“Mom, is boning hard?” I ask while jumping in my car, frantically rushing to the fabric store.
“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 in less than a week?”
“I don’t have a job and I learned how to procrastinate from you.” I remind her of her notorious procrastinating problem that I inherited.
“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, 4-H representatives 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 as she had spent her youth heavily involved with 4-H and knew it was a time-consumer. 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 – oh, and she 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 our extracurricular activities, read us 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.
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 we were involved in so much throughout the year, 4-H projects always got pushed to the last minute. I remember falling asleep to the hum of the sewing machine in the wee hours of morning, only to wake up with a wonky seam I had to rip out and sew again. She taught me how to figure out the last possible minute you could start a project and still be able to pull a few all-nighters to finish, which really came in handy in college. Other lessons included how to drink coffee to stay awake for the judging of the competition the next day, how perfect was attainable, but not nearly as satisfying as you’d think when you’re dead ass tired, and of course how to cuss and scream at inanimate objects.
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 Marines I had to suppress and neglect all feminine skills and instincts to become a killer. 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 my mind, the traditional hobbies that 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 not only kill, but sew a pretty gown while debating politics or world history. Unfortunately, I’ve lost 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 let me join 4-H so that I could learn to be like her, 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 procrastinate, but leave just enough time 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.