catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 2 :: 2006.01.27 — 2006.02.09


Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be clueless

Home skills are not something we come by naturally anymore. By ?naturally,? I mean that they aren?t something handed down to us by our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Somewhere along the line, passing down skills to our daughters ceased to become a necessity?mothers entered the public workplace and daughters raised themselves.

For women in my generation, if we need or want to learn something, we are responsible to obtain it on our own. Sometimes this means buying a book and figuring out the processes necessary just by reading; other times it means taking a class to study and learn. Still other times it means seeking out another woman who knows what it is we want to do and simply asking them to show us how. All of these ways to obtain new knowledge are ours to initiate. I don?t think this is the way it was meant to be.

Putting the privileged aside, when I think back to life 100 years ago, I imagine that quilt-making, baking, and sewing were not extra-curricular activities one had to take in school, or that someone had to ride her horse and buggy to every Thursday night from 6-9pm. Back then, these skills were necessities of life. Mothers, doing their jobs to raise their daughters to survive, passed down these necessary skills to their daughters intentionally. Girls grew up seeing their mothers in the kitchen?creating life-giving sustenance for their families and caring for their family?s basic daily needs with their hands. You see it on the old fashioned tea towels that line antique store shelves today: Monday was wash day; Tuesday was baking day; Wednesday was sewing day, and so on.

I consider myself to be fairly crafty and possess several skills quickly being relegated to the vintage variety. I can sew; I make candles; I bake bread using flour I grind from wheat berries. I don?t wear a skirt every day, keep my head covered, or live on an Amish compound; these are simply things I either enjoy doing or find helpful to my family.

But these are not things I came by naturally. I learned to sew in ninth grade Home Economics; I learned to bake bread by reading websites; I attended an evening class taught by a friend to learn how to make candles. I?m not bitter that I had to learn these things myself, but maybe just a bit disappointed.

Most of my friends who have expressed an interest in learning a new skill find it too daunting of a task to do so on their own. And the commitment it takes to learn from someone else requires either too much time or too much money. One of my friends received a very nice sewing machine for Christmas about four years ago. She took a semester?s worth of lessons from the local fabric shop and hasn?t touched her machine since. Another of my friends is skilled in the art of canning (taking fresh fruit or vegetables and preserving them in a glass jar for later use). I expressed my own interest to her in learning how to do this. She gave me some photocopied instructions and offered to demonstrate for me, but I never followed through because of the amount of work it looked like on the Xerox. Truly, personally passing on basic home skills are becoming a thing of the past.

I love to pass on what I know to others, but I am cautious about to whom. It?s not that I wish to be stingy with my knowledge or abilities, nor even that I?m an elitist when it comes to sewing or baking. I?m just weary of gals expressing a curious interest in what I do, me spending hours personally teaching things to them, hoping to see them continue, only to notice that nothing more happens. If it?s a demonstration they want, then there are plenty of books available for that. What I really enjoy is having a woman earnestly desire to learn something new?something she can create with her hands, something she can pass on to her own daughters or friends. When I become convinced the desire is real and not simply curious, it is no burden to me to share my time with them.

As I mentioned, one of my skills is making scented container candles. I enjoy lighting a candle to match the season or my mood, knowing it to be a product of my own hands. I also love giving candles as gifts, knowing there is value in their uniqueness as they are made by me. Just before Christmas, one of my friends shared her desire to learn the art of candle making and she brought her children over for several hours one day while I shared the skill with her. It was a wonderful time of passing on what I knew, knowing she would in turn possess the ability to pass on the uniqueness of candlemaking to others. It was wonderful to go to her house several days later and see her table lined with candles she had made herself?without my help?packaged and ready to be delivered to her friends and family for Christmas. Knowing that what you spent time teaching to someone else is being utilized is what makes the sharing of the skill so satisfying.

I know the age we live in isn?t one that requires women to know how to do much domestically anymore. After all, we have groceries on every corner in which to buy bread and department stores galore to shop for comforters and curtains. In fact, oftentimes it is less expensive to buy a ready-made product than it is to purchase the supplies and make the same product yourself. I am asked all the time if I make my children?s clothes and the truthful answer is, no, I don?t because it would be cost-prohibitive for me to do so for the bulk of their wardrobes. But there are certain things that I make for them both for economic reasons as well as to help them begin to place a value on home-crafted goods. This past Christmas, I thought it would be fun for the girls to have new pajamas for both them and their baby dolls. To buy matching girl and doll pajamas from American Girl would have cost $200 for all four of my girls (and all four baby dolls). I was able to make the sets for $40 total. There is definite value?economic and sentimental?in being able to do that.

As my girls continue to grow, I look forward to passing on what I know to them. I know not all of them will develop an interest or passion in all of the same things I have, but I think it is important for them to learn some of these basic steps because they are life skills and they can begin to figure out their areas of interest. And, if there is something they develop an interest in that I do not know how to do, I look forward to seeking out someone who does know and learning with my girls, perhaps tapping the knowledge their grandmother has while she (and it) is still available. I believe that just as there is value in the knowing, there is also value in the learning; and there is also value in the time spent with the one doing the teaching.

Basic home skills are becoming a lost art, but they don?t have to be. It?s time to rekindle the love of creating with our hands and passing it down to the next generation?not with a Xerox copy of directions, but through the age-old method of intentionality and care, taking our daughters by the hand and teaching them ourselves the value of what cannot always be purchased but nevertheless acquired.

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