Thursday, March 3, 2011
I showed my six year old how to sew on a button one morning last month. We sat next to each other on the floor of my bedroom and shared the thrill of finding the tiny holes in the button after a blind push of the needle from behind. Nora happily pulled the needle through the fabric the first time, but after a few stitches, she tired of the game and let me reattach the other three popped buttons while she played with the contents of my sewing box.
“Look, Mom!” she said, proud of the row of pins with brightly colored heads that she had stuck upright in the carpet.
“Oh, cute!” I replied and went back to my knot.
The dress we repaired is a girl's blue and green sundress with an empire waist. Blue, green and burgundy ribbons fall from the back. Nora found it on the dusty back corner of my overcrowded dresser and brought it to me that morning, claiming it was her favorite. Perhaps the dress actually was her favorite a long time ago and perhaps it was again in that moment, but many, MANY other outfits have taken its place since I placed it on top of my sewing kit with a silent promise to make it wearable again.
I checked the label after Nora helped me cut the string from the last knot. Inside the collar, the tag read 3-4 years. So she outgrew it two years ago. So I’m a little late in my mending.
Maybe I am repairing the dress for some other little girl. Maybe Nora will squeeze into this sundress one last time this month, top it off with a sweater and warm tights and then never wear it again. The peaceful moment on the rug was worth the time and patience it took, even though other more important tasks lurked in the back of my mind.
"Pick me up!" "Finish me!" whisper the other unfinished projects around the house. I am not talking here about laundry. The dirty laundry has nothing to say to me and I've stopped speaking to the dishes. I mean the Big Projects, (specifically that one that starts with "B" and ends with "ook,") that challenge and push me, that offer satisfying rewards. Projects that require solitude, thought and time.
I probably had the patience to sit and complete this overdue job of mending the sundress that morning because I went to bed earlier than usual the night before. And the day before I had said “no” to a prior writing commitment that was taking a lot of my time and mental energy. Who knows if it was actual minutes I gained or just the mental dusting that cleared some space to finally break open the sewing box?
I usually don’t have the patience for such an avoidable and unimportant task as replacing buttons, although it has its rewards too. The good feeling of a job completed, the pleasure of teaching my daughter something new, a few quiet and happy moments together. Or when I do find the patience, time itself feels too short. I need to pick up the girls in five minutes, the school bus is honking its horn outside, or I'm trying to catch the 5:05 train into the city.
I'm not a huge fan of the writer Annie Lamott, more like a small fan, but she does has a good name for people who think that their magically unencumbered future, when the kids can take care of themselves, when they move to the country, when they move to the city, when the playroom gets converted into an office again, will be a future of creative expression and satisfying personal work. Her name for people who think like this is delusional.
I've had some delusions of my own like that.
Nora, my youngest, starts first grade next fall, leaving home from 9:00 to 3:30 every week day. I say to myself, I’ll have hours of time! These words are a variation on a theme I’ve been saying for years – when Mia started preschool, when the second one started preschool, when I first hired a regular babysitter. I'll have hours of time!
Yes, there were hours of time, like there always are. And those hours of time got filled up. Some good, essential, challenging personal work accomplished. But also lots of laundry folded, magazines and recipes read, eyebrows examined in the bathroom mirror. Card games with the little one. Sitting on a chair watching violin and piano lessons.
There's some mysterious formula I don't know yet that balances time and patience and the present moment and the needs of our household with all the creative ideas that are bumping in my brain, longing to jump out from my head.
If we had world and time enough, my little miss, we could sit around and sew buttons forever. But I don't. I have horses chomping at the bit - reviews and responses I need, not "want," but need to make to Emily White's Loneliness and Ruth Konisberg's The Truth About Grief, to Grandmother's diary and Patti Smith's Just Kids and Tracy Kidder's talk at Northwestern about Mountains Beyond Mountains.
I am an adult - I can handle two contrary notions in my mind at the same time. I can be both patient enough to enjoy the time with my girls as it disappears and also impatient enough to shut the door on them occasionally. So I will sing a song of thanks for just that simple moment on the rug with Eleanor. I know they are numbered. Moments when she still loves to sit next to her mother, is content to let me push her hair behind her ears so I can get a better look at the fat curve of her cheek.
And I will also push on with the work that is for me.