And Happy Anniversary to my husband and I!
I hope that you go into the new year full of hope and optimism, and that this fresh start gives you the chance to laugh more, love more, and sew more in the coming year!
Change why you sew. Change where you shop. Change the world.
Years ago I was sitting in the doctor’s office reading a magazine, when I came across THIS article. And although I don’t consider myself an overly sentimental person, I had tears in my eyes by the time I finished it and I immediately “saved” it for future use by spiriting the page away in my purse. It’s such a lovely essay on the joys of having any number of children that I wanted to share it with all my mommy (and daddy) friends. I’ve tried, but I can’t find a way to contact the author for permission to reprint the text of the article, so until I find a way or someone reports me or otherwise gets me in trouble (hey, I’ve already stolen a magazine page from a doctor’s office, so what do I have to lose?), I’ll settle for giving Marc Parent and Family Circle Magazine full credit. For a PDF scan of the article, click the above link.
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“Love by the Numbers”
I’m driving over rolling country roads on a last-minute trip to an all-night gas station and deli. I don’t want gas. It’s milk I’m after. Inside, I pass magazine and snack food racks on my way to the cooler in the back, swing the door wide, hook my fists around four gallon-size jugs and walk back up the aisle. Men loitering around the checkout counter step back as I hoist the milk above my waist and drop it like a barbell on the glass top, shaking lottery tickets in their holders and nearly toppling a neat stack of chewing tobacco tins. Under the oil-stained brim of his ball cap, the man behind the register cuts his eyes at mine. “What are you gonna do with this stuff?” he says.
“The milk?” I ask him. He nods. “For my kids,” I say. The guys by the cigar rack look at me with their mouths open. The picture I have put into their minds frightens them. The man behind the register stares at the milk.
“How many kids you got?” he says. It’s not a question so much as a statement along the lines of, Whatever the number, buddy, it’s way too many. I don’t need to ask how many kids he has; I already know. The look on his face is that of a one-child perspective, a familiar look because I wore it myself a few years back. Unless he’s had triplets, every parent of three rollicking children began, quietly, reasonably, peacefully, with one.
According to the latest census figures, nearly half of all American households have between one and three children. The idea of my three milk-crazy kids should be startling to no one. But the fact that my family falls within the norm in this regard doesn’t change the secret bias held by men at all-night gas stops as well as nearly every other parent: Whatever the number of children they have, no matter how that number was settled on – by fate, planning, luck, or accident – all parents secretly believe that the size of their family is best.
Back in my half-gallon days, when my wife and I had one child, everyone with more than that was simply out of his mind. We would sit on park benches surrounding the local playground with other one-child couples, taking turns between reading The New York Times and watching our toddlers navigate the latest climbing apparatus. We all spoke to each other in full sentences. We drank coffee. The “kid thing,” “mommy-daddy thing,” as we nonchalantly called it, was no sweat. One child is a delight. One child doesn’t eat you out of house and home. Raised around adults, single children are little conversationalists with keen imaginations, having had the quiet alone time to let it develop. You never have to divide your time with one child. You never have to worry you will be accused of playing favorites. You can keep the sports car with the tiny backseat when you have one child. One child sleeps like royalty on a queen-size bed in his own room. One child is better.
That is, until you have two.
Two children keep each other company. They teach each other how to share, how to fight fair, and how to forgive when the day is done. Two children sleep in bunk beds, talking long into the night, hooting and laughing until driving each other halfway to crazy. Two children safely cross the street, holding each of their mother’s hands. They ride on the hip of each parent running late to catch a plane. They split the double Popsicle and the two peanut butter cups. Two children ride seesaw and play tennis and shoot pool. Two children are better.
Our third child was planned, and three children are best, you know. Ask anyone with three children and they’ll tell you. Three children make the best composition for a group picture – two on the sides with the little one in the middle. The third child teaches the first two all there is to know about love. The first two teach the third all there is to know about everything else. Three children are three-part harmony, a trifecta, a triangle of strength, the sun and the moon and the stars. Three children go ring-around-the-rosie and make a more interesting game of tag and drain you dry and fill you back up to the brim. Three are best. Unless, of course, you happen to have four. Or five. Or six. Or I’m sure that if by some catastrophic miracle my wife became pregnant with quadruplets, after picking myself off the floor, I would promptly find a reason to believe that seven is the golden number.
My father-in-law believed 10 children were best. He told me he liked the way they took up a whole row in church. Ten children. Can you imagine the milk? But I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the pews in that church weren’t shorter. My wife was number nine. — Marc Parent
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Happy Parenting, everyone, whatever number of children you have.
Oh, the search for fair-labor socks. It’s a long and arduous one, I assure you. I suppose I could get around it by simply making my own socks — except I know nothing about knitting. I wouldn’t even know where to start. And from the research I’ve done on the subject, knitting socks looks really, really hard.
Enter my husband, my knight in shining armor, who found
Maggie’s Functional Organics one day while I was at the mall desperately trying to find some children’s socks that weren’t made in China.
Now, after spending several hours perusing their website and ordering socks for my children for school next year, I’m in love with Maggie’s. When it comes to organic, hyper-allergenic, and ethical clothing, these people are meticulous. Take a look at the multi-page pdf of their Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about what’s in their clothing. And take some time to read all about their Fair-Labor practices. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find links to picture of the people and facilities that their company employs, including their growers, spinners, knitters, sewers, and screen-printers.
Now the big question; this company is unmistakeably Organic and fair labor. So how are their prices? Well, they’re decent. Yes, they’re more expensive than Walmart. An adult pair of socks is $8 and a single pair of youth socks is $6. However, they do sell tri-packs and six-packs for slightly less, and they also offer irregular packs, which are around half of regular price. They also offer clothing, which I found to be extremely reasonable. Here’s what I picked out . . .
Sock monkeys! It’s extremely difficult to find fair-labor toys, and these are organic, too. What really caught my eye, though, is that they’re machine washable. Have you ever tried to clean four children’s stuffed toys after a stomach flu has made it through the house? Yeah, it’s gross, I know, but machine wash-ability is absolutely vital in our household.
Speaking of fair-labor toys, that’s my next big quest. For the last few years, Etsy has made it easier to find fair-labor toys and children’s products, but the recent Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is making it harder for small-scale toy-makers to stay in business. If you have any information or have found a source for fair-labor toys, please let me know. My addiction to toys is second only to my addiction to fabric, and, as of this post, there’s only five months of Christmas shopping left. 🙂
One of my very favorite blogs and websites is Sew, Mama, Sew, a sort of collective of tutorials, pattern reviews, and information on all things sewing-related as well as an online fabric store. If you haven’t been there, definitely check it out.
That said, I’m pretty disappointed in a discussion that’s going on there right now on the subject of matching clothes for family members. You can read the comments here. The vast — and I do mean VAST — majority of the commenters say they would never dress their children in matching outfits (some words that crop up repeatedly are “creepy” and “tragic”) and that they themselves would never dress in clothes that match their children’s.
Well, I suppose you can tell from this . . .
this . . .
and awhile back, even before #4 was born (I was heavily pregnant in the picture), this . . .
. . . that I LIKE matchy-matchy. It’s one way that we celebrate holidays, and it’s one way that we spot each other in a crowd. There are, after all, a lot of us to keep an eye on.
But more than being offended by the opinions of strangers on the internet, I’m offended by people who think they can speak for other mothers, other parents, and other families. I really feel like ANY decision that a parent makes is between them and their children. Sure, I can say that matchy-matchy is okay for me, but I can’t say it works for you. And, likewise, no one can say that it’s wrong for me to dress my children in matching or coordinating outfits. A few commenters on Sew, Mama, Sew even go so far as to say that dressing children alike ignores their individuality. I personally have found that my children and I have PLENTY of individuality, and that nothing we wear will hide that fact. You know how a larger family tends to be louder than a small family, simply because its members speak up to be heard over the din? Well, personalities work the same way. My little munchkins, as small as they are, know who they are, are proud of who they are, and are open with who they are regardless of what they’re wearing.
And I like to think they’re a little proud of their clothes, too. I make a lot of them, and the rest of them are mostly used. But my children feel beautiful — or handsome, as the case may be, in what they wear. Yes, sometimes they match. And sometimes they don’t. But they are always comfortable, confident, and happy. And that’s really all that matters to me.
All those matching nay-sayers are also forgetting something very important — the individuality that is inherent in making your own and your children’s clothes and the uniqueness of the motivations behind doing so. My children might match, but at least my older kids know why we don’t buy from Walmart, Gymboree, Target, The Gap, etc., etc., etc. And they believe in making and making do as much as I do. My girls do have matching ruffle dresses, but they’re the only two ruffle dresses that look just like that on this earth; they’re not just two girls out of how many thousands wearing the same commercially-produced, non-union-labor clothes from The Children’s Place (no offense if your child is wearing said clothing, you know I’m just making a point). How’s that for individuality?
Well, moving on . . . do you have any opinion on the subject? Any pictures to share? Honestly, and I feel a bit embarrassed by this, it’s never occurred to me that someone might not like my kids’ matching outfits. Now I wonder exactly what people think of when they see us. It’s funny. Sometimes sewing is hard. And sometimes parenting is hard. But sewing AND parenting? It’s a double-whammy. 😉
PS — I put together a flickr set with more pics of my matchy-matchy family-wear, which you can view HERE if you’d like. Thanks for visiting!
Thanks so much, everyone, for entering the giveaway and for doing those closet checks! It was amazing to see what everyone came up with. In case you’re wondering (and I know you are, right???), I did a closet check myself, and I found zero — yup, that’s right, “0,” zip, nada — items of commercially-made clothing that were produced in the United States. I do have maybe thirty items that were made lovingly in the U.S. by me. 🙂 I hope that, in the coming months, I can support more companies that do business in the U.S. or Canada or that employ unionized workers. It’s not easy, but it’s important for my family, for our economy, and for all of our safety, as some of you pointed out.
I was surprised by several of the things you all came up with out of your closets; first, many of you had a lot of U.S.-made clothing! That’s fantastic! Do you mind if I ask when you purchased most of it? It’s interesting for me to see the change in the clothing industry in the late 1990’s; before that, the vast majority of our clothes were made in America. Following NAFTA, however, garment producers moved overseas in droves, and I wonder now if we might actually be able to see that migration reflected in our very own closets. It’s really a reminder of how sweeping changes in industry affect everyone, and how changes at the most basic levels of production show up inside our own homes.
I was also reminded by several of you that buying items made in China or other developing countries can actually be unsafe. Dog food, children’s toys, McDonald’s cups; we’ve all seen the recalls on the news. Buying American (or Canadian) is, if nothing else, certainly safer, something we all need to keep in mind.
Finally, I got some serious warm fuzzies when I saw how many of you are making your own clothes. Way to go! I think that, for whatever reason you are doing it, that making your own stuff is so great. I hope your children, families, and friends appreciate how amazing you are for doing it.
Oh, and speaking of making your own stuff, the winner of the gift card is, according to Random.org . . .
Sarah makes beautiful quilts, so check out her blog if you get a chance!
Sarah, expect an email from me today.
I hope you all will continue to think about your garment purchases even though there isn’t $25 in fabric on the line. One organization that will help you is the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Their Facebook page is a wealth of information and has links to their various blogs on items made in the U.S. Their feed will contain snippets from their blog posts as well as information on current economic and legislative policy. One of my favorite features is “Fashion Fridays,” a weekly update in which the AAM highlights a garment producer that manufactures in the United States. It’s great info. For example, did you know that Spanx are made in the USA? Whew, now I don’t have to give up on or try make my own shapewear. Life is good. 😉
I hope you all had a fantastic Fourth of July! We are currently visiting family that happen to live oh-so-close to the beach, so unless I get motivated to post some boring old vacation photos (well, boring to you, not so much to me), I’ll be scarce this week. Stay cool and buy American!
Domestically-made clothing. I’m starting to realize that buying clothes made in the United States or making them yourself (all domestic-like — get it? Sorry, I’m easily amused) requires an awful lot of time. Shopping at garage sales and thrift stores, sifting through bins of quarter items, washing, drying, altering — it’s a lot more complicated than simply driving to the mall and heading towards your favorite store that has every item in every color and in every size. Crafting items takes even longer. I know you all know what that’s like; buying fabric, finding or making a pattern, cutting, sewing, tweaking, ironing, and dealing with the results, good or bad. But despite all of the work — and maybe even because of it — discovering hidden treasure in a thrift store or creating something unique is unbelievably fulfilling.
Because all of this takes so much time and effort, though, I’m now sewing — and buying, really — with a purpose; I’ve made a solid plan for my sewing and shopping this Summer in preparation for next season. Ideally, this will maximize return on my work and ensure that I’m never stuck running to Walmart for a pair of socks or underwear. To start, I made a list of everything my oldest son will need for the fall. Eventually I’ll do this for all of my children, but I started with him. I wrote it all down; pants, shirts, jackets, shoes, belts, underwear, everything, including how many he will need of each. Then, I filled in everything that he already has that will meet some of those needs. After that, I figured out what I will have to sew and what I will shop for, whether at thrift stores or online. It’s really the same concept as a grocery list, with the same goals; I get what I need, and only what I need, in a way that saves time, energy, and money and minimizes wasteful spending and wasteful wearing.
The first item to be sewn on the list? A pair of pants.
For my version, I used a very, very old, stained, torn-up pair of my husband’s pants. Can you see the rips in the side? I had to carefully place my pattern — which was made from a pair of my son’s jeans — because of all of the wear on those things. I used nearly every scrap of usable material from the pants — including the zipper.
For the lining and accent fabric, I used some Ralph Lauren sheets I found at a local secondhand shop for $2. They were clean, high-quality, and king-size; in short, they were the holy grail of thrift-store-sheet-shopping.
Instead of an elastic waist, I added a zipper placket (using the zipper from the original pants) and belt loops.
The bottoms roll up to fit my son right now . . .
. . . and will roll down to fit in the future.
I’m very pleased with how they came out, and in making them I really learned some of the basic, down-and-dirty, not-very-fun aspects of making pants. And when I say “pants” I don’t mean the cute little boutique-y ruffle-y pants, but real, honest wardrobe staples that do real, honest work. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll take a chance and make some pants for myself or my husband. Okay, maybe not. But who knows. I AM sewing with a purpose, now, after all.
Oh, and one more thing . . .
The Aftermath. I’m so glad my husband has a sense of humor. 🙂
Now go make something. Go feel fulfilled. And then go tell the world about it.
Every once in awhile, we all need a little extra cash, right? One must fund one’s addiction to fabric. So this week I’ve knocked out some children’s aprons and chef’s hats not for my own children, but to sell. My kids did try them out, though.
There. Now they are officially kid tested and mother approved. I’m particularly happy with the chef’s hats, which, after the first few failed tries, I made adjustable so they would fit even my kids’ big heads.
I’m not sure whether I’ll take these to Nest, a boutique where I sell some of my stuff, or put them on etsy.
On another note, it’s officially Summer at my house. I let the kids dig into some watermelon yesterday. It was the first time my youngest, whom we refer to as Goopy, had tried it. She discovered that . . .
Watermelon is yummy, but only if you eat the red side.
And it does not make a good hat.
Happy wednesday, everyone! I hope your week is warm and sunny!