Before my daughter’s naming ceremony, I didn’t understand why most parents hold any such events before their babies are mobile, and hire professionals to do the talking. I do now.
I’m choosing to assume it was teeth, and not that she hates what we called her, but when we “officially” named her she was upside down in her dad’s arms, a protesting bundle of limbs resisting all attempts at distraction. When we vowed to try to make her happy, she was screaming her head off. We drank her health in relative peace, but only because she was busy sticking her hand into my glass of Prosecco, then licking it off her fingers.
We lost the thread of what we were saying a dozen times and forgot half the sentences I had carefully penned. When we did get the words out, they were probably inaudible over her outraged squawks. I make my living, in part, by speaking to rooms of people, but give me a lecture theatre of hungover students any day – or even of intimidatingly senior academics – over one raging toddler.
For all that, I’m glad we did it and (mostly) glad we did it our way. The delay – until she was a toddler – was mostly down to disorganisation. The lack of anyone who knew what they were doing was more complicated.
If we’d been the quietly sincere Christians my grandparents were, we could have had our little girl splashed with font water in our local church, ushering her with practiced words into a ready-made community. If we’d been sufficiently traditionally-minded, like my parents – and insufficiently irreligious for it not to be hypocritical – we’d at least have had the grandparents’ church, and an excuse for making use of the music and the sense of occasion. But we are agnostic almost to the point of atheism, so that was never an option.
Still, we wanted formally to acknowledge our daughter’s central importance in our lives, and to bring together some of the people whom we hope will play a key role in hers. We also wanted her to have a secular equivalent to godparents, although we had no idea what to call them. (Mentors? Too much like work. Sponsors? As though we expected them to pay to have their names emblazoned across her T-shirts. Guide-parents? As though they were dogs. We ended up with godless parents, because that was what they called themselves.)
It wasn’t straightforward. For all there’s a blooming industry in non-religious marriages, it felt unusual to be having a secular naming ceremony. The Humanist Society hire out celebrants but we felt uneasy about involving a stranger in such a small-scale, family event. Presumably, they would work in line with our thoughts, but there was always the worry they would insist in doing so in their own words. So I made it up, with a bit of help from the Internet.
It was small-scale for financial reasons, and local (i.e. our garden) on the same basis. We also kept it short (although nothing, it turned out, would be short enough for little A.’s tolerance), because toddlers don’t have the longest attention spans and all her cousins are under six.
We said a bit about how our daughter had transformed our lives, and how we had chosen her names. We made promises: to love and care for, educate and nurture her. To do our best to help her to grow up happy and healthy, secure in herself and considerate to others. To help her, in time, to live a life she has chosen for herself. We asked our close family to commit their love and support. We asked her godless parents to pledge their time, advice, and emotional support, and to read children’s poems they love and wanted to share with her. (Which they did, impressively, in the face of the A.-induced havoc.) We had asked her older cousins to draw pictures, which they solemnly presented to her, and we gave her a necklace we had chosen by way of memento. Then we all sang a song she loves, drank a toast, and ate barbecued food and cupcakes.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? At least, I hope it does. And it was, except that in all our tidying, writing, gardening, baking, and worrying about the weather, we had failed to factor in the biggest risk: that the main attraction would do her Monster Baby act.
Our guests, being sweet people, made the party go with a swing despite the fury-filled soundtrack, and even found complimentary words for the muddle-through ceremony. “Genuine.” “Informal.” “Relaxed,” I think, featured repeatedly. “Chaotic” would have been more appropriate. But then “chaotic” pretty much sums up our life as parents so far, and having her is still the best thing we’ve ever done. So perhaps, in officially welcoming this small, determined person to the family, I shouldn’t have aimed for anything else.