On my first Christmas, my father presented me with a beautiful, hand carved cradle for my dolls. He drew out the plans based on colonial cradle designs, cut a large piece of maple into complementary shapes and angles, working extra hard to make sure the pieces fit together well. He then carved in a daisy motif, which was a signature of many of his woodworking projects in those days, not to mention the flower of the times. He meticulously hand-painted the daisies, sanded and stained the wood to a smooth, shiny finish, and placed it under the Christmas tree that year with a bow and my name on it. Toddling over to admire the gift, I was almost small enough to fit in it myself, but I enjoyed endless happy years of carefully wrapping my baby dolls in blankets and rocking them to sleep in that cradle with a gentle mother’s touch. As I grew into a teenager, the cradle sat quiet, more a decoration and reminder of my early childhood until one day I moved out on my own, and it was time to pack things up.
As an Air Force brat, and then later as an adult, I’ve moved many times, always carrying this heirloom with me. From time to time I’ve wondered where I could put it on display, how I could release it from its cocoon in the basement and appreciate it out in the open. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about pieces of my father’s woodwork. They are absolutely priceless to me. If he has built it, refinished it, painted it, or bought it at auction for 75 cents forty years ago, it is a priceless treasure to me – one I refuse to part with, once in my possession.
Until now. Having only ever been a boy-mom, I will have a daughter of my own in less than a month. I’m nervous. I’m sure things will be quite different this time around. We will connect differently, she and me, and that’s both beautiful and terrifying to imagine. I am wonder-filled, thinking about her. Will she have my hair? My eyes? Will she look more like her father’s side or like me? What else will I pass down to her? Some of my worst traits and tendencies, some of my talents and aspirations? I know that in so many ways she’ll be a completely different person – and in other ways she’ll find someday, hopefully not lamenting, that she’s “just like her mother.”
This weekend, I finally found occasion to rip the paper and bubble-wrap shroud from my beloved cradle (with the enthusiastic volunteer help of my youngest son) in preparation to give it away to the daughter I already love and have not yet met. After polishing each angle, curve, and sunflower to a brilliant maple glow, I set it in the sunny grass to admire it. I wonder if Elise will love the smell of fresh cut grass like I do? I hope she likes to play with dolls. And I hope she knows just how loved she is. For now, who she will be is still wrapped up in one magnificent little mystery.