So, the summer's almost over and it's been, in a word, complex. It has resisted every effort at being made into some perfect little gem of a story, or demonstration of something ideal, my ideal self, ideal mother self, gardener self, cooking, crafting, writing, creative self--at least that's what this moment's assessment is. But now I've taken a few more minutes and have decided that feeling disappointed or self-flagellating about it is something I'm just not gonna do. Instead, I'll say it's been good, in all its messy, unpackaged-into-one-headline kind of way, and also boring and fun and creative and just life (and death).
Oh, sure, I had a list. Called "Summer '08" and it had lots of fun things to do on it. But it might have been a little ambitious, considering we've got three kids under the age of 8, one of whom is only 9 months old. Sometimes it's hard not to get ahead of what we can actually do at this point. I remind myself all the time that there's next year, and the one after, and the one after that, when everyone will be just a little older and we'll have lots of chances to do things we can't do now. And that sometimes the best things we end up doing aren't the ones on the list, but the things that just happen.
I'd wanted to do some fun, wholesome projects, as part of wanting to foster a love of what you can do with your hands and your ideas, and so they'd know how much fun there can be in making things together rather than buying or watching things. Both D. and E. seem to be pretty interested in art and in making things so we thought that we'd like provide some projects that would introduce them to some new materials and processes this summer. So we thought of woodcuts and creating journals, and we thought of making a little bit of a schedule to some of the days so that there might be "journal time" or "art time" sprinkled in amidst the usual everything else, like swimming at the lake and messing around with the hose and digging up worms in the woods and going fishing down the road or catching frogs in the pond or "playing dollhouse."
Last week, we did get journals. D. and E. and I went down the block to the art store last week and they picked out their own. They've been keeping them since, sometimes staying up in their beds to write after we've said goodnight but have agreed they can have a little extra time, and carrying them around wherever we go. And then also forgetting about them, of course.
I like to read blogs. Craft, cooking, mothering, creative blogs. You know, like angry chicken and soule mama and six and a half stitches and fricknits and sugar city journal and many, many others, and I get great ideas and inspiration and instruction from them. But sometimes all the reading about what everyone else is doing can inspiring, and sometimes it can just take me away from myself. Sometimes all the shots of people's great apartments and all the art and objects to buy, and the fabulous projects done with their kids, and the vacations and jam-making that just went so swimmingly, can start to feel either competitive, or like if my nursery doesn't look just so then it isn't so great after all. Don't get me wrong, I'm at once delighted with the finds and the beautiful shots and the great links, and I buy things from the links, and I bookmark the links, and I make the great stuff. But sometimes I also get that hangover-y feeling where I start to forget anything but buying and comparing and wanting and then I get a little grossed out by the seemingly ubiquitous impulse to be so perfectly bohemianly modernly creatively DIY-ily cool. There are suddenly too many perfect looking kids and families, too many ideals, to many ideas.
And then I hear myself and my friends castigating themselves because they aren't doing more "creative" projects with their kids, or staying up all night to make things for a child's birthday party--but not just because of the pleasure of it. In fact, sometimes the pleasure of it becomes the pressure of it, or I find myself about to form a negative thought about a whole summer when I could just as easily give it a different slant. The whole thing starts to become a bit of a performance--of motherhood, of craftiness, of homeschooliness, of being a creative family-ness--and then it becomes hard to tell (to me, anyway, sometimes) what's authentic and coming out of actual desire, and what's the performance for an audience, either real or imagined.
Sunday we went to the Dutchess County Fair and rode rides and ate ice cream and watched the funniest, wickedest, clown you can imagine, smoking a butt and viciously heckling sweet young men trying to impress their girlfriends by hitting a red button with a baseball to knock that evil clown in the water. We went for a walk down the road while the kids bicycled into the distance, even little E. furiously peddling way ahead on her training wheels, suddenly seeming such a big girl cycling off into her future rather than the little slip who would hang onto any scrap of her baby-ness she could, melting into you and her "fumb" going into her mouth and her other hand to twiddle her earlobe, or yours, the minute you gave her the tiniest snuggle. I think she's actually getting ready to wean, at almost 4, but that's another story. On that walk we left a bag with jars of strawberry and blueberry jam we made from berries we picked, and two pumpkin/chocolate chip muffins the kids made yesterday with Grandma. Tomorrow we have said we might do some tie-dying and maybe gather things from the woods to make a little house and furniture from sticks and a glue gun and little wooden people out of roving and wooden dowls and bits of fabric and felt. It sounds sickeningly cute, and it might be. Or maybe we'll just play a lot of badmitten and old maid.
I think this post by six and a half stitches captures some of the impulse here. She asks "What little things in our childhood do we remember? What is it that makes some things special to us, while others get left behind deep in our memories." She writes of wanting to create idyllic memories for her children like the ones she has of moments, people, places, from her childhood, and that all the knitting and sewing is part of her " desire to have played a part in the creation of their memories." "I selfishly look to the things I make as holding the promise of memory," she writes. "I don't make for the sake of making - I do so because it invokes something terribly maternal, or terribly personal which may find resonance with others through stitches."
I also make to make memories, but there's more to it, too. I also make things--including this blog--to make myself as the mother I want to be, wish I were, wish I had had, perhaps, and the mother that I sometimes actually am: some ideal of myself. And to make a mother for my children, and in the hopes that the mother I try to be is also the mother they remember me to be. And that the childhood I want for them, and for me, is the one they have, some of the time. Because I think another part of the wholesome quest is trying to keep them inside the childhood fold for as long as possible. So if I'm sewing them pillows and bags and knitting them robots and sweaters then I can keep them knitted in a little longer. I do have a fantasy of us all, as teenagers and adults and later as adults and adults, happily scattered around a table or room or yard or house, all doing projects, some together or all separate: painting, building, planting, reading, digging, sewing, knitting, cooking, and all enjoying each other in the process, even if just each other's presence while we're in our own space. It's that feeling I'm really after, some kind of enduring connection and connectedness, that's neither coercive nor smothering--or at least not too, because some is perhaps inevitable, right?