I stand over your bassinet as Bo packs up our things. In a few minutes we’ll step out of the hospital, and you’ll see the sky and feel spring air for the first time. Everything is a first when you’re only two days old.
Wisconsin springs are absurdly unpredictable. This May day is calm, a little breezy.
A breeze? She’ll get pneumonia! We must cover all appendages. What do you mean, we don’t have a winter coat?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
Bo hands me socks and a beanie hat, and holds up the blankets. Ah, yes, we’ll layer her with blankets like fat on a polar bear. She. Will. Survive.
I slide your feet into socks so small. The hat would barely cover my closed fist, yet there: it fits you.
There you lie, half-asleep. My little girl. My perfect blessing.
Hats bear magical properties. For example, they prevent illness. If a child has no hat for one outing, she is doomed to weeks of snot-addled breathing and green streaks on her face, hands, clothing, etc. And then pneumonia.
Your grandmother knitted you a sweater and matching hat. She began the project when you were the size of a papaya inside me, and we did not yet know what little bits you bore. Your grandmother, like all practical Midwesterners, was determined you would get plenty of use out of it.
Barely a curl on your head, barely walking. Shy with people, yet fascinated with the world’s beauty: you study flowers, dirt, and fabric art with the same intensity. So long as you have your trusty snack cup filled with cheerios, you are always up for a new adventure.
Hats supply ample opportunities for giggles.
You have begun to voice your taste in what you wear and what you want to do. You always wear this hat for indoor activities–reading, ponies, matching pictures. You discover words mean something: they announce what you want, what you see. What scares you, what delights you.
Hats confuse grown-ups.
When given the choice between the frilly sunhats of bows and ladybugs, and a baseball hat with a M.A.S.H.-era helicopter, you pick the baseball hat. No doubts. “It’s a helicopter!” you squeal. Your grandmother and I ask a few more times about the sunhats. Nothing but head shakes, that hat gripped in your tiny hands like it’s the last ticket out of Vietnam (or Korea, really, what with the timeframe for M.A.S.H., but anyway).
You wear this hat EVERYwhere we go, be it to dino-digs at the zoo, the bird-laden soccer field by the park, the beach. It hides your curls and confuses passers-by: “That’s a sweet little guy you got there.”
They squint at the Pinkie Pie shirt, laugh a little, and move on.
Yup. My little tomboy. No poofy skirts or hair-styling dolls for this one. She’s all about gears and bones and colorful hyper-active ponies.
Hats add that perfect touch.
Autumn in Wisconsin can be just as temperamental as spring. After weeks of days warm enough for swimming, the season takes a nose dive into frost and sleet. Just in time for Halloween, of course. (Why someone hasn’t designed costumes to go over winter coats is beyond me.)
You and I meet in the war-room–aka, your bedroom–to discuss the situation.
“What would you like to be for Halloween, kiddo?”
“A fairy princess!”
I bite my tongue for a second. This detour from gears to fairies has been…tolerable, but the princess stuff…all frailty and “woe is me” and waiting to be saved rather than gettin’ your greasy wrench and building something awesome. “Well, it’s going to be really cold for trick or treat. Your wings won’t fit under your coat.”
You ponder this. “But I can wear”–you hold up a fleece sweatshirt–“under my dress.”
“What about the crown? People won’t see it under your tinkerbell hat.”
“I’ll wear THIS one!” and you hold up a pink and silver oddity. The poms hanging down under the crown look like puffy, glittery braids. You go on like this, covering yourself in fleece, and then I manage to slide the thin, shiny tutu down and over it all.
You stand there, wand in one hand and bucket in the other, beaming in triumph.
And I laugh, happy to be defeated.
Hats can be absurd, especially when they’re not hats.
(I’m honestly not sure what’s on her head. A sack for building blocks, I think.)
Hats age us…a little.
I walk into Blondie’s classroom for the come-if-you-feel-like-showing-interest-in-your-child conference. Her teacher, a fine example of stalwart farm-stock, smiles and hands me Blondie’s report card which, considering this is kindergarten, is surprisingly complex. I decide to study all the S’s, N’s, and I’s later. “How is she doing with the other kids?” As one with a friendless childhood, this question often preys upon my mind.
Her teacher’s eyes light up, and she pulls back with a gasp. “Oh. My. Gosh. We had our read aloud time, and Blondie just, she just blew them all away. I was ready to help her with Olivia Goes to Venice, but she knew all the words. The second-graders she reads with all come to me, saying ‘She’s amazing!’ She reads like a second-grader. Better.” She recommends some chapter books to me, eager to see how you handle the challenge.
I’m wowified. I knew you could read well, but you do it so rarely within earshot. More often than not you’re studying pictures of bizarre fish/bugs/lizards, or outerspace, or dinosaurs. You’re fascinated with creation and all its workings, visible and invisible.
I wait outside for you to finish up your day. Too warm for a winter coat, but there’s a breeze, so, hat. You walk down those steps with your hands on your backpack straps. The Spider-Man beanie has tamed those whispy fly-about curls into a lackadaisical mess. Sweatshirt and backpack, you’re a college student in miniature.
Not yet. Don’t you grow up on me too fast, Blondie.
You manage to get into the car despite my shower of kisses and tickles and praises. I blast The Who, because church-school parents can be a bunch of curmudgeons. (I should know, being one and all.)
“Mo-om. Not so loud.”
“Why not? We’re awesome!”
You laugh. “No we’re not.”
Hmmph. “Well, I’M awesome.”
More laughter. “Only a little bit.”
“Hey!” But I laugh, too. My kid’s a reader. A brilliant reader. A genius who will discover new species of fish-eating insects and live on the moon and invent the REAL hover-board.
Your noggin’s a perfect miracle, just like the rest of you.
So, get that hat on before you catch pneumonia!