“Let’s sew a hat, Mama!” Our son, ever the morning person, is gazing longingly at my mending kit at 7am. Mind you, he has never sewed anything before, not even with the big plastic needle and yarn that came with an enticing puppet-making kit, a birthday gift some years ago. That is, he wasn’t interested in his age-appropriate version. He wants the real thing. Given that he is usually much more interested in throwing a ball, climbing a tree, or riding his bike, I am excited by his interested in this fine-motor task.
I throw on a robe and stumble downstairs with him bounding ahead. I wonder if I have the energy to make coffee.
“I know, let’s make a rainbow hat!” he exclaims. I have to smile; he does have two mommies, after all, and it is “pride month.” And, partly because of this, I do happen to have some rainbow-patterned fleece among my scraps. My mind flickers to the impending Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality and his obliviousness to it all. He just wants a hat.
Never mind that he will be going swimming later in 86-degree heat, I know he has in mind a winter hat. There was a teenage boy at our house last night who was wearing a knit hat over his scraggly, long hair, his 6’5” muscular frame looming over and enthralling our little boy. I have flash-forward visions of our sweet 1st grader transformed into one of these. Not that I won’t still adore him, body odor and all, but I expect he won’t be begging me to sew with him then. I wonder if he’ll think I have anything to teach him at all by that age.
I proceed to dig into the back of a closet for the cloth and sewing supplies that haven’t seen the light of day in several years now- really, not since our son was born and I abandoned all such activities. The mending kit has seen plenty of action, but as a half-time workforce person, my love of crafts has taken a back seat to more pressing and less entertaining concerns- like potty training, for instance. Pintrest will have to wait, I think with a sigh. But here I am about to do a grown-up craft! I can hardly believe it.
Jeremy and I look up instructions for a simple hat on YouTube and proceed to cut and sew together. I am amazed by his perseverance and skill, making a 10” long, sweet, wobbly running stich to make the hat. When he makes a mistake, I show him how to fix it; I explain how everyone fixes a mistake, because everyone makes them.
My own mother taught me to sew…sort of. Her approach was to hand me the needle and thread, and then show me how to knot the bottom the way her mother taught her, by licking the thread, twirling it around a finger and then pulling it into a messy but sufficiently large knot. That was about it. For the rest, I consulted the 1950’s pamphlet on stitches I found in a closet and proceeded to learn by trial and error. I figured everyone learned this way, so when I couldn’t figure something out, I kept trying until I either succeeded or concluded I just wasn’t as smart as other people. My mother even taught me how to thread the 19th century, Singer, treadle sewing machine that was my grandmother’s when I was 8 (I only sewed my thumb once). She believed in letting me do things myself.
However, I never learned how to move on to the next step of making clothes or sewing a quilt- I needed someone to show me and didn’t know to ask. Even if I did ask, my mother also had a job and another child to raise. It was times like those that we both needed her mother, my Grandmother Billye, who could have helped my mother and taught me everything about sewing I so eagerly wanted to know. Last May my grandmother will have been gone more than 40 years.
It’s a different era and a different parenting style. I wonder about what Jeremy loses by not learning the way I did, given the independence and courageousness that the hands-off approach fostered in me. I watch over Jeremy’s progress and step in with the big, sharp scissors when his small ones can’t cut the fringe to make the pom-pom. He confidently sews the large stiches and gathers the cloth as we saw done on the video. I finish it for him by tying the final knot- watching the film to see if the way I had taught myself so many years ago resembled the “correct way.” The hat is done and it is perfectly adorable. Jeremy beams.
“Do you want to show Mommy?” I ask. Usually Jeremy’s first interest after creating something was to promptly give it to his other mom. I hear her rustling about upstairs, getting dressed.
“No, I want to show it to my stuffed animals first. Will you make them talk, Mama?” He implores. I have a sense that he knows that I will do about anything for him right now, so happy am I to have been making something for fun, and making it with him.
Before I put on my doggie, lion, and bear voices to comment on the new hat, I send a silent message up to Grandmother Billye to look at what her great-grandson has created. I feel her smiling down on us as we proudly climb the stairs to his room, hat in hand. He may not be learning the way I did, but if he has the interest, I’ll make sure he can go as far as he wants to go. I am nothing if not tenacious. And I have my mother to thank for that.