Sewing tools

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Spent much of last evening torturing myself with needle and thread. Literally. I learned to stitch by hand when I was about Dee’s age, and I am no better at it forty years later than I was then. I would have died a dependent spinster had I been born even fifty years earlier because a woman who can’t even mend clothing is just short of useless – especially if she’s not an enthusiastic cook in the bargain.

Dee’s Brownie troop leader likes to save herself postage by ordering all the girls’ badges by bulk, so Monday Dee came home from her meeting with a baggie stuffed with the fruits of her gleefully diligent labor dating back to September.

Dozens of patches testifying to her ability to color, cut and paste, be cooperative and attentive and generally enjoy arts and crafts.

They all now need to be sewn to her sash, a thick material that dares needles to penetrate. The patches themselves range from moderately easy to poke through to industrially reinforced with stiff gluey backs layered with embroidery. For all my hours of work, I have sore fingers, thumbs and a sash with just three badges attached.

I remember learning to embroider. Santa brought me a pink sewing basket with thread, needle and all the fixings the Christmas I was nine. Gamely I approached the cross-stitch and created a few wobbly looking pieces, but it was dogged obstinacy that drove me. I couldn’t stand not being able to do something that looked like it should be easy.

A couple of years later I learned to sew through 4-H. They started us with the obligatory book bag but eventually, I made a dress and a few shirts.  As a result, I learned to measure the body, select and cut patterns and sew a mostly straight stitch.

I didn’t learn to love it however. As with cooking, I viewed it as just one of those gender default pieces of knowledge that the universe was content in its wisdom to insist that I know based on the XX thing. Why my father insisted that I add lawn care to the list, in clear violation of the “need to know” rules, I still don’t know. Regardless, when I left home, I could sew, cook, bake, clean, do laundry and shop with efficiency. I could also take care of a lawn and balance a budget. If I’d been born in India, Dad might have been paid for me instead of having to pay someone to take me off his hands – I was pretty useful.

“Why don’t you use a thimble?” Rob asked as I massaged my tender thumb pads.

But I could just as easily stitch a patch using my teeth and toes as I can perform a proper whip stitch using a thimble. They just get in the way of an already tedious picky task.

I don’t help myself much either. Whip stitches are easy. The lighter weight, smaller in diameter badges, are not as difficult as they are just boring. But I hamstring myself with the need to match the thread to the patch, and I have no orange thread, which means I have to go out of my way today to pick some up.

Do the colors have to match? Really?

Yes, they do. It’s important because Brownies is important to Dee. Some mothers staple the badges to the sashes or use hot-glue guns/fabric glue. The lack of respect for your daughter’s interests shows through and will be noticed as each badge tatters before finally falling off.

I didn’t get past Brownies. I found the whole thing to be merely an extension of my home-training, which was geared towards turning me into “just a another girl” for “some boy” to marry. 4-H was much the same.

Dee likes Brownies. She is attracted to the order and the task-oriented nature of it. She is good at it, and for a child who struggles mightily at times with a world that is too loud and rough around its edges and unfair in ways she will never fully resign herself to, sewing these patches and ensuring that her sash is presentable is probably one of the smallest mommy tasks on my list though I would not call it “the least that I can do”. Staples and glue would be the least.

She was her troop’s top cookie seller this year. She has earned badges for friendship, party planning and community – among others. She has a sleep-over badge and one indicating her concern for and willingness to help out those who go hungry more often than she ever will. These are accomplishments that deserve to be displayed with pride. Sore thumbs and pricked fingertips are nothing by comparison.

The book is called NO KIDS: 40 Reasons Not to Have Children and was written by a French author named Corrine Maier. In it this psychiatrist, and mother of two, attempts to dissuade young childless French women from succumbing to the baby fever which is currently sweeping their country. Unlike most other countries in the EU where birthrates have fallen well below population replacement levels and young children are swiftly becoming an anomaly, the French are experiencing a renaissance of motherhood thanks in no small part to government sponsored maternity leaves where mothers are paid full wages for up to sixteen weeks, receive “bonus checks” for having more than one child and enjoy a creche, or childcare, system that is unequaled anywhere. Ms. Maier feels that these programs are part of a larger plan to imprison women in the traditional, and largely unfulfilling, role of “mom”. The phrase she coined for women who buy into the myth that motherhood is the ultimate goal for a women is merdeuf which a French speaker would recognize as the contraction of mère de famille, which is the traditional phrase for a full-time mother or a housewife and someone who makes the act of mothering her career. The contraction of this term, however, sounds like a combination of merde, which any first year French student can tell you means “shit” and oeuf, which means “egg”. Combined these two sounds seem to imply that these xeno-phobes disguised as patriots and uber-mommies are in fact little more than “egg-shitters.”

Now, it may seem ironic that someone who has given birth to and is raising children of her own would counsel women who have not yet had children to steer clear of the “profession” of motherhood, but only if you weren’t a mother yourself. Even the most rabidly devoted mother has moments when she wishes she had opted for the power career or the guy with no real potential other than showing her a really great time. Why? Because it would have been easier and finite. There is no end to motherhood. No way to quit or backtrack. Just 15 or 20 years of intensive, sometimes mind-numbing, and certainly unappreciated but for hindsight freakin’ hard work. For nothing. There are no monetary rewards. No company perks. No advancements. If men had been handed this role at the dawn of creation the human race would have began and ended with Adam and Eve. And yes, I know as a mother myself that there are intangible rewards to having and raising children that shouldn’t be compared with the consumer-driven objectified greediness of the material minded, but when you stop to consider that in the vast majority of the world women are little more than breeding cows with nearly identical rights it is hard to argue against Ms. Maier’s attempt to warn off future generations of brood mares.

It could be the poor translation but I think some of Ms. Maier’s reasons are stupid, but a few drive home the point that women are still being forced to choose between having children and having a life, eg. career. Children are limiting for women in a way that they are not for men. You can argue the point as much as you like but the facts are the facts. Mothers, even really crappy ones, are tied to the early development of their off-spring in a much more physical way than fathers are and because of this, they will inevitably lose time. Time for education or building careers or simply to pursue some personally fulfilling dream. We can’t have it all in the same way men can and it’s time this was acknowledged and made generally known to women before they have babies. An uninformed choice is hardly a choice at all.

I volunteered to help make apple pie with Katy’s kindergarten class today. There are nineteen kids in her room on days when the all day children are there. There were four adults. The teacher, her husband who took the day off to help out, another mother and myself. We weren’t greatly out-numbered and yet when Katy and I got home after not quite three hours of non-stop apple related and pie-making activities, I was ready for bed. This full time mom gig is not for the out of shape, the sleep deprived or those short on patience. Of which, I can be any or all of the above depending on the day or the week or the time of the month.

It is full moon. The time of the month when children, animals and people inclined towards being a pain in the butt crank the volume up to eleven. If I were teaching, I would have known it was full moon when I walked into the school building today, but my old supervisor was right about how little time it takes to forget nearly everything you ever learned about kids and their ways. Still, I can be forgiven. I was not an elementary teacher. Certainly my only experience with five year olds consists of nephews, nieces and the children of friends. And now, of course, my own little girl. Kindergartners do not have the pack mentality of their older academic brethren. They do not look for weakness. They do not misbehave for effect. But what they lack in cunning they make up for in energy.

The activity was a good one and I found myself missing my old profession quite a bit. There was nothing like teaching a great lesson to a receptive audience. Nothing like imparting knowledge and seeing the lights come on. Katy’s teacher is very good at keeping things moving and teaching to the moment. Kids are actively engaged and even the little ones who you can tell are going to become more and more difficult to manage and engage over time were tuned in and on task.

Katy was so proud to have me there. The last two years in Montessori I was seldom able to get off work for field trips and was never able to volunteer in the classroom. Her former school was made up of primarily two parent families. Single parent needs weren’t considered when it came to planning much of anything. Now that I have the time, I am seeing just how much of an advantage children with a stay at home parent has.

Tomorrow there is a field trip to the nearby park to look at trees and leaves and all the signs of the fall and coming winter. Katy is thrilled that I will be coming along even if it does mean she will miss riding the bus home for a second day. Nice to know I am more important than riding the yellow school bus. I expect to be dead ass tired again tomorrow afternoon, but it is a good kind of tired.