If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know already that almost every area in my life is riddled with guilt – or potential guilt. Well, Halloween is no exception.
In this case, it is my bizarre idea that if I don’t make Owen’s costume myself, I will have failed as a mother. My mother always made our costumes (though sometimes we went as gypsies in oversized skirts and tops, with a dollop of lipstick). Also, I am not a particularly clever sewer, so I have to make something really creative without resorting to a pattern. And because I am likely to make something vaguely makeshift, I should really spend as little money as possible. Luckily, one of the most amusing recent trends (to me) is to upcycle — take scraps and turn them into treasures. This satisfies the environmentally conscious (recycling and reusing in one! No added pressure on the planet!) and the inherently cheap. Scraps of fabric may be found in one’s fabric bin, in the fabric store reject bin, at the second hand store … and they cost pennies. I spent $4 and have reams of fabric left over.
I had this idea that Owen could be a turtle. I thought I could make a breast plate and a shell out of fabric and an old cushion I had hanging around. I could quilt on the shell pattern. And put Owen in some green and/or brown clothes (and some green makeup maybe) and voila! Instant turtle.
Like many of my plans, this one is turning into more work than I was hoping, with less reward. Duncan, my only judge on the project so far, looked at my creation and asked if I could make it look less like Owen was wearing a pillow on his back. I cut open the “shell,” added a book – it still looked like a pillow – just heavier and less comfortable. We went back to the original plan. Now Duncan has suggested painting the quilted pattern so it will look more like a shell. I entirely agree with his suggestion, only unfortunately, it means I’m not finished yet – and I was really hoping to be finished this costume in 2 hours.
So I will (next weekend) get out my acrylic paints and try to make shell-like shading on the quilted pillow backpack. This is a lovingly made costume that will be awarded lots of points for trying – but it will never be nice enough to merit a professional photograph. Oh well, at least I will have avoided commercialism this Halloween. That’s a little less guilt for me.
I will keep you all updated on my progress and will include pictures once the costume (such as it is) is complete.
I was staring at Owen’s little hands the other night as he was drinking his nighttime bottle. Perfect little hands with perfect little nails. Unbitten. And an idea crystallized that I’ve been pondering a lot lately – that the anxieties I have for him are about all the things I can’t control. None of us can predict our lives. I can’t prevent him from becoming a nail biter – at least, I can’t prevent the troubles that might cause him to start biting his nails (as I did in grade three). This is not about aesthetics nor does it project a denial that he will grow up. It isn’t the same as knowing that my smooth-skinned baby will one day be a hairy (or not so hairy) man, will need to wear deodorant, or will have bad breath. Those vague awarenesses of his adolescent and adult future don’t reflect his state of mind the way nail biting might.
But of course, I don’t want him to stay a child. I want him to grow up and become someone whose life I can’t control or protect. I want him to learn from his mistakes, fall down, get up, fall down, get up again. I want him to fear responsibility but take it on anyway and learn that it’s not that bad. I want him to discover what he likes by figuring out what he doesn’t like. We don’t all bite our nails, but we must all experience some anxiety, surely. I just hope it doesn’t paralyze him. I hope he can acknowledge it and move on.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, we took a family vacation. At one intersection, my mother instinctively took my hand to cross the street. I reacted violently: I shook my hand away from hers, with a teenage horror of being perceived as a child. I don’t remember the whole exchange. I think my mother and I both ended up apologizing – she for taking my hand, I for my visceral overreaction. I sure hope I apologised. I’ve thought about this moment a lot over the years, maybe because it was one of the first times I could see both sides of the parent-child relationship. Now that I’m a parent, I am all the sorrier for my reaction.
Owen and I walked to the park together yesterday afternoon. He walked most of the way by himself. He’d hold my hand to steady himself, then let go, taking as many shaky steps as he could. I tried to keep my hand close to him in case he wanted to grab onto it. Sometimes he did hold on to steady himself. Most of the time he didn’t. Often he fell. And then I’d pick him up and put him back on his feet, giving him my hand again, to steady him.
And I just realised that it’s a pretty good metaphor for parenting in general: my hand will be hovering over him for a long time, there if he wants to hold onto it, but also his to release.
I saw a little girl the other day wearing a “Little Miss Perfect” T-shirt. And I thought: I wouldn’t let my child wear that T-shirt unless it were worn with irony. Children don’t really inspire irony, though, or do they? So I started to think of other potential t-shirts I could live with:
- Little Miss Good Enough
- Little Miss Trying Really Hard But Not Quite Making It
- Little Miss Almost There, Maybe?
- Little Miss Imperfect
- Little Miss Only Human
Because I guess I’ve always had issues with the idea of telling a child that he or she is perfect, or “the best.” Owen is my favourite boy, but he’s going to have to grow up with the knowledge that he’s fallible.
And I guess I have some doubts about this philosophy, but for now, at least, I’m sticking with it. I’ve encountered too many students with an irritating sense of entitlement, who don’t believe they can do wrong. I don’t know whether their parents held them accountable for their actions or whether they were told they were perfect – maybe it’s just a personality trait – but it is not a personality trait I want to foster in my child.
Owen is slowly learning to make intelligible sounds, and it’s a joy to watch him differentiate between them, but one of the things I didn’t expect was to have to correct him. He gets “Dada” right most of the time now, but his “Mama” is a cross between “Baba” and “Rararara” – so he gets a lot of “No” and a (very smiley) correction. But Owen doesn’t like to be wrong. Occasionally, after he’s been corrected, he makes a bizarre sound like a cross between a laugh and a cough, as if to cover up the fact that he made a mistake. And I certainly understand the impulse to tell him he’s done really well, even though the sound coming out of his mouth is completely wrong.
And I feel silly even bringing this up, but it’s been preoccupying me lately: how to teach him (over the long run) his strengths and his limitations.
If anyone has any ideas to share, I’d love to hear them.
Little Miss Trying Really Hard But Not Quite There Yet