Mom, Mom, Mom #9

This will run in the October 26th issue of the Alameda Sun:

Craftiness is Next to Godliness

I am not a crafty person. I mean that in an Arts & Crafts kind of way. My children have been dragging me into it, however, kicking and screaming for the past 11 years. I have no choice. Just this past weekend, there was the making of a California relief map using homemade play dough, the beading of a tiara, as well as the assembling of other pieces of Halloween costumes, the baking of chocolate cupcakes, and finally—the pièce de résistance for a warm October Sunday afternoon—pumpkin carving.

All of that happened simultaneously and it was just too much for me. At one point, when they asked if we could toast the seeds of the pumpkin, I almost had a meltdown. I had to escape to my office and computer to write this column. Working at my keyboard, stringing words together in a thoughtful, sensible way is much more my speed. But leave me to an unfettered world where you take colors and objects and meld them together into a beautiful piece of art is beyond my capabilities.

There must be some creativity in me, though. I am a writer, for pete’s sake. And, I also work as a photographer sometimes. Again, some level of creativity must lurk inside me somewhere.

My brothers and sisters and I were not allowed to be crafty growing up. My mother was compulsively neat and any activity that required cleaning up, whether it was using paint or flour or included covering a table for part of a day, was frowned upon. We could use crayons, yes. But mostly we watched TV or listened to the radio. It was safer. If we wanted to be artistic, we had to go somewhere else to do it. Today, I can teach my kids a lot about movies and the strange trivia from years of watching reruns of I Love Lucy. I always win at Trivial Pursuit, which I consider a parental asset. I also can help them play a fine game of “Name That Tune” with the car radio. My girls are well skilled at knowing the first chords to most of the songs from the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.

I wasn’t always opposed to being crafty. In fact, when my girls came along, I tried to be very open about the Arts & Crafts aspect of home life. I wanted my house to be different than my mother’s. We had paints and Play-Dough. We had lots of paper for drawing and bought different kinds of artsy kits. Most of those kits were stored away in the closet for that rainy day that never came along. It wasn’t just the fear of the clean up that kept the boxes closed, it was the fear of just what to do once we opened the boxes. Because I had little access to Arts & Crafts, I have no idea how to be artsy & crafty. I get hives sometimes just walking though the aisles in crafts and fabric stores like Beverly’s or Michaels.

My kids don’t have that fear, thank God. They long to do those home ec things that I have always eschewed. While my mother discouraged crafts, I also was of the generation of women who could do anything we wanted to! Anything too domestic was frowned upon. My daughters, in contrast, pick a crafty item up and just start using it. Take knitting, for example. Last year, they all wanted knitting needles and yarn for Christmas. So, I dutifully got it for them. My only experience knitting was once, the year I lived in Ireland. My Irish friends were shocked and appalled that I had never learned to knit, so they bought me yarn and needles and taught me the basic stitches. I spent three months on the same area of a sweater, knitting, purling and then ripping it apart because I had missed so many stitches. I breathed an enormous sigh of relief when Mary Fitzpatrick, the mother of the family I spent the most time with, patted me on the arm and said, “You can stop now. I don’t think you are going to finish that sweater.” I never did.

My kids insist that I do a good job when it comes to crafts. They laugh at me and ignore when I complain about it. Somehow, despite the lack of talent in their mother, they can knit and create beautiful beaded jewelry and paint and draw. My girls see patterns that I don’t. They mix colors that I didn’t know existed. I see amazing, very talented artwork all created without my help at all. They think they need me to get started. What I have discovered is that if I just stand by and tell them that they can do it, they do it much better than I ever could. I can live with that.

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