I am knee-deep in finalizing sewing patterns, instructions, packaging, samples… And waiting for a shipment of something that should be getting here from the printer any day now. In the meantime, to take a break from all that, I’ve been learning to embroider with a tambour needle:
I’m working on a Róza variation, hopefully done by next week. And: there’s going to be a free embroidery pattern in it for you guys, it won’t require any weird equipment to be hunted down on ebay (that’s where I got the tambour stand – I’ll give you all the details when ), just a simple chain stitch with a plain needle and any thread you’d like to use. The pattern will come graded to fit the correct pattern piece for each size of the Róza… And honestly, it’s VERY quick and easy to make! (Just… I like to make my own life hard and make things using tools I have to learn how to use before I can actually, you know, use them.)
Right now I want to write about something else, related to all of this, and kind of difficult, and you could look at it as a kind of political statement, although really, it’s just stating reality.
I need to get something off my chest: work-at-home motherhood is hard, people. And sometimes lonely, and exhausting, and though I’d like to say I wouldn’t trade any of it (there are parts of it for which that’s definitely true), I think the truth is more that we have yet to create a better alternative.
I mean, I know how lucky I am. I get to give myself the space to work on things I really love and still be here for all the important milestones of my babies’ lives. But it’s also kicking my tush (as Zsuzsi would say – yes, we’re in New York). For example, my “studio” is a closet (the kids call it my factory). I love that I have a large closet I could set up as my workspace, but it is still a closet – see above: we’re in New York. There’s no natural light so I’ve had a few surprises with thread colors, for example.
There’s also no escape from the noise and other people in the household. My lovely daughters often come over to ask for things in a tone of voice that leaves little room for debate. I love them, of course, but paying attention to so many things simultaneously does occasionally make me feel like my brain will explode.
Look, this is what’s behind my cutting (aka kitchen, dining, kids’ drawing) counter (my closet doesn’t photograph quite so well):
Then again, the girls see me work away on something that absorbs me completely. And whenever I do that, they set down any iPhones or iPads and get out their markers or play-doh or legos or my scarves that they like to drape all over the apartment, and get absorbed making something themselves. I swear that they seem liberated by watching me work.
I also wish I was younger. Full disclosure: I was born in 1972, and I had two, almost three “careers” before getting started making patterns and embroidering. I think even friends of mine don’t realize I have a Ph.D. (in literature, of all things), and had meant to be a college professor. (Before that I worked in educational technology and for non-profits. And way, way before that I’d been an interpreter and translator. I guess you could call me indecisive. Or just a late bloomer, then again, this is New York and New York is full of those.)
I gave up on the college-professor idea the year the recession started, when I realized there was pretty much no chance I’d ever get a job that would pay more than the cost of transportation getting to and from work. I’d just gotten pregnant with Zsuzsi and we were hunting for a new home to have room for our family. It was a good moment to quit.
I had no idea what I’d do next.
It was a few years (and one more baby) before I realized I should probably work on something that had always been a part of my life: making things. I sewed most of my own clothes in high school and, you guys, I actually went to folklore camp in Hungary. I get so absorbed in sewing and handwork I easily forget to eat. (Hmm – maybe it’s a good thing my daughters are rather loud and assertive… Otherwise I might forget to feed them too!) I wish I’d figured this out much sooner. I mean, I could have gone to FIT when I was 18, not 40! I constantly feel I have so much lost time to make up for, even if I’m beyond glad I DID figure it out and that I have a chance to do what I love now.
But I do wish I was younger. For one thing, f I was younger my mother-in-law would still be around. As in: an hour’s drive away. She died right before Eszter was born. There are few things I’m more sorry about when it comes to having my children kind of later in life: those two should have known each other.
Which reminds me: another thing that was hard for me was admitting I needed help. I mean with the children and around the house.
For years I had so much guilt not doing it all myself: I wasn’t bringing in any income so what’s the justification for having a babysitter come for a few hours every day? But the first year I had Zsuzsi I did do it all myself. And it nearly killed me. OK, I exaggerate. But it was very, very hard.
You see, Andy travels quite a bit for his work. So there’s this problem: what happens if I get sick? I don’t mean some little illness that one plows through but something like, say, food poisoning, when you can’t get up off the bathroom floor. Because if Andy’s in, say, Nebraska for a few weeks, and I’m so sick I can’t get up off the bathroom floor, then who takes care of the girls? (Yes, this kind of thing really does come up.) My parents live in Hungary and Andy’s parents passed away years ago. I don’t know what I would do without our babysitter.
It took a few years to find someone who really clicked with our family. Not that we had any real problems with previous babysitters but I think it’s like finding a friend, or any meaningful relationship: not everyone clicks. You have no idea what a load off my mind it is to have someone like her around: the girls adore her, and so do I.
(This is the one political sentence I will write in this post: what are we thinking, as a society, that we don’t acknowledge the very real work these amazing women do, along with the work that mothers do, and pretend our lives and work and economy don’t depend on it?)
Having a reliable babysitter did free me up to start taking seriously the things I love to do. So I started working on it at home, and I finally did go to FIT, and now I’m frantically trying to finish up some tasks while Zsuzsi’s in school and Eszter’s with our babysitter, and I’m in my little closet. I have to do it when I have the chance, when no one needs a cuddle, or admiration for a house they’d built or picture they’d drawn, or dinner made.
So I hurry up and do as much as I possibly can because when one of the kids gets sick I’ll drop everything for a few days because of course no matter who else is around, I’m the one staying up nights with my sick children, and I can’t do anything productive on no sleep. And also, sick children seem to want to sit next to their mommies and do very little else.
I often wonder how others do it. Indie patternmakers who have children, like Megan Nielsen. Although I think probably like I do it, in fits and starts, is how. And occasionally overdoing it (I remember Megan wrote about that) and then having to step back.
So… not perfect, not at all. But it’s still the best of all possible alternatives. OK, time for me to get back to work (and daydream of tambouring I’ll do tonight)!