In my group of girlfriends from architecture school we have a bit of a tradition: Each time that one of the women in the group has been pregnant with her first baby, the other women have helped to make her a quilt.
The quilt I received for Esmé four and a half years ago is a beauty. The squares are the letters of the alphabet, each friend took a different approach to making the individual squares, and then my friend Mieke assembled the complete quilt. If you’ve followed the Cute Syndrome for long, you probably have seen our quilt. It has been the background in many many photos of Esmé:
When I had Ez, this group of friends were all scattered across two coasts and two countries. So it was a feat to complete, and when the quilt arrived toward the end of my pregnancy, I felt so very loved. My pregnancy had gone well–but because of our 20 week ultrasound there was this nagging suspicion that something wasn’t going quiet as planned. I interpreted it that Esmé might arrive early and be a bit small. However, I think it is fair to say that deep down inside I knew that there was a chance that it was something more.
The quilt–in the manner of quilts–made me feel embraced, secure, and warm….just as I needed it to.
After Esmé arrived the quilt was never far from her–spread on the floor for play time, hung off the side of her crib as decoration, tossed over her as she rested in my arms. I traced every letter in the hours of sitting still next to a sleeping or quietly playing Esmé. I loved the handmade feeling of it…the (surprisingly few) places where the fabric bunched a bit, where the stitching was overlapped a bit oddly, where the lines didn’t quite match up. After having spent years in architecture studio making drawings, models, cardboard chairs, etc. with these women, years of watching them problem-solve and create something from nothing, each of these handmade spots made me think of their hands working on the quilt for me–for my baby.
It was a thing that eventually became a metaphor–for how “imperfection” is what makes things unique and interesting, makes people unique and interesting. As it became clear to me that Esmé’s path would be so very different than the one I planned for her, many of the things I had received for her when I was pregnant brought me pain–made me think about the difference between my plan and the reality. But I never felt that way about the quilt. I always felt like it was made perfectly/imperfectly for Esmé.
It still hangs off the side of her crib every day. It is a big part of our life–and always will be.
A few weeks ago Mieke came up to stay with me so that we could make another quilt–this one for my friend Nada–who is expecting her first baby in August. This baby will be the first in our group since Esmé was born. All the ladies had made their squares and sent them to Mieke, and Mieke and I planned to make a weekend of putting the squares together at my place. While I was very excited to spend some time with Mieke working on the quilt, I have to say that I was feeling a bit emotional and apprehensive about the project…these sorts of things have a way of digging up my feelings about how different my parenting experience has been from what I expected, how different it has been from most of the people I know in real life. And my feelings about what our future might look like as Esmé’s peers and friends grow and change in ways she may never do. As I worked on my squares slowly over a few weeks I didn’t think much about those feelings though…I thought about how much I love Esmé–and all the things I wish for my friend on her journey into motherhood.
And most of the time that we were actually quilting we were way too busy for me to think about much else other than what square goes next to what, what seam is sewn next, and so on. We were able to incorporate some of the cloth Nada had used in her squares for Esmé’s quilt into the tiny squares between the bands of fabric…which made me momentarily a bit teary.
I love the idea of another child having a lovingly made quilt to play on, grow with, and snuggle up under. And I love the idea that the tiny little imperfections in our handiwork–which are, again, surprisingly few considering we do this only every five years or so–might remind my friend Nada of all the hands working lovingly on her quilt, thinking of her…welcoming her baby into our circle.
The quilt turned out pretty beautifully, in my humble opinion. We drove to Montréal and gave it to Nada last weekend…making a lovely weekend out of it.
It is fascinating to know that every time I feel afraid to open my heart up a bit further to another child, I am surprised to learn that it helps, rather than hurts to do so. It’s not to say that I didn’t have a few moments that I needed to take a deep breath and fight back some of the tears–looking at my friend’s growing belly and wishing I might experience that someday without the deep fear I associate with having a baby. Having a conversation with the recipient of the first quilt, now quite the grown-up boy, and wondering whether I will ever speak to my daughter with such ease. Visiting the city where I had such different dreams for my life…But, it was ok. I could feel those things and not be lost to them. And that is progress, I suppose.
And either way…there is another amazing quilt in the world to welcome this fantastic new baby with love and warmth–and perfect imperfection.