Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Baby blankets I have known

This is my daughter Emma, somewhere above the Pacific Ocean in July, 1995, in one of the few moments she slept during her long journey to the United States from China. (It’s off topic, but I just have to say: notice her hand. You can only see one, but she always slept with both of them up, as if someone had just said “stick ‘em up.” What a kid.) 

More importantly, and more to the point of this post, notice the blankets, above her and below her. She is in a blanket sandwich of love.

The pink blanket, on top of Emma, was crocheted by my best friend in all the world, Debra Gail Buxton, who was running an afterschool kids’ program in Hell’s Kitchen at the time, and probably had one or two other things on her mind, but who managed to finish it, even though we left for China about three months before even the most optimistic estimates had said we would. The blanket is, these days, the absolute favorite snuggle spot of Betty, the kind and orphaned cat who hides in the basement because the monster dog is trying to kill her. I like to think that the blanket comforts Betty. I also like to think that, someday, if I need to cover a grandchild with the blanket, I’ll be able to wash off all the cat hair. I might be overly optimistic on that last point. It has a lot of hair on it right now.

Back to the picture. Beneath Emma is a little peep of blue blanket. It is covered, though you can’t really tell in the picture, with images of big-headed, big-eyed cocker spaniels. I believe they were wearing blue bows around their necks. This was the blanket that my Aunt Helen, one of my mother’s three sisters, made for me before I went to kindergarten. I hated kindergarten. The only part I ever liked was the part the normal children hated, rest time. They squirmed and fidgeted and talked to each other, and I cried on my blanket and felt sorry for myself. God, I really hated kindergarten.

When we got ready to adopt Emma, my mother began a Great Search for baby things. I was the third child, a late-in-life accident, and there wasn’t much in the way of celebratory baby items, but she dug up this blanket somewhere, and I loved taking it along and having it be one of Emma’s first comforts.

That blanket was destined for a lifetime as a target for self pity, I guess, because as soon as Emma could talk, she did two things:  she named it “puppy blanket,” and she began to chew it when she was angry at me. Emma was often, often, angry at me.

Her favorite activity during her naptime, instead of napping, was to stand on tiptoe in her crib, where she could see the mirror in the wardrobe across the room. There, she would get a big eyeful of herself as she wailed at the injustice of enforced sleep. And she gave herself a big bellyful of blanket along the way. Emma chewed, gnawed and otherwise ingested the entire blanket, leaving only snot-covered strings that were once the binding.

She still has the strings. At college.

It’s quite a story. We love our blankets. We tell them our sorrows. And, sometimes, we eat them.

My beloved cousin Erin is due to have a baby quite soon, far away in New York City, and I wanted to do something to commemorate the big occasion. When I found out she was expecting, I was in the process of making a quilt to donate to the silent auction for Youth Performance Company, made out of squares of old show t-shirts. I started setting aside the wilder tie-dies and the bolder colors, and, as I did, I began to see how a quilt for Erin and Roger’s baby just might come to life.

I am a terrible seamstress – sloppy, easily panicked and utterly flustered around the mechanics of the sewing machine. But I managed to grind through the blocks I’d cut by hand (I also lack a rotary cutter, cutting mat and any other niceties of modern sewing). And then, miracle of miracles, I found the perfect backing -- a piece of the softest yellow fleece -- at the Saver’s Thrift Store MLK Day Half-Off Extravaganza (because Dr. King had a dream that someday we’d be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the contents of our shopping carts full of fabulous bargain-snagging).

What resulted was a baby blanket that’s perhaps a little more on the hemp-and-granola side of life than I had been anticipating, but it’s very soft, and well, very colorful. I hope Erin doesn’t look too closely at my crookedy seams, because she truly is a good seamstress. She inherited that from her grandmother, my Aunt Dorothy, who inherited it from her mother, my grandmother Katie Dalton Clifford, who was, it is said, a seamstress for the Anheuser Busch family. From my mother, I inherited no sewing skills, because Katie Dalton Clifford died when my mother was only seven years old, before anyone had a chance to teach her. Instead, I inherited from my mother a tendency to run on at the mouth, and a great capacity for self pity (hence the kindergarten moping).

I have to confess, and I realize I have a little ego and attachment going on here, that I hope that this dumb blanket of leftovers and half-off bargains becomes that baby’s favorite blanket, more beloved than all the trendy blankets, if there are such a thing as trendy blankets, that Erin has gotten from her arty New York friends.

I realize that this means that I am dooming this blanket to become loved to death – to be cried upon, eaten, thrown up on and generally wrestled to the ground and have the stuffing knocked out of it. That’s okay. Puppy lives on, just a corner of him, in this photo, and probably somewhere in Emma’s intestinal tract. (Plus, there are those snotty strings still at college.) I’m willing to offer up my goofy blanket for the same terrible and wonderful fate.

Good luck with that baby, Erin and Roger. You will be, and I know this already to be utterly true as I write it, wonderful, wonderful parents. Plus, your kid has got one -- um, unique -- blanket.

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