When I became a mother, I had plans—so many plans!—for the countless projects my son and I would make together. It was easy at first. He was four years old and believed in my magic. We made cookie dough sitting on the kitchen floor, bound books and filled their pages with stories, foraged for toys of acorns, pinecones and giant leaves in the forest. My son requested rocks for his birthday and holiday presents. He preferred a simple bedroom with found objects displayed on shelves.
“Let’s make gifts!” was my subversive cry against Disney, American Girl and Fisher-Price and my son would smile wide, unaware that we could buy toys with their new plastic smell at the stores. For his friends, we made flags and capes out of scrap fabric and battle axes and wands out of river rocks and sticks. We also melted glycerin and pushed thrifted miniatures into molds and—ta-dah!—we had soap!
Hey, I’m good at this, I thought.
Not at motherhood—that was complicated. However, I enjoyed making things even if my son’s participation was minimal at best. Many times, he observed for 15 minutes and then lost interest because the actual making was a much longer process than the excitement of the idea.
As my son proceeded to dance through childhood and a never-ending string of birthday parties, we—mostly I—proceeded to manufacture gifts in our Toy Factory. What I yearned for was simplicity and a peaceful home—less bright saccharine colors, more subdued earth tones; less disposable blinking lights and sirens on wheels, more appreciation for Pachamama (Mother Earth). It didn’t always go as planned.
“What’s this?” one birthday boy asked and held up the small rectangle that accompanied the scrappy cape given to him by my son.
“Soap,” my son said.
He then continued to unwrap his pile of riches while the party kids “oohed” as each shiny box revealed its new contents: Legos, Nerf guns, Bakugan, Pokemon.
That was the end of soap.
Although I abhorred the manipulation tactics and waste created by the toy industry, I had a civil to lukewarm relationship with plastic. I thrifted plastic toys and later returned them as a donation, justifying my purchase as rent. Disney wedged itself into our home through the movie Cars, inspiring my son to collect those tiny metal vehicles with big cartoon faces. Bakugan balls looked pretty cool—and were also boring. Pokemon produced zero footprint because it was all over the thrift stores; children consumed Pokemon products faster than their parents could throw them out.
The Nerf phase was unavoidable and barreled through our neighborhood street like a thunderous freight train. Nerf bullets littered front doors, yards, sidewalks and bushes for years. I only cringed whenever I saw an unusable bullet with torn foam and wondered how I could repurpose such an environmental blight. However, I let that go. The kids ran outside for hours and lost track of time, and in-between were the breaks; kids swinging on the hammock underneath scrap fabric flags made by my son and scrappy festive bunting made by me.
By the time my son was 13, I figured he should try to sew his first garment as a diversion from lazy summer day video games. He and his friend wanted to make a long-sleeved raglan top, so we headed to the fabric store. His friend had never heard of such a place and my son didn’t have any memories of it because the fabric store was my sanctuary; no child tugging on my arm was allowed. The boys stumbled through the door wearing dirty baseball caps and rumpled clothes, their summertime odor trailing behind—an elixir of dirt, mushrooms, B.O. and fart. They looked around.
“It’s so quiet,” my son said.
“Like a library,” his friend said.
Since it was a weekday, the store was mostly filled with retirees. The lucky ones. They enjoyed a carefree life with their favorite hobbies.
“I feel like I’m getting older with every step I take inside this place,” his friend said.
The boys selected a large bolt of black something, carried it to the counter with gawky steps as one hoisted the front and the other held the sagging back, then forgot how many yards was needed and had to refer to the pattern while glancing at me with pleading, embarrassed faces. Back inside the comfort of home they laundered the fabric, cut the pieces with the rotary cutter which was “rad,” and began to sew on the “loud bouncy” sewing machine. Their excitement mounted once the shells of their tops were stitched together.
“Time to try them on,” I said.
They ran into bathrooms and emerged wearing droopy bags. Their tops didn’t look anything like the picture on the pattern. The fabric had relaxed and everything was too wide. It was an “epic fail,” and my son’s friend was crestfallen.
“Don’t worry!” I jumped in.
He shook his head and grimaced.
“This happens all the time!”
My son flapped his wings and laughed.
“This can be fixed!”
Fatigued by their efforts, they had other ideas and asked to play video games.
When I question my son, now 16, about the top debacle, he says he doesn’t remember disappointment.
“It was fun. I had a friend with me and we were so bad at it.”
Throughout our years together, we had some hits. Scrappy kitties with embroidered buttholes, tutus from destroyed wedding dresses and capes made out of anything. Book safes, sock zombies, and juggling and hacky sack balls. Strips of colorful fabric scraps for hours of Capture the Flag games and when left hanging in trees, a decorative celebration of long summer nights.
The “epic fail” tops have since been repurposed into garments for myself. And now my son sits at home like the rest of his friends, waiting out the quarantine. I watch him and my mind races because I have plans—so many plans!—for the countless projects he can choose to make during this moment. And if he’s willing, our next stop will be a second chance at the fabric store.
Denise Archer has joined the Sewcialist team as a Temporary Editor. Her personal garments and projects can be found @h.o.m.u.n.c.u.l.u.s
Love the friend’s comment about ageing! I also daydream about projects my kids could make, even though they are young adults.
Hahaha! Yep! I have so many plans for my son–I just want him to bite! But he’s doing good with baking, cooking and video editing 🙂
You write so beautifully, I felt tired out as if I’d been running around with your son too!
Oh thank you so much! Ha! yes, early childhood is fatiguing!
Denise, if you aren’t collecting all the stuff you’ve written for sewing sites over the years & wrting a book, I am gonna be so mad.
Oh Ciara, you are so sweet! That goes for you too! I want to read a novel of yours!
Funny story – at least they gave sewing a go though – and telling us what they said at the fabric shop made me chuckle out loud! As a Mum too I understand the frustration of being keen to make things with your child. It was fine when my son was really little, he loved all the crafting (well, nearly all) – wish we’d tried soap, sounds like fun. Usually I prepped a lot beforehand so he didn’t wander off in boredom as some things weren’t as quick as he hoped. Then school happened and there were few others who had Mums interested in making things at home, so our crafting slowly dropped off. Now he’s in his 20’s the only inventive thing he enjoys seems to be cooking and he is successful mostly. If I reminisce about making things together he just rolls his eyes good humouredly!
Oh so sweet to watch your child turn into an adult. If he ever has a child, he’ll return to you and ask about all those projects (haha). My son enjoys cooking too. I’m hopeful he can get a good set of recipes under his belt during this pandemic.
I have learnt to not push my son with his culinary skills – he lived away at Uni for 3 years – didn’t want advice on recipes before he went nor when he came back on holiday. Now he’s here permanently for a while (new job, in lockdown, working from home, dreaming of the future in his own pad !) – he sometimes just offers to cook and his few signature dishes are fab!
Nice! That’s something for me and my husband to look forward to!
Thank you Denise for another inspiring read! I too have dreams of crafting with my boys, of banishing plastic and screens from our house… Which of course will never happen. We do enjoy crafts together for short periods of time, but TV, Bakugan and now Beyblades always seem more attractive. The little one has been chewing on the big one’s nerf bullets and destroying them, and I could very much relate to your thoughts about repurposing them! Thank you for showing us that it doesn’t have to be perfect to still be meaningful. Much love, V(iolaine)
Hey Violaine! Oh my goodness, I forgot about Beyblades! Those were just making an entry as my son was growing out of them. Hexbugs was another one that my son got into–don’t know if those are in your house. The video game use seems to only increase with age… However, there are experts now studying gaming and their conclusion is that it’s not harmful at all–at least that makes me feel a little better about all the pandemic screen time… Much love to you!
Love it!!! Great story, great mom, and great example of how kids look back at their childhood!! (Usually with more joy and happiness than we feared they were feeling in the moment!) It has been my greatest joy to watch my kids grow. That doesn’t mean rearing them wasn’t a challenge and that there weren’t times when I longed for the days when hours spent turning over logs looking for “GWUBS” was the height of excitement with an adventurous mom!!! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Celeste! Parenthood is a fun and creative adventure for sure. And lots of work as everyone knows! Thank you for sharing your snippet of motherhood.
“their summertime odor trailing behind—an elixir of dirt, mushrooms, B.O. and fart” – that line there, Denise, that is pure poetry!
Hahaha! I aim to please!
The description of summertime boy odour cracked me up😆. I was not as brave as you with handmade gift giving – our homeschooling friends got and were very appreciative of handmade gifts but once my kids were older and started school I didn’t want them to be declared any more “weird” than they had been thought for being homeschooled in the first place and so I often just played it safe.
hahaha! yep, I totally get that. That’s so cool that you homeschooled your kids!