” And then followed the prescribed office: the invocation of the priesthood, the giving of the name, and the pronouncement of the blessing.

The circle parted, and the child, held aloft, received the quietly breathed approval of the congregation. The coronation was ended. Long live the king!

Foolish imaginings, this seeing of royalty in the very ordinary, very plebian little boy. One should not dress people beyond their station. He’s a very ordinary person, born to live a very ordinary life into…immortality. Immortal soul. That undignified little body houses a soul of divine origin. A son begotten in spirit before he was conceived in body. A prince in a succession worlds above the crowned heads of this world. A son of God.

And I, his mother. No royalty I feel, but servitude to the royalty in him. Yet mother to a prince? Mother to a prince must be a queen. Must be for her son that which will show him who he is. God, help me.

Such imaginings. Thank goodness the christening dress is finished. Hang it in the closet, back beside the brocade wedding gown. On with the rest of the ironing. Perhaps work shirts and aprons will produce more useful meditations.

I love how Maureen talks about ironing the christening gown, bathing and dressing her son as holy rituals. What have you done/will you do to celebrate your daughters’/sons’ blessings?

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Caroline says:

    This is timely for me, as I am going to have my first baby this summer. I have spent A LOT of time thinking about this baby’s blessing.

    Here are my current plans: We will have the blessing in our home. Mike and I will hold the baby together – no one else in the circle. I’ll say a prayer in which I express my hopes and blessings for the child. Mike will then give the more formal priesthood blessing.

    I’m pretty satisfied with these plans. I, personally, have always been uncomfortable with the mother not being somehow involved in the blessing, so my plans seem to me a good, egalitarian way for us to bless the child together. I like the symbolism of the three of us standing up there together, and both parents having an opportunity to express the hopes and blessings for the baby.

    Our families will no doubt be somewhat uncomfortable with our unique blessing, but this is so important to me that both Mike and I agree that it’s worth it.

  2. AmyB says:

    This is a beautiful piece of writing. I like the idea that the mother used her own rituals with the baby to make the day sacred.

    Caroline,
    If I ever have children, I will do something similar. I too am much more comfortable with the idea of mothers and fathers blessing their baby together. I’m curious- do you plan to invite family to the baby blessing or will it be a private event?

  3. Caroline says:

    Amyb,
    We’re going to invite our families. Mike’s dad might scowl a bit and make a few negative comments (he’s a by the books church leader) but perhaps I’m underestimating him. I hope so. I want Mike to warn him beforehand. My mom won’t say a word. My brother probably will, but I’ll just ignore him. And the rest of the people there will be my liberal mormon friends who will be totally supportive.

    I’m glad you’re thinking of doing something like this too. It’s really empowering to mold and shape this little ceremony to something that reflects us and our ideals. I wish more women understood that they can simply opt out and do this in their own homes, thier own ways.

  4. John says:

    Caroline, I think your plan is wonderful and the image is beautiful. This doesn’t cover baby blessings, but Jana and I will sometimes take turns blessing each other in a similar fashion (where she uses language more akin to prayer, and I use the language of the priesthood blessing).

  5. Heather O. says:

    We did Jacob’s blessing at our cousin’s house with a zillion family members there. We had a big to-do, with a dinner, and all the grandparents and uncles, etc there. It was so much fun. I understand your need, Caroline, to be a part of the circle, and to have it be a private affair, but don’t underestimate how wonderfully bonding including the rest of your family paticipating in the circle can be. When other people in our family heard that we were just doing a big family party (no ward house, or bishop present. Just family) they said, “Hey, we’re jealous, we want to be there!” And Jacob was blessed with lots of love.

    Of course, he pooped all over his outfit 10 minutes before the blessing, and I was frantically bleaching it in the sink and using my cousin’s dryer and hair dryer to get the stupid thing dry, and he screamed the entire blessing (really a lovely sound to have on tape!), so don’t forget to plan for um, unexpected events, too!

    Congratulations on your pregnancy. I wish you the best of luck.

  6. Caroline says:

    Heather,
    Your blessing sounds like a blast. I also hope to do the big to-do with some type of meal and various family members and friends. I, personally, am not worried at all about not including other family members in the circle. If men and women both could do it,I’m sure I’d be all over it. But as it stands traditionally, I just don’t have any LDS male relatives in my life that I really feel close to – with the exception of my husband. So it seems most natural to me to just have it be Mike and me. Of course, Mike’s male family members may have a different opinion…

    I’ll remember that nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to anything involving a baby…. :)Yikes, you had your work cut out for you that day!

    John, I’m glad you like my plans. I love the fact that you and Jana bless each other. I’ve offered to bless Mike, but he’s refused 🙂

  7. Nate Oman says:

    Caroline: It strikes me that one of the reasons that one has a baby blessing is communal. One blesses the baby as a way of signifying the hopes of the community in the child. I liked the blessing that we had for our son. Logistics made it impossible to have it at church and still have the particpation of family members.

    Still, I would rather have had him blessed in a chapel in front of a ward.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    We decided to fly across the country to bless our son in the ward where our parents live (it’s handy when you marry someone from the ward you grew up in) in order to avoid awkwardness from various family members refusing to be in the same house with each other, which would have been inevitable if everyone had to come to us.

    We thought this was fine, but in the end, we weren’t happy with it. None of our friends were there, and this wasn’t the ward we belonged to. Then again, if I’d had the communal aspect, I probably would have focused instead on the fact that after 9 months of being pregnant and 25 hours of labor, my husband gets to be the one to go up there and take credit 🙂

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