Monday, November 30, 2009

My first sewing machine

I talked to my mom on the phone yesterday - she is planning to make me some maternity clothes, and not a moment too soon either - I am beginning to "pooch out" as they say and it is only the first step toward becoming Simply Enormous. So I was thinking about sewing machines. She said that her forty-year-old Bernina, bought in Thailand while my father was posted there during the Vietnam War, was broken, and that they no longer made the part to repair it. It's the end of an era - the Bernina was a Sherman tank of a sewing machine, with a million different settings and everything in enameled metal or shiny chrome. It made me think of my own sewing machine, which I bought at a yard sale down the street from the house my parents lived in before the current one. I know that they moved in to that house in 1986, and lived there four or five years, so it must have been no later than about 1989, because I was still in high school when I bought it. My mom and I had wandered down the street to check out the bargains and saw it, and I borrowed the money from her on the spot when I saw that it was only $25. It wasn't new then - the woman who sold it said her daughter had bought it for college and never used it. I don't know how old it was exactly, but ten years doesn't seem impossible.

It is a portable Kenmore machine, with a little case and a handle to carry it. It doesn't do the fancy stitches the Bernina did - machine embroidery and decorative applique edgings and whatnot - rather, it does straight stitch, zigzag, mending stitch, blind hem stitch, and buttonhole stitch (with nifty plastic foot guides so you always make them the same size). But it has some of the workhorse features of the Bernina, including all metal fittings (the spindle that holds the thread, which pulls out of the body of the machine itself with a knurled knob, is metal - it's plastic in later Kenmore machines, I've observed) and a heavy enameled metal body. All the accessories pack away into little compartments and boxes that are cleverly built into the machine itself. It does everything I need it to do and nothing more, including fit into my tiny Asian-style living space, and I hope (knock on wood) that it never breaks down.

When we bought it from the yard sale, it was entirely intact, with all parts present and accounted for, except for the owner's manual. I thought this was a lost cause (heck, I'm still surprised to find out that you can buy a replacement carafe for a coffeemaker, and what could be more logical than that?), but my mother, who knew more about this kind of thing than I, called Sears Kenmore customer service and ordered a shiny new replacement manual. I still have it. I took it out of the box it lives in the other day when I was looking for some elastic to replace the band of the sleep mask Rex wears to keep out the light at night. I noticed, with a combination of nostalgia and amusement, that it was beginning to yellow with age.

I guess impending motherhood is making me think about my own mother a lot lately (see several recent blog entries), but the other thing that it makes me think about is the passage of time. I am now old enough to have seen a certain amount of water pass under the bridge, as it were, and finding the sewing machine manual, twenty years after my mother mail-ordered it from Sears, reminded me of that. And of the time that will begin to unfold starting next May - a whole new era. Rex observed that impending parenthood pushes you toward a new kind of friendship - that you aren't just friends with people who think like you, but more and more frequently with people who have similar experiences to you (like parenthood, and now twin parenthood). It's another way of being connected backward and forward in time. For me, being pregnant (and our families' reaction to the pregnancy) has reminded me of the way that I am made from other people, that my body doesn't just belong to me but is part of something larger, and producing something larger - in fact now it even belongs in part to Rex's family, whom I didn't even know until I was over 30. Not that anybody has been obnoxious about anything, but rather that there is a little whiff of possessiveness that this whole situation brings to the fore. Sure, they're my children, but they're also Rex's children, and they're the grandchildren of four different people, and the cousins of some as yet hypothetical other children... and so ad infinitum. You can obscure these connections to some extent when you are a single person, but marriage and children tend to remind you of how they have really been there all along.


mame said...

As usual you have expressed your thoughts beautifully. We are fortunate who have acquired family whether by the accident of our birth, by marriage, or just good luck in our friends. I am thinking of that corny but true statement: Friends double our joy and divide our grief. I am glad that you are in my family. And I wish I had a sewing machine like you have.

Natalia said...

K, I'm truly happy for you. I know that you and your partner really want to have children, and I think you'll make great parents. That said, and without trying to rain on your parade, I'm a little bothered by the end of this post. You're way too self-aware not to know that a middle-class white hetero married couple having kids is more or less the most socially sanctioned thing in America, and that can't not affect how you're experiencing impending parenthood. There are plenty of people for whom parenthood means resigning oneself to never talking to one's parents again (some gay parents come to mind). There are lots of people whose parenthood is a priori deemed unworthy by the state and the public at large because the parent is an immigrant of color or very young. Moreover, parenthood isn't the only thing that pushes people to make friends based on common experiences rather than common ideas: grief support groups and Alcoholics Anonymous come to mind. So if you weren't making friends based on shared experiences when you were child-free, then maybe you've just been exceptionally lucky in your life. And there are lots and lots of women who experience the "my body doesn't only belong to me" phenomenon in terrifying, human-rights-violating ways. I don't think you're wrong to feel the way that you do -- obviously. Your experiences are you own, and worth reflecting on. But what "marriage and children" means, versus "when you're single," isn't universal.

SEB said...

Natalia - no, of course you're right, our experience is far from universal. I didn't mean to imply that it was (though obviously I did imply that). I really only intended this as an account of my own experience, so I'm sorry that point didn't come across more clearly. (There's more, which I'll e-mail because it's more private stuff.)