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By Paula Richey

Even though I’d been going to my church for a few years, there weren’t many people that I knew that well. So when I was pregnant with my son, I felt shy about including an announcement in the bulletin. I didn’t want to seem like I was fishing for gifts, though to be honest I was worried about how my husband and I were going to afford all the baby stuff we would need, or even know what we really needed in the first place. I felt much too awkward and shy about the whole business to even dream of asking my church for a baby shower.

But Mrs. Hood wouldn’t hear of leaving me without a big baby shower to introduce me to the rest of the moms at church. She was the mom of my husband’s best friend, and she loved to organize events and parties for the church. She called me, asked my due date, the baby’s gender, the colors for the nursery, and where I was going to register, and told me not to worry about a thing, it was her pleasure to throw a party to welcome my son-to-be to the world and the church. All I had to do was show up.

When my husband, Joe, and I went to register for the shower, we were quickly overwhelmed. It wasn’t so bad in Target, where they only had a few aisles of fairly basic baby stuff, but when we got to Babies ‘R’ Us, the experience was so overwhelming it was scary. It was like an enormous warehouse devoted to cuteness. It was huge and cheery, and jam-packed full of thousands of products, all designed to emphasize how adorable babies are, as well as how incredibly messy, tiring, delicate, and easy to screw up taking care of them can be.

Even though I was an experienced babysitter, I hadn’t taken care of many newborns. Newborns were the domain of the mother, and the most caretaking I had done for a newborn baby was sit still and hold them and pray they didn’t start squalling for mommy, because nobody else could really take care of their needs. But soon, I would be mommy, the beginning, end, and everything in between for my son. How could I possibly deal with that much responsibility?

Well, the first thing I did was register for almost everything imaginable. I was too anxious to really think clearly about what was really necessary and what wasn’t, so to be safe, I registered for just about everything and left it to the experienced moms who would be shopping to figure out what to take seriously.

The day of the shower, I must have changed clothes a dozen times. I loved my maternity clothes – after years of buying clothes because they were on sale or because they were good basic pieces, it was thrilling to wear trendy, cute outfits and not care that I was as big as a barn. I settled for a hot pink blouse and a black skirt with a hot pink and white abstract floral pattern. I don’t remember what shoes I wore – it wasn’t like I could see them anymore.

The first thing I saw was the beautiful cake Mrs. Hood had brought. It was a huge sheet cake, decorated with icing baby booties arranged in a grid over the top of the cake. I could see that one square made one serving, but I had no idea how Mrs. Hood was going to be able to cut it that neatly. The haphazard side-of-the-cake-server, who-wants-a-rose cake-cutting technique I was familiar with would destroy that cake.

After Mrs. Hood introduced me to the guests and settled me on the couch, she used a long piece of floss to slice the cake along the lines of the grid. I was impressed, but she told me that after a few years of organizing parties, you pick up a few tricks.

After cake, I opened my gifts. The experienced moms must have had a good laugh over everything I’d registered for – I got bottles, bibs, blankies, and a few baby toys, and a ton of diapers. The pastor’s wife gave me their daughter’s outgrown highchair, which was perfect. I hadn’t even registered for a highchair because of the sticker shock – the last thing I would have expected would be for someone to buy me a brand-new one.

I had told Mrs. Hood all about decorating the nursery. Rather than paint, I had left the walls in the baby’s new room beige. For color, my husband and I had picked out a wallpaper border with Mother Goose nursery rhymes – Humpty Dumpty, the cow over the moon, the three blind mice, and so on. We had hung it around the room in the middle of the wall, just above the height of the crib sides, so that our baby would have something colorful to look at.

I had made curtains from green gingham for the window, and we had a beautiful dark wood crib on loan from my sister, who was keeping it until her daughter needed it. I also had a dark wood glider rocker with tan cushions that I had gotten from my husband’s grandmother. I liked the green gingham glider that was made like an overstuffed chair that I had seen at the store, but it cost way too much and after my baby outgrew the green gingham, there was nowhere else in the house that it would match.

Clearly, Mrs. Hood hadn’t kept our long conversation about the details of the nursery to herself. The gifts were exactly right for the nursery, even down to the receiving blankets with tiny moons and cows. I unwrapped gifts, smiled for pictures, and thanked everyone, and let the reminisces of wiser mothers wash over me.

The last gift was presented to me proudly by a very small girl, maybe two years old, who took her thumb from her mouth long enough to announce that she had helped her mommy make the gift. She wriggled all over like an impatient puppy as I took off the paper.

I gasped in delight. It was a handmade baby quilt, a simple pattern of four triangles to make each patchwork square, in brightly colored florals and solids, with bits of Mickey Mouse, Tigger and John Deere tractors scattered here and there, edged in pale blue.  I spread it out across my lap and turned it over to see the backing – Care Bears playing among stars and clouds. The little girl laughed loud, suddenly, with a rich pure sound like a waterfall or birdsong, like joy made audible, and danced a little circle.

Her mother grinned and spread her hands. “Care Bears are her favorite,” she said.

I laughed too, letting out tension I hadn’t known I was carrying. “Thank you,” I said, meaning for the quilt, for her daughter’s laugh, and for the way her gift suddenly made it so clear that what I needed most wasn’t fancy baby-care gadgets or expensive furniture, but the love that came naturally as a mother.

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