Friday, May 29, 2009

A Stitch in Time

"Will this thread work with this fleece?" I asked the 50 something clerk standing confidently behind the counter at the fabric store. Unlike many retail outlets, fabric departments are not tended by teenagers. 99.999999% of teens can't thread a sewing machine, let alone set a sleeve, bind a button hole, or install a zipper. Girls only, home economics (sewing and cooking) were required subjects when I entered junior high. My first project was exactly the same as every other girl's. An apron. I could choose one yard of any color I liked as long as it was gingham. Woven gingham, not that flimsy printed on stuff. By the end of the semester, every mother of a seventh grade girl at Berkley Junior High was trying to figure out what to do with her customized apron. Since steering a jackhammering needle down a perfectly straight line, one foot on a lurching power pedal, WATCH OUT FOR YOUR FINGERS, is not a skill that comes that naturally to a 12-year-old, our final projects weren't exactly runway perfect. While having those gingham lines to follow was supposed to help, mostly we learned an important life lesson in class: Ripping out and starting over is part of the process. I liked having that one class period a day with just the girls.

Sewing was distinctively a girl thing and I liked it. My granny tutored me in the summers and with a few extra lessons in tailoring from the local Singer center, I actually got pretty good at making facings lie flat and crisp edges. And then in college, about the time Virginia Slims tried to convince women that we'd come a long way baby, long enough that we could die of lung cancer at the same rate as men, I bought my own sewing machine for the equivalent of 100 minimum wage hours (a little less than $135). Blackberries and laptops may have been glimmers in someone's eyes, but in mine, I was set. That zig zag machine and my new electric Underwood were the only two machines I'd ever need.

Like riding a bike, sewing skills stay with you for life. I could recreate that apron tomorrow. Over the years I've made drapes, curtains, pants, suits, kids nighties. Some projects to be worn, and others soon found their way to the back of the closet with that first apron. No matter. I just like doing it. But like finger painting and star gazing, I just don't do it that much anymore. But I love the new fabric smell, putting the pins in, taking them out, even ripping and starting over is okay. Part of the process. Sewing is a novelty now. I've outsourced my own craftsmanship.

Unfortunately somewhere between their T Ball games and pre-calculus, I forgot to pass this knowledge along to my daughters who have never learned to sew. So when Kelly wanted Thomas to have a new blanket with weights in it (new idea for making restless little sleepers less, well, restless) I welcomed the task. No gingham, but being a bit rusty, I did choose a fleece with a block pattern.

Along with the wagon full of mother-regrets I and every other mother drag around, I deeply regret this oversight. And it's not because every time they need a hem tacked up or a split re-seamed they come to me -- I like that part. Because somehow, treading water in the tsunami of self-doubt that was seventh grade, using an overworked checkered apron as a sail, I managed to gain some self confidence. Suddenly I not only knew how dresses and skirts worked from the inside out, I began to understand how tables and cabinets are made. How pieces can be notched and attached. How to make a pattern. To know what it means to have a vision and make it. The ability to sew is part of the fabric of me, being a constructionist is part of who I am and how I view the world -- in little pieces that just might work if put together right.

So, tonight while adding the binding to Thomas' blanket spread out on the dining room table, twirling thread between my fingers to make knots, I was listening to the misogynistic debate over Sotomayer. Does she think she's better than white guys? (doubtful, but has she had to work harder than white guys to get where she is?) Is she smart enough? (ivy league, summa cum laude, pahleeze) Limbaugh compared her to David Duke of the KKK despite her lack of hateful actions or rhetoric and G. Gordon Liddy even went so far as to say he hopes he doesn't have a case come before her while she is menstruating. How stupid can an white male convicted criminal be? She's 54 years old. In lawyer speak, we call that twisted point moot. (Maybe he was the white guy she was talking about having better judgment than. Eh?) Who are these people and why does the news media give them a platform? Honestly, this kind of rhetoric really tests a woman's opposition to gratuitous, blood spattering violence, especially one no longer in possession of a gingham apron.

Which is all to say, us fifty something women still need some girls only time with the young ones. Passing along such important wisdom such as "you can't go wrong with dual duty thread," teaching them how things are made from the inside out. How to be constructionists in their own lives. Clearly, we might have come a long way, but not long enough.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gather ye goosebumps as ye May

It is May, isn't it? Isn't it? May is a bit hard to reconcile with forty degree winds off Lake Erie and frozen fingertips. When we went down to pick up our race packets on Saturday, the weather was on every one's mind. Will it still be raining? Will it snow? Did you see the frost advisories? Kelly picked up the packets for herself and 13 of her friends who flew in from all around the east coast to attend the race. And then we all proceeded to Katie's for a pasta dinner prepared by chef Doug.

This morning, the alarm went off at 5AM. By 6:30 we were shivering on the steps of St. John's Cathedral, gathering Team Stephanie, some to run the half marathon, some the 10K, some walkers, some runners, us among thousands thronging the shoot, East Ninth Street.

Did I mention it was cold? If these pictures look blurry (they are) it is because my hands were shaking. First, the marathoners and half marathoners took off. Then the 10K walkers and runners assembled.
I was so proud of Ben (aged 9) who gamely set a swift pace for his Uncle Doug and me for the length of the race. As we strode down ninth toward the lake and made our turn east, I had to put on the sunglasses I had slipped in my pocket in the unlikely event that the sun decided to make an appearance, which it did. Bold and bright. Still cold, mind you. But sunny and clear.

What is it about these events? There are too few opportunities for communities to come together. Times when people actually leave their nests to gather in the streets. Fourth of July and some scattered rib cookoffs in the summer. That's about it. But now for two weekends in a row, last week the Mitrocondrial Run Wild for a Cure race at the zoo and this week's marathon, I have been swept up in happy, moving crowds. As we came past the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I couldn't help singing along to Cleveland Rocks.

Oh, and our team did have a first place finisher. It wasn't the ringer brought in to run the marathon. I understand he was unfortunately injured (ouch).
It was my neighbor and friend Judy Willour (pictured here with her husband Ron) who came in first in her age division in the 10K walk. We went to college together, which means I was in the same age division. Go Judy.

It was heart warming, if nose numbing and finger freezing, to come together for this race and in memory of our Stephie. Tonight, we put the garden to bed with freshly laundered sheets. Frost advisory. What month is it?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Cleveland Marathon and Team Stephanie

Here we go. This is the big weekend. Last count, over 150 people will be participating in the Cleveland Marathon as part of Team Stephanie to raise awareness for ITP. Michael has been training steadily and will attempt his first half marathon with his son Max. His other son Frank will be running with Kelly -- a 10K. I will be walking a 10K with other friends and family. Even last year's winner will be running as part of our team.

In many ways this past year has been reliving the year before -- remember last Christmas when Steph was with us? This race is a turning point in my mind. We are turning toward the future. Bringing her spirit with us as we run toward tomorrow. I suppose I should have been more active trying to find pledges for this event, but have been focused on the small faces looking up at me at poetry assemblies and keeping my balance. Oh, and walking in preparation. Hope I walked enough as to not embarrass myself. Glug.

Many thanks to Kelly Weist for pulling this all together. And to Chris at the ITP Foundation. I tell everyone I meet about ITP and its lethal potential. Every school I visit. But this one event will do more to raise awareness than years of school visits. Wish us luck!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole

Long about the time of year that only the most well-seasoned, irrationally hopeful Clevelander could identify as early spring -- when graying snow stashes cling to shady corners, puddles crunch, and the cats and dogs jockey for camp spaces by the register. Sometime after that new pair of Christmas gloves has gone missing and before any Ohioan is bold enough to exercise her right bare arms, I go down the rabbit hole of school visits. NJ, CO, CT, MD, PA, IN, GA, FL, AZ, TX, SC, NY, My family knows the route and that I will come out the other side – sometimes with more confidence than I have myself.

A construction paper bright and wondrous place of poetry talk, new insights, new voices, new friends, ideas and observations weaving into extraordinary tapestries of writing and kids finding their voices in gold fish bowls, bathtubs and thunderstorms, this rabbit hole can be hard on friendships, garden preparations, and any manner of writing or exercise routine. It is populated by criss cross applesauce first graders and just plain cross middle schoolers., teachers looking for a boost to get them through the last few weeks and administrators juggling zero tolerance policies with sky high goals – all counting the days until the great summer laze.

In between the expanse of freshly mopped school auditoriums, spindly-armed hugs, cheerful libraries and miles of blackboards, white boards and smart boards (can anyone legibly write on those things?) is a maze of airports, endless security checks (the chiffon scarf? really?) rental car surprises and hotel clerks who contentiously write the room number on the key card folder as if some other fool might be checking in after midnight and straining to hear the room number of the canvas bag laden poet pulling the suitcase with the mended handle. From plastic wrapped cups to stemmed glassware, school visits are a lesson in contrasts and in the absurd diversity of our schools.

This year, for no premeditated reason, I didn’t document all the visits here. I just lived them, eyes and heart wide open. If I were to guess why I unplugged, it is because I am balancing travel, working on a new book of poems on friendship, an expanded garden, and a new wave of grieving that came with the air-shattering power of a spring thundershower. The grieving has become brighter as the weather has warmed, as we count down the weeks now days until this first week in May. It makes the mental musings of blogging and social networking seem like stray lock of hair, something to mindlessly brush aside. To be honest, I haven’t been that good at returning phone calls and emails to friends either. Staying on course while being tossed around in emotional turbulence requires a self-centered focus. Looking for balance, I just unplugged.

Tomorrow I leave for IRA, which is where I was when I got the calls that Steph was in critical condition but going to be just fine and then the call that nothing would be just fine again. That meeting was in Atlanta and this one is in Minneapolis. Still, I have had had to wrestle with myself to make plane reservations, hotel plans (still no reservation for Sunday night) this year, maybe because I am not at all up to reliving the memory of that week with my heart being miles away from the rest of me. IRA, the meeting I look forward to every year (the real signal that spring has blossomed) to connect with friends and new ideas is now weighted down with a memory so much heavier than that bag of new books I usually bring home. But I will go there supported by all the poetry kids have shared with me this spring.

Focused on keeping me all together, I’ve swaddled myself in the generous love of teachers across the country, the love of my extended family, the persistent proddings of friends, and the poems and smiles of hopping, hopeful and even surly children. It’s been a wonderful spring and I’ve consciously enjoyed every minute, even the tearful ones. I think (hope) once we get through this first anniversary, I will be able to pull the curtain open and re-engage.
Thanks Eva.