Monday, June 25, 2012

Brilliant Mistake

I started knitting years ago when my kids were little.  It was a way to fill the time when I was spending so much time sitting in a room with kids watching Elmo, Kipper, Calliou, and J.J. The Jet Plane (I can still sing all the songs from all of these shows).

I am not a great knitter.  As with cooking, I am a recipe girl.  I have to write everything down and double check a lot.  I can't breeze along, chatting and I don't understand enough to ever create my own pattern or modify one in any significant way.  But I like to try new things, so have done cables, lace patterns, sleeves, and other things as I grew more confident.

Early on, I knitted a lot of clothes for the kids.  Gorgeous cable hoodies, striped cardigans, a dress for my daughter, hats, scarves.  But they grew out of them so fast.  I kept giving them to nieces and nephews.  I switched to making toys -- monsters of various sorts.  But in the last few years, I lost my mojo.  I knit a few baby blankets but they took forever.  I would barely pick up the needles at all.

Recently, I got the urge to knit.   I decided to knit something for myself.  I had made a few sweaters for myself in the past but not for a while.  I got a great pattern for a vest that could be knitted all in one piece.  It felt good.  I got my mojo back and was really enjoying knitting again.  Before the vest was even done, I got materials to make scarves for the kids and another sweater for me, this time from an amazing book of Knit Kimonos. But as I was finishing the vest, I, oddly, ran out of yarn.  Got more.  Finished.  Put it on and there was a huge ruffle on the butt.  I didn't remember that being in the pattern.  Realized that the reason I'd run out of yarn was that at a point when I was supposed to add two stitches at two places in a row, I'd instead added stitches the entire row between the two spots.  And I had done this three times! Oops. 

Rather than view this as failure, I have decide to consider it a brilliant mistake.  My first modification to a pattern.  I rather like the ruffle -- it is like a bustle.  It gives the vest an oddly romantic profile.  Or a peacock pride.  I will just try to keep the ruffles off the kimonos. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Glad I'm Not Young Anymore

Yesterday, noticing that most of my summer Ts were worn out, stretched, or otherwise unspectacular, I tried to go shopping.  I thought I'd go to some cheapo stores and just pick up a few summer tops to perk up the old wardrobe.  So, when my husband came home to give me a break from kid care, instead of going somewhere to do work, I biked to a corner on Michigan Ave with Top Shop, H&M and the Water Tower Place. 

Top Shop was depressing.  The clothes were clearly all made of much younger gals than me.  There were lots of belly shirts, see through blouses, super short minis, and cutout dresses.  I felt myself dreading when my daughter reaches her teens and hoping fashion would change significantly by then. I thought how glad I was that when I was young, it was the era of punk and post punk, when you were not expected to be "sexy" in any conventional way and when combat boots and a vintage 50s dress with dyed asymmetrical hair were the height of cool.  Our clothes were not so body conscious (in fact, some looked like trash bags) and there did not seem to be such a mandate to be "hot" as there is now.  Funky, punky, aggressive, edgy and witty were more the adjectives we craved for our appearance.
H&M had clothes that looked like something I might wear -- basic striped Ts -- but when I tried them on, nothing fit.  I realized, once again, that while I am not hugely overweight, my body is out of sync with clothing designed for younger bodies.  I tried a few tops with what I imagined were waist ties, but the tie hit me at some bizarre point midway between what I think of as my waist (a space that has always been more imagined than real, as I never really indent at the middle) and what I would consider an empire waist, just below the hooters.  All this did was thicken me.  Then I tried a little summer dress.  Again, the waist fell in some nowhere-land -- it must be my descending boobs -- and the length managed to chop my thighs in a way that made my legs look like massive tree trunks.  (I am 5' 2", so I am not sure how these would fit on people of normal height.)

Moving to the Water Tower mall, I tried Banana Republic, my old standby.  But even there, I failed.  Instead of overly young, much of the clothing seemed too corporate.  As a teacher, who mostly works at home or bikes to coffee shops and libraries to work in the summer, I do not need fancy silk blouses.  And the more casual stuff they had was misshapen, too, but in different ways from H&M.  Instead of clothes that seemed cut for tiny dolls, the clothes at banana seemed too big.  The T-shirts were all long and baggy, cut to hit my thighs, even in the smallest size.

Some of this, I know, relates to how messed up our body images are.  The youthful shops aim for the anorectic crowd who all want to be size 0.  The older shops target obese Americans and alter all their sizing so that we do not know how fat we have gotten.  (I have dropped multiple sizes since high school while weighing more now than then).  So, a small is now built for someone who is not really small but smaller than the very fat person who used to shop in a specialty shop like Lane Bryant but now wears a medium in many stores.

I now understand how women of a certain age become frowzy.  The temptation to start wearing Birkenstocks and granny dresses, or pull-up pants and Ts with funny cats on them starts to make sense when you see the alternatives.    Better than trying to fit a youthful style, perhaps.  For me, vintage is the answer.  A few months back, I scored a gorgeous fifties floral dress, a sixties polka dot and a 70s Pucci, all in one day. All fit my body perfectly and did not make me feel like I was trying to compete with teenagers, but rather hoping to have cocktails with the grown ups, watch art films, or have meetings in skyscrapers. I'll continue to go backwards, not to some imagined youth in myself, but to an older style.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stay at Home Madwoman

If it has not been clear before, it is now.  If I were a stay at home mom, I would go bananas.  I honestly do not know how people do it.  Every summer, there are stretches when I have a week or more with the kids, with no sitter or camp or anything.  It always has some very nice time -- swimming, playing games, cooking, bowling.  But I always blow my top, more than once. 

Part of it is that I do not have the capacity to entertain them for hours on end.  I would like to park them in front of a TV and ignore them all day.  But, I try to avoid having them become such lazy slobs.   I would like to open the door and say "go play and I'll see you at dinner time" but that doesn't happen anymore.  So, while  constantly trying to pry them away from ipods, TVs and other screens, I have to invent things to do (telling them to go read or play on their own works for a while but not all day).

This year, I have been setting up a lot of playdates, which helps keep the kids sane and gives them a little space from each other and from me.  It has mostly been nice -- I even got my daughter and her friend a manicure!  We have also baked, played board games, and gone for walks. But, then, because I am not the sitter, but the mom, part of me feels like I have to use this time, time when I cannot do my own work, to do practical stuff that I do not want to do when I am paying a sitter (and should be doing my own work).  So, in the cracks between playdates and bowling and playing and swimming, I have done doctor's appointments, haircuts, lots of errands, and massive clean ups of the basement, bedrooms, closets.  The kids are okay with the doctors and haircuts, even with the errands. But the clean ups are horrifying. These involve me taking all the stuff out of piles and boxes and cabinets and drawers and saying, "Can we get rid of this?" then fighting my kids' desire to save everything as a "treasure" or, as my 8 year old keeps saying, "something that has sentimental value."  According to my kids, the following have sentimental value:  broken toys, baby blocks, old chapstick, every drawing they ever made, every piece of plastic they ever got in a goody bag at a birthday party, every single stuffed animal that has ever crossed their paths. Sure, after wearing them down, we got rid of a lot.  It took some wheedling.  With books, I told them they could have the money we made selling the books to buy more books.  With the rest, I just made clear that no toys can come in unless there is room for them.  Still, it is a struggle.  So, inevitably I find myself yelling nonsense, making empty threats, sounding like a crazy lady.  I told my daughter that if she didn't change her ways she would end up on the reality show "Hoarders" and that she was grounded if she left even one stuffed animal on the floor out of a bin. 

Who is this crazy lady?  Why doe she care of her kids room is a mess?  Why can't she adopt a good enough housekeeping motto and leave it at that?  Why does she sound so much like her own mother?

I think it is because I am not a stay at home mom.  I want a clean place because home is both where I work and relax and both are troubled by random toys, piles of comic books, socks, and other strange misplaced items.  But, at the end of the day, I do not want it to be my job to clean that stuff up. (And I don't want it to be my husband's either.)  I kind of resent it, like I am being forced into a role that I thought I had decided to escape.  And I resent its inescapability.   I know the kids don't care, but I know, or think, they need good habits for later in life.  Even though I know that they, like most of us, will live like pigs for a while when they are older, then hopefully grow out of it and change their ways. I now have a greater sympathy for my own mom, who was also a working mom and who got no help at all at home (my father being much less helpful than my husband, who cooks and cleans a lot). And who yelled a lot.

Well, for now, it is tidy and, for now, I will try and be a nice mom.  But I, and they, are counting the days until the sitter starts work.