Alison wants to learn to sew. This is one of the many times when I miss my mother. When she used to spend the night with my parents, Mom would roll Alison’s hair in spongies after her shower at night. For a little girl with stick straight hair, this was the ultimate treat. In the morning, Alison’s black locks would be curled and bouncing around her shoulders and she would shake her head and nod excessively to get the curls dancing. I never once rolled her hair in sponge rollers because this was a treat for mother and granddaughter. But Mom died before she and Alison could share time together with the needle and thread, so it falls to me to teach my daughter to sew. Me, the girl who had to be rushed to the doctor in the middle of sixth grade home economics class because of a scissor stab. Yes, this is true.
I was making a flannel nightgown, and instead of smartly folding the fabric to snip the buttonhole, I attempted to push the tip of the scissors through the heavy fabric. Except that the scissor tip didn’t go through. So I jabbed, then stabbed. It finally busted through the flannel and into the index finger of my other hand. Blood appeared. The teacher panicked. And my mother was called.
My mother the seamstress.
She was appalled that I didn’t fold the fabric and we spent the next few weeks making buttonholes, my bandaged finger notwithstanding. I’ve made some progress since sixth grade home economics, but I still wish my mother was here to do the sewing lessons for Alison. It’s like Algebra. I can only go so far and then I have to throw up my hands and cry “uncle!” Despite this, I bought Alison a beginner sewing kit, a beginner book, and some fabric samples. This will be my own variation of the slow-sewing movement. We’ll get as far as we can until I hand it over to the JoAnn Fabric sewing lesson classes.
When I look around at the women my age, most who are not yet grandmothers, I wonder what we’ll pass down. We’re busy women who, in our young days of motherhood, spent most of our time shuffling our kids from one activity to the next. We arranged our children’s agendas as if we were corporate executive assistants. Even moments of relaxation were scheduled and for most of us the thought of stopping long enough to pass along a timeless tradition like sewing, gardening, cooking real food (not thrown together casseroles), or crafting was out of the question. We had to be somewhere, for goodness sakes. Now our children are in middle school, high school, and college, and the window of opportunity for long, leisurely hours of handing down a skill or craft is closing. And what, I begin to ask myself, will I be able to pass along to my grandchildren? More importantly, what will my children pass down to my grandchildren? It won’t be sewing. Or canning. Possibly gardening if I actually do it and stop simply talking about it. Cooking is a possibility. That’s a good thing. But, then again, cooking is so…necessary. There should be something else. Something more.
I have many friends who are young wives and mothers, most about 15 -20 years younger than me. Some have babies, some are expecting, and some are waiting to be expecting. I sense in these women something different than the restlessness my generation of mothers seemed to have. They are more comfortable with down time; more likely to ditch the schedule, leave the van in the garage, and be content with their children learning things like how to knit, build birdhouses and chicken coops, play creatively, make a meal from scratch…and sew. Many in my generation of mothers would have scoffed, and they do. I’ve heard them. But I think we might have something to learn from these mothers who have intentionally rejected the voices in our culture that demand busyness not only of parents, but children as well. It’s not really the passing down of the skill that’s the challenge. It’s the time it takes. Teaching a child how to garden, sew, or do any kind of craft really can’t be scheduled or stuffed into a full agenda. I know this because the sewing kit, the sewing book, and the fabric are still sitting in Alison’s room three days after we purchased them. I’m trying find a block of time on my calendar to sit down and teach Sewing 101.
It occurs to me that perhaps I missed an important lesson from my mother and grandmother, neither of whom bought into the child-rearing race of the rats. Slow down. Sit down. Teach your children well, and teach them something besides how to hurry life along. Perhaps I need to learn this lesson now…so that I have something to teach my grandchildren.