Stitch in time

Even though I was 18 when she died, I don’t know a lot about my maternal great-grandmother.

I know she went by Elsie; that she was from Portugal but had blue eyes and blonde hair. I know she was married twice in a time when good Catholic women didn’t do that, and while I know nothing whatsoever about her first husband, my biological great-grandfather, I know Arthur, her second husband of 50+ years, was a good man, the type of man to show up at my wedding dressed to kill and threatened my husband with extinction if he didn’t treat me correctly. That’s the kind of man you want sticking around.

I know she had five children, three boys bookended by my Nana at the top and my great-aunt at the end. I know she was funny; at least, she always made me laugh. From our visits I like to think I got my tendency not to suffer fools from her. She made the hand-snipped and intricately woven handkerchief that my mother held when she got married–the same one I held on my wedding day. I know that in that way she took part in my ceremony.

And I know she loved to crochet.

One of the best things about visiting my great-grandparents was the doll room, a guest bedroom filled with plastic dolls from the craft store. My Great-Nana would take these penny playthings and turn them into works of art, clothing them in fantastically elaborate frocks of yarn. It was a fun hobby for her, one that I can see today–three of those dolls are in the bookcase behind me. These are the crafts I can most easily reach for in my memory, though I am sure there are more. Dusty memory fragments float through my brain and almost catch the light–afghans, blankets, doilies that I can’t quite remember but that I know must be there somewhere still.

My mother says she learned to crochet from her grandmother, and though I never asked for clarification I always assumed she was speaking of Great-Nana. My mother inherited all of her grandmother’s hooks and keeps them in a bag on her craft shelf, as well as a few packets of needles and other things. It was this bag that I rummaged through when I selected a hook to make my first blanket for Maggie and for my second project, a gift for my cousin’s soon-to-be-born baby.

In the somewhat laborious process of learning to crochet, my mother has been pleased with my progress. She’s only taught me two stitches so far; I’ve made or am making something significant with each before I move on to more intricate things. Because I am impatient and not easily satisfied I have also made untold amounts of dishrags, an item that can be made in an evening and offers the instant satisfaction of a completed work. More satisfying was mending a pair of pants that had ripped because they are worn twice a week and have been for the last six years (they fit PERFECTLY, okay?) with a needle from that bag. They’re all sewn up (reinforced with iron-on patches) and ready for more action.

Travel and upheaval notwithstanding, it’s a pleasant and calm life that Tom and I live, routine and happy. Our child is quiet in her own way, preferring the neatness of sorting blocks and turning pages in her book to the flash and dazzle of her toy chest. We drive a Honda, for Pete’s sake. We have a quiet, orderly life and we like it that way.

With five children born through the 1930s to 1950s and making her way in a rough-and-tumble kind of world, I think my Great-Nana’s life was not so calm or orderly. Full of love? Absolutely. But probably not quiet. But I think about her reaching for the needle to mend something that needed mending or to make something beautiful just because she could; I think of her selecting a crochet hook to make a lovely doll dress for a grandchild to enjoy or a blanket to keep someone she loved warm. And then I think about her tools, passed along to my mother, used to enjoy, to create, to build something useful, or maybe just pretty, stitching along in the quieter background of her days.

These same tools I’m using now, again being used to create pretty and useful things. Things that will be kept for a long time, things that are keeping her great-great-grandchild warm even as I type, softly snoring under a tight weave of rainbow cotton, things that will keep her future great-great-grandchildren snuggled warm against the chill. Her skill is flowing through to her family, immortal, touching the born, the unborn, and the as yet unimagined. I think she would like that.

And I think of these things and know then that I know her, that we might have known each other, better than I thought.


The State of the Maggie

Discussing Maggie’s various skills and hurdles with my mother’s coworker, the coworker said to me “It’s so nice that Maggie is a normal baby. All the other babies I meet are advanced.” She said that about two weeks ago and I have been laughing about that ever since; it is so true that we parents love to play up our children as the next Einstein. I’m no exception, of course. I think Maggie rules. But there are a number of things she can’t–or more accurately, won’t–do.

Maggie will: climb like a spider monkey
Maggie won’t: stand alone without holding something for balance

Maggie is a mountain goat. Observe:

I’ve seen her do numerous flights of stairs and climb back down flawlessly. She has no problem getting in and out of the pool, nor does she have an issue getting on or off the couch. But Maggie likes to have at least three limbs on the floor, or both feet on the floor and one hand on a shelf or wall. When encouraged to let go, she goes amorphous blob and rubber-babys her way into a puddle on the floor. She’s going to rock cliff faces, but it’ll be a while before she does a walking trail. We visited some friends whose baby was about two months younger, and that baby was already full-tilt running. Maggie kind of looked at her as if to say “Dude…um, you know they’ll carry you, right?” Thus, The World’s Laziest Baby.

Will: Identify objects, colors, and body parts; hold simple contextual conversations
Will not: Do so on command

In her favorite books, she can point out the red balloon or the fish if you ask her to find it; she can find a kitty and knows it says “Meow.” She’ll say “Oh boy!” when she sees Daddy on Skype and say “Hi!” upon seeing a new person in the room. After trying a tasty new food, if asked if the morsel was enjoyable she’ll say “Good! Yum!” If you ask her where her nose is, she dutifully sticks a digit up her nostril; she’ll put a book in your lap and say “Book!” or ask “Up?” to be picked up.

Will she do ANY of this when asked to perform for her father, or to repeat words out of a contextual setting? Will she say “Hi” when a greeting isn’t required? Will she point to her ears a second time if she’s already performed that task? No to all, and furthermore, she’ll glare at you with a look that clearly states “I am not your trick pony.” And then? She’ll fart on you. Seriously. My nephew is the biggest ham ever, a born performer who will repeat anything up to and including the chorus of “Bad Romance” (except he says it “Womance,” which, AWESOME), but Maggie has no such inclination to please.

Will: Drink from a cup; hold and chew finger foods
Will not: Hold said cup on her own; listen when asked to stop throwing food on the floor

She drinks from a cup! Daily! Yay! Will she hold it on her own? Flat-out refuses. Dropped it on my toe last time. And when she’s all done she’ll drool down her chin like a lobotomy patient. And if she’s done with her food or isn’t interested, she throws it on the floor which she clearly knows is wrong. I know she knows it’s wrong because I asked her to stop the other day. She turned away from me, made a motion to put the food against her lips, checked to see if I was watching (I was pretending not to look at her) and when she was satisfied that I wasn’t she threw the fruit on the floor. Sneak.

It’s really not a matter of “can” vs. “can’t”. She has a will and a mind of her own and could do any of the above if she wanted to, but she doesn’t. I don’t force her. One thing I kind of shot myself in the foot with was potty training; she went a few times on her own in Hawaii but our temporary relocation to Florida was so stressful that she hasn’t indicated any readiness since February or so. Which is a bummer because I hate, hate, hate folding diapers. But like with everything else she’s done, even since she was a fetus, she’ll do what she wants to do in her own good time and not a single second before. I respect that, and I like seeing her prepare her mind for readiness on the next big adventure.

Maggie is a delightful child, a blessing in every sense, but it is entirely because of who she is and not because of what she will or won’t do. She’s happy, exuberant, and interested in new things; she loves books above all else and babbles delightfully all the time. She delights in the pool and the playground and in new foods. She’s just a joyful person who likes to be around others, yet is totally capable of entertaining herself and doing her own thing when she feels like being alone.

Maggie’s pretty much awesome.

Odds ‘n Ends

Things on my mind at the moment:

1. I hate folding diapers, but I love cute diaper covers. I just picked up these in Alice Brights and Warm Stripes and mostly I’m just thrilled that I can put more prefolds into the rotation because those are much easier to fold than the pocket diapers. When we get back to Hawaii in August, I’m not folding another load of clean diapers for four or five months. I may just push up toilet learning in the meantime.

2. In order to get my hands on some fresh poke (poh-kay, Hawaiian sushi) I would commit highly illegal acts.

3. Maggie crawled into the kitchen while I was making her applesauce today. I said “Hi sweetie!” She responded “Hi Mama!” This is far cuter than the other night, where I fell asleep nursing her in bed and she grabbed my arm in the dead of night and said “Hi Mama!” then. Same sentiment, exponentially different level of startle. She also says “Oh boy!” and claps her hands now. It is thoroughly adorable. Makes up for all the biting. (Dear God, teeth, when are you coming in?!)

4. I’m supposed to be booking tickets for our New Zealand trip soon, but I am having a hard time motivating myself to get info on our frequent flyer miles. I did book for Seattle and Vancouver in August and plan to go straight on back to Hawaii from there, so right now I have a one-way ticket for August 3. Depending on the difficulty of the flight with the baby, I may just set up a home in a van by the water rather than do one more flight by ourselves. Theoretically we’ll be meeting Tom back in Hawaii, so that will be awesome.

5. The fabulous mind behind has agreed to post an entry of mine in her guest blogger series. It will run June 7. Thanks, Everywhereist!!

6. My nephew is visiting next week! I hope he sings “Bad Romance” to me again.

ETA: Almost forgot to mention: The World’s Laziest Baby stood on her own, unsupported, for the first time yesterday. Unfortunately it was in the pool and she was shoulder-deep in water, so she felt like she was being suspended and had better balance. She absolutely refuses to try to stand without help out of the water, so I think walking is still several weeks if not months off. Our official line to well-meaning playground parents is “If she isn’t walking by her 18 month well-baby visit, we’ll worry, but not until then.” I do wish I had bet money with everyone who said at Easter that she’d be walking within weeks; I told them there was no way and I could have cleaned up.

Cash Money

One of the things I really miss about Tom, other than his ability to crack me up with “Arrested Development” quotes, is that he generally makes sure that I am well-fed. As much as I adore food–and oh, I do–I’m also bone lazy. When I can eat a fruit salad that my mom made up and a quick microwaveable quesadilla, I’m not going to take the time to prepare a full meal. Maggie eats extraordinarily well, but she also doesn’t eat anything that takes a lot of effort to prepare or she eats a smaller version of what I’m having. If I boil up some tortellini and make some meatballs for me, she just has a meatball, some tortellini, and whatever fruit is handy. Doesn’t take long. When Tom cooks, I can count on a well-seasoned sauce over a delicious pasta or some exotic sausage with a salad of spinach, mozzarella and tomatoes at least three or four times a week. It’s not super-varied, but it sure is tasty.

Willing myself to cook is one more badge I have to earn. In Maryland this past spring some friends and I were discussing our “adult badges,” or the things we’ve done that demostrate stepping toward adulthood. For example, I’ve locked down marriage, parenthood and regular exercise. Another friend is a property owner, training to begin her own business, and always looks fabulously put together. A third friend is professionally successful, travels extensively, and is totally independent. All just badges toward the sash.

Since I’ve done pretty well at setting goals for myself and gaining some level of achievement, I’m revamping my goal list. The first is cooking. The second is becoming good with money. I guess by some standards I’m pretty good with a buck; we have no credit card debt and I stay on the budget that Tom sets for the family. We cloth diaper and bank the savings; we buy used when we can and invest in high-quality items when we can’t. We’re about to be totally out of car payment hell, Tom’s almost paid off his college loans, and I’m on track to pay mine off before Maggie begins school. That’s a lot of savings for a small family and we could do well with it if we plan correctly. There are probably lots of people we can ask for advice in our lives, but we think it’s best not to invite friend ‘n family opinions into our financial forecast so for now we’re going to get a third-party financial planner to help out.

One thing I’m glad that I did was open a small passbook savings account for Maggie. (Note: passbooks don’t actually exist anymore.) She got a few checks, a tenner here and there in a card, that kind of thing, for her first birthday. Since we’re talking the sum of a baby’s birthday money and not the Onassis shipping fortune, a basic savings account made the most sense. Tom and I matched her birthday gains, opened the account, and set up a “monthly allowance” for her–the minimum $25 monthly transfer required to avoid fees. Until she’s cognizant of the power of money, we’ll bank all her birthday and Christmas money for her. When she’s older, she’ll be required by us to save at least fifty percent, and we’ll match what she saves until such time that she gets her first paying job (she’ll be required to save 50% of those wages, too, and she’ll also have to pay for her own entertainment and gasoline). She’ll also be required to give some away to the cause of her choice; hopefully she’ll do so cheerfully. But by the time she’s four or five, there should be enough in that account for a CD and the real fun of making her money start to work for her will begin right as she’s old enough to participate. By the time she goes to high school…who knows? It’s a good start, at any rate.

So we’re working on our own “fiscal responsibility” badge, and we think we have Maggie on the way to that one by the time she leaves our care. An understanding of money and how to manage it responsibly as well as using it to help the community is one of the best gifts we can think to give her.

But someone else is going to have to teach her to coordinate an outfit, because I sure as hell can’t do that. There’s a reason I love Hawaii: clean and no holes is practically formalwear.

Something Pretty

Over the last year I set a list of goals for myself. Number 3: Make Something Pretty for my Daughter. In addition to making Maggie some felt and wool toys, I also learned a single stitch of crochet and took off running.

Given how impatient I am, I should have learned more than the single loop stitch before proceeding. It’s the easiest GED stitch there is, but it’s tiny. In not asking my mother about the scope of my plan, I made a serious error. Since I’m so impatient, I ran off half-cocked, chained a huge long starter chain, didn’t measure it and relied on my nonexistent depth judgment for the length, and thought I was making a 3′ blanket when really it was more like 4′, and I chose a thin, worsted-weight cotton yarn and a smallish hook. So what I’m saying is, “Mistakes were made.” But only in the planning process. The execution was lovely. Closeup!

The border is a double-loop stitch, taught to me by my mother after two weeks of hand-cramping single loop stitches. It took another three weeks after that to complete. The end result was a 36×48″ blanket, rainbow variegated with a purple border. It was painstaking and repetitive but I love the tight weave, and it’s a cotton blanket so it’s light but warm.

Maggie appears indifferent here, but she’s been sleeping under it (or on it, actually) for the last week or so.

Goal 3: Achieved. And I’ll never do a single-loop blanket ever again. At least not without measuring.

I feel better already!

With the weekend news about the infant Tylenol recall, I went looking for more homeopathic remedies. I did so on Facebook fan pages and with my old friend, Dr. Google. Big mistake. Now, I guess some people would consider me a crunchy hippie mom. Others would probably think of me as mainstream. I don’t know. I never thought about it long enough to give myself a label. I’m just trying to do my best. But some of the comments, some of the attitudes I see in my research, it’s just so upsetting. So hurtful and judgmental; so angry at “mainstream moms.”

Reading some of the comments, I was really beating myself up for using a commercial painkiller to help Maggie’s teething. I actually was tearing up, I was so upset. I don’t know what I don’t know until I look, and some of these women would make you feel terrible for even asking why they think some action is wrong. I got good tips from a very sweet, non-judgmental friend, but it bugged me terribly.

I’m just exhausted. Truly, bone exhausted. I’m tired in my soul. It was too much to read; thinking that so many would hate me for using commercial products without questioning them. Like I said, I don’t know what I don’t know and it’s just me here until Tom gets home. Was I wrong for wanting something to be simple right now when right now is so hard?

It was breaking me up, these mothers and their opinions, until (if I may paraphrase Good Will Hunting) something occurred to me, I fell into a deep sleep, and I didn’t think about it again until I sat down to write this.

They don’t want us to change.

Now, for all the high-minded talk about changing attitudes–wishing more moms would wear their babies, serve organic food, question authority, whatever–it isn’t true. Take babywearing, for example. If everyone wore their babies, it would be awesome for the kids. But who would ask these mothers for their opinions? Who would ask them for advice? No one. They wouldn’t be able to look upon mothers with strollers and say “My choice is better.” Not all mothers do this. Not even most. But enough do.

It seems to me that these women have no identity outside of their motherhood. Their kids are all-encompassing. They consider themselves superior, and their superiority is their shield. They are in love with “being right,” “doing right,” and if everyone did what they did, how could they be superior to other moms? They couldn’t. They love their elitism as much as they love to tear down others. The worst thing in the world for them would be if we all acted as they would like, because then they could no longer believe that they weren’t just like everyone else. They would become the mainstream. And to them, that’s worse than seeing a “mainstream mom” in action.

I’m doing my best. Most moms are. But my best isn’t someone else’s best. That’s okay. I only have to answer to Maggie.

And she’s awesome.