“What?” she asks. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, but I’m trying to make that vintage style dress I brought home to make at Christmas and apparently it has boning. Is that hard?” I throw my car into gear and rush to the freeway entrance.
“Yes, boning is very hard, why don’t you just wait until you come home and we’ll try to make it again?” she says, subtly reminding me how infrequently I visit.
“I can’t. I want to wear it for Brent’s brother’s wedding next week.”
“Next week! Libby how are you going to make a dress that complicated in less than a week?”
“I don’t have a job. I learned how to procrastinate from you.”
“Well, I guess you can try it, but it’s a pain in the ass.” She lets out an exhausted sigh knowing that she’ll be on the phone the entire time trying to explain how to do it.
When I was in fourth grade, local 4-H leaders came to our class to tell us the exciting things you could do in the club. Most of these things involved farm animals and agriculture, but I circled sewing, cooking, baking and cake decorating and handed in the form. I rushed home to tell my mom. She was less than pleased, she had spent her youth heavily involved with 4-H and knew it was very time-consuming. That summer my older sister was starting marching band, my older brother was in Boy Scouts, she was my Girl Scout leader, and we were all taking piano and dance lessons. To top off our activities, she also had a toddler to tote around. I looked up and added, “But I wanted to learn how to cook and sew, just like you Mommy!” How could she tell me no?
My mom is of a dying breed. She stayed at home to raise five children, the last graduates high school this month. She sewed our clothes, decorated elaborate birthday cakes, organized all of our extracurricular activities, read the Lorax so many times she can still recite it from memory, cared for our sick pets, cleaned and took care of our brick farmhouse that was built in the early 1800’s, and everything else a Mom is required to do. In short, she is a Little House on the Prairie version of Bree Van De Kamp.
During my time in 4-H, she taught me how to sew, cook, can and freeze vegetables we grew in our garden, decorate cakes, paper mache and much more. By the time I got to high school I could tackle complex patterns and won multiple blue ribbons and championship plagues at the state fair. Because I was the middle of five kids and we were involved in so much throughout the year, my 4-H projects always got pushed to the last minute. Every spring we’d travel to Jo-Anne’s and I’d pick out patterns more complicated than necessary and we’d rush home to cut, sew, and hem the garment. My memories of 4-H include falling asleep in mom’s sewing room (which was really just a large closet) to the hum of the sewing machine and then waking up with a wonky seam I had to rip out and sew again while mom frantically lectured me on procrastination and swore the following year we wouldn’t wait until last minute – a lesson that never stuck. Another lesson that I never quite grasped was that perfect was indeed attainable if you rip out enough stitches, but not nearly as satisfying as you’d think when you’re dead ass tired.
In the last few years of high school, I was too busy to sew or cook. In college, I lost interest in doing anything “house-wife” related. After a few women’s history classes, I dumped all sewing and cooking knowledge in order to make room for other, more important information, like the feminist manifesto. When I joined the Marine Corps, I had to suppress and neglect all feminine skills and instincts in order to learn how to shoot guns and memorize war tactics. Now, I’m 30 years old and I have neither womanly skills nor a career. It’s a lose-lose.
I, like so many other women, missed the point of the feminist movement: to open up opportunities for women, not deny instinctual choices. In college, I was taught that the traditional hobbies I once enjoyed made me weak and destined to stay at home. Now I understand that it’s okay to be an Amazon warrior who can sew a pretty dress while debating politics or world history. Unfortunately, I’ve lost almost all skills to participate in my favorite girly hobbies.
A year ago, my mom bought me a sewing machine for Christmas. I spent months shamelessly posting comments on Facebook and outright begging her for one. Like when I asked her to join 4-H I added that “I want to sew, just like you!” How could she say no to my rekindled interest in sewing? Since then I have mastered the art of sock monkeys and superhero capes and seem to think I’m ready to graduate to dresses. I’m discovering some either inherited or never forgotten skills that they don’t cover in sewing manuals or on-line tutorials: how to leave just enough time to finish the hem on a flight, and how to cuss and scream at inanimate objects. Thankfully my mom is just a phone call away for all the other lessons I have to relearn like how to put boning in a bodice.
Someday, hopefully soon, I’ll embark on a new career. This time I’ll remind myself that not only is it okay to have domestic skills, but it’s a dying tradition that I have to keep alive for another generation. And with her help, I will.
Happy Mother’s Day and thank you for teaching me how to sew and all the other life-lessons you are there for.