Requiem for a Sewing Machine

I’ve wanted a sewing machine for a while now. It’s one of those things, like a Ninja Foodi or a KitchenAid Stand Mixer, that I’ve put on hold to take care of more pressing financial matters. I definitely want to get my hands on one before school returns to in-person classes, though. Sam will need masks when it does. I also want to learn to use a machine because of the problems I’ve been having with the nerves in my right hand. It makes sewing by hand difficult and often painful.

Looking at sewing machines made me remember the sewing machine my mother had when I was a little girl. I don’t seem to recall her ever using it; it seemed to be in need of a needle or a few small repairs that were pushed aside for other concerns. It was an old (even then) Kenmore sewing machine that was housed in its own two-door wooden cabinet with a fold-out leaf. The cabinet was gorgeous–the wood was beautifully carved and stained walnut, and the pulls for the doors were lovely brass rings mounted on matching hardware. The machine itself was less attractive, but I’m sure it got the job done when it was in working order.

In the meantime, though, the sewing machine cabinet served as a perfectly lovely stage for the productions my sister Rachel and I would put on for our family using our dolls and stuffed animals. We called it “Mount Sinai Theater” (though the spelling of Sinai was so badly mangled that I’ve blocked it from my memory entirely–which was my fault, I must add–phonetically, it sounded very different from its spelling to younger me). While the sewing machine may not have been able to fulfill its intended purpose back then, it enabled us to create some fun memories as a family.

Unfortunately, my mother doesn’t have her sewing machine anymore. After almost 20 years, my parents divorced, and about a couple of years later, my mother married her second husband, and we moved to a new town. While we were waiting for our new home to be ready, someone broke into the trailer where some of our things were being stored and stole Mom’s sewing machine.

…that’s the story we were told, anyway. The more I reflect on what I was told, the more implausible it seems. Only someone who knew the value of an antique Kenmore in the original cabinet would go to all the trouble of stealing such a large and heavy item. I think what really happened is that Mom said or did something that irritated her second husband, and out of spite, he and his friend took her sewing machine and sold it. After being subjected to him for the duration of their marriage and divorce, his true character became abundantly clear.

Unfortunately, I can’t ask him what really happened to my mother’s sewing machine because he died almost 20 years ago. It’s just as well, because I doubt he would admit to any of the cruel things he did to my mother, my sister Rachel, or me.

Meanwhile, though, I sometimes check Craigslist or eBay to look for a familiar walnut cabinet. It’s probably long since been turned firewood and scrap, but nostalgia is a powerful thing.

As for me, I’ve got my eye on a sewing machine that is supposed to be good for first-time sewing machine users. I’m probably going to buy it as soon as the stimulus comes in.


Don’t just do something; stand there

There is very little quite as frustrating as working all day, feeling completely wiped out by bedtime, but still feeling like you didn’t accomplish much.

Most of the work I do is the invisible labor that nobody really values because it doesn’t translate into income for my family. While it saves my family thousands of dollars, it’s considered worthless because it doesn’t bring my family that much closer to being debt-free or buying a house.

During the week, I get up at 5:45 am to get breakfast started. Before COVID, I would also prepare my husband’s lunch and have it ready to go for him. If I’m lucky, our 14-month-old baby doesn’t wake up until breakfast is ready. If I’m not lucky, I check her diaper and put her in her playpen so I can finish making breakfast.

Breakfast is at 6:15 am, more or less. My husband requests oatmeal during the week because it is filling and helps him get through the morning without snacking. Our 12-year-old daughter (Sam) usually wakes up around that time, too. She’s not a fan of oatmeal, but we always have her favorite cereal on hand (plain Cheerios) or sometimes muffins. Our 14-month-old (Nem) is ambivalent about solids, but she sometimes eats oatmeal or cheerios for breakfast.

After breakfast is when good intentions go to die. My husband goes to his office, and I do my best to manage the household in the interim. Sam is autistic and electronics-obsessed, so it’s sometimes hard to find a balance among letting her have non-educational screentime, teaching her essential life skills, and helping her get better at subjects she doesn’t like (and because God has a sense of humor, those subjects are reading and writing). Nem is a very people-oriented child who demands a lot of attention. (I’ve had to stop writing this paragraph four times now to attend to her needs.)

If I’m lucky, I can distract the girls with some Sesame Street and start a load of laundry and put a few dishes in the dishwasher. (I am NEVER buying pans that can’t go in the dishwasher again.) If I’m super-lucky, I can grab a shower.

Nem normally takes a nap after breakfast, and if I didn’t sleep well the night before, I sometimes join her. Other times, I take the opportunity to shower. (It’s hard to get it done when she’s awake and fussing.) Sam is very creative and mostly good at keeping herself out of mischief. Nem is very people-oriented and likes to be near me at all times. She is very charismatic and friendly, and like her sister, she seems utterly fearless. Needless to say, I have my hands full keeping Nem out of mischief.

When lunchtime comes around, I have to find a way to keep Nem amused so I can cook. Sesame Street has done the trick so far. Nem is obsessed with Cookie Monster, and she will happily watch him sing or chase cookies. Her favorite song so far is “Google Bugle.” (She and her sister both really love Fall Out Boy, too.)

After lunch, I try in earnest to get done what I hope to accomplish before my husband’s workday ends. Sometimes Nem takes a second nap, which makes getting those things done easier. Sam helps out, too, as she can.

Once Michael’s workday is done, I do my best to have supper ready. Once again, Sesame Street saves the day if Nem is awake. Sometimes, if nothing on hand seems appealing, we’ll order food. It’s tricky on a tight budget, but we have to make it work, especially when the people who fulfill our grocery order can’t find the things I’ve ordered for our meal plans. Ever since COVID hit, our food expense has more than doubled. It’s frustrating.

After supper, Michael usually plays his favorite video game to unwind. We also watch various shows together before putting Sam to bed. We’re still trying to figure out how to get Nem to go to bed at the same time every night. Given that she was a surprise baby, we had long since filed away the whole “how to get the baby to sleep at a consistent time” thing. Sam thrives on routine and is pretty cooperative as bedtime comes. Frankly, I feel a little spoiled by how well she does with routine. With Nem, it’s trial and error (mostly error, but we’re figuring it out).

Once Nem is down for bed, I finish up what I must do before I go to bed, such as running the dishwasher or handwashing dishes if I don’t have enough for a full load (I am never buying pans that aren’t dishwasher safe again). On a good night, I can get maybe six hours of sleep before the whole cycle starts again.

Weekends are a bit better, and I can get a bit more sleep, but my duties are largely the same. On the plus side, I don’t have to worry about the kids disrupting Michael’s workday by being too noisy.

Anyway, it took me a week to be able to complete this blog. I hope that future blogs are easier to write. I’m slowly finding balance.