Róisín Ingle on . . . a confirmation

Thu, May 2, 2013, 17:30

My niece made her Confo this week in an elegant flower print cotton dress. She also wore a vintage brooch- two brightly coloured enamel and marcasite lovebirds - bought as an alternative to a crucifix by her atheist grandmother. I bought her a Paramore CD and threw in some cash.

I’m her godmother but she didn’t even bother asking me to be her sponsor. She is generous not to mention intuitive like that. “I knew you wouldn’t want to,” she said. “And I didn’t want you to feel bad.”

“I would have done it,” I said. And then she smiled and I smiled because we both knew it wasn’t true.

Last November, through the great generosity of others, we got to go on a trip to New York together. I’ve been telling her since she was a toddler that I wanted to be there when she first saw that city, so it was a bit of a dream come true. And now National Geographic says it’s one of the 100 Places That Can Change Your Child's Life . They also think Trim, Co Meath is life-changing on account of the castle and all the battle parapernalia,so I'll take her there some day if she’s good. Regarding New York, National Geographic recommends children see the Statue of Liberty, a Broadway show, or the city decorated at Christmas, because “it gets imprinted on kids’ minds”. We did all of that and more. On day two she rang home to her little sister and said “when we grow up we’re going to live here but we need to get good jobs because it’s very expensive.” Some serious life seeds were sown.

On our last full day in the city we had a conversation about Catholicism in Central Park while we waited in the drizzle for the ice-rink to open. It was a Sunday so it felt appropriate. She started it, mind you. She asked me why I wasn’t a Catholic and I told her it was because I didn’t believe in a lot of the rules. She asked me what rules and I thought for a minute before I told her the one about the one where gay people aren’t approved of. She didn’t know that one. We sat in the rain and thought about the fact that her little sister’s godfather is gay. “It’s funny how I always end up having these deep conversations with you,” she said. And then we reeled around the ice-rink holding hands, neither of us confident enough to go it alone.

I didn’t get away completely from the Confo obligations. She said she wanted me in the actual church and not just at the lunch afterwards which was my cunning plan. “For the whole thing? It’s two hours! And it’s in Irish!” I objected. “Oh,” she said ignoring my protestations. “And could you wear a new dress? One that isn’t black?” She said it sweetly but all I could think was that she’d cottoned on to the fact that I hadn’t bought any new clothes in ages and that I’ve just been recycling my mostly black items, jazzing them up with cheap accessories. She regretted it immediately, said it didn’t have to be new, just something colourful, but I knew she wanted me to make an effort. There was no way I could stand up beside her and say words I didn’t believe, but a new dress? That I could possibly do.

I bought a dress. Not black but not exactly bright. “I like your dress,” she whispered in the church waiting to walk up the aisle with the gifts. Her name had been picked out of a hat for the job. “I never get picked out of the hat,” she said. I couldn’t understand the words being said but I knew, not from memory but from some last minute Googling, that she was saying yes for herself to a certain way of life. Yes to a path I know she’ll question and possibly abandon one day. Yes for today, anyway.

You couldn’t see any of the children’s new clothes, just the odd pair of converse or heels underneath their cream coloured gowns as they went up for their few minutes with the bishop. When it was her turn I watched the bishop wipe oil on her forehead and talk to her in hushed tones. I watched her sponsor, John, her full of faith grandad, supporting her and bearing witness to the sombre moment in a way that I could not have found it in myself to have done. She took her atheist grandmother's middle name and later she took off the robe and showed off her flowery dress and her brooch and she seemed suddenly more grown up to me. And so happy. Happy as a lark all day long.

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