About five years ago in my little kitchen in Port Townsend I baked a dozen cupcakes – or rather, I overbaked them (the easiest and most frequent of baking errors) and was standing there cursing my mistake. I know now and I knew then the trick is to take the cake – or cookies or cupcakes or whatever – out of the oven when they’ve just barely lost the wet look; alternatively, any cake or quick bread can be removed after it’s pulled away from the sides of the pan. Oh, and another tip: don’t have – you know, two crying babies in diapers or whatever while you cook because that’s rather distracting.
So the cupcakes were sitting on my counter, but they were dried out and assy. And I thought, Well… the family will still like them, and I decided to continue. I proceeded to whip up some frosting. Problem is, it didn’t really hold together – and I’m usually awesome with the homemade frosting bit. In this case the confection tasted good, but was kind of grainy and sloppy. Impatient now, I began to spoon the stuff on top of the cupcakes. The baked goods were still a bit warm, though (another bush league mistake!) and the already-loose frosting slipped off the, heh, muffin tops.
I persevered. Even as things fell apart I carefully, carefully did my best at frosting those cupcakes. It just kept getting worse, though. My husband walked in the room just as I finished, stood back, surveyed my results, and then swiftly and emphatically threw the whole batch into the garbage. He was a bit startled, sure. And sad. But let me tell you, it felt good to call a failure a failure, to quit trying so hard, to just say – Fuck it! – and be done.
This was not, however, how I felt today when I marched into the kitchen where my kids were sitting and took a nearly-finished homesewn blouse I’d been working on and maliciously hacked it to pieces with my scissors.
My frustration makes sense, really, even if it didn’t justify my dramatic display. I’d started the blouse a few days ago and was trying to get the darn thing done because we’re moving on Thursday. The curved hem required a handstitch – the thin layer of batiste underlining further requiring a very picky handstitch that easily took twice as long as usual. I finished this in the afternoon. Then I’d top-stitched the placket and the collar bias facing (doing a great job on a very tricky seam) and literally had about fifteen minutes to completion. Impatient, wanting to have the finished garment in hand, I sat at my grandmother’s Singer 15-91 and installed my buttonholer and threaded the bobbin. On the first buttonhole the machine jammed, jammed again. Kept screwing up which it never does on buttonholes. At some point, aghast, I realized my children had crammed about a dozen long pins in the bobbin race and head of the machine. Even then I didn’t lose it; I tried instead to take the face plate off to remove these but the screw as a bit sticky – the machine is 60 years old – and that’s when I felt an upsurge like bile of all the rage and hurt and frustration and resentment a woman in my circumstances could possibly feel.
The blouse was a lovely one – a teal and black quilting cotton in a floral, semi-Asiatic pattern, the underlining making it sturdy and dressy in an understated way. I’d taken the time and care to match the pattern on the front placket and added collar detail and cuffs in a lovely dusty black bamboo/cotton fabric. And even with all this craftsmanship invested I cut the thing to a dozen pieces and left the mess on the table for my family and said a few choice words because I was so angry, ever since we moved into this house and had my sewing stuff in our living room my kids have been fiddling with dials and removing pins from my pincushion and messing about with my loop-turner etc. And I’d asked and told and demanded and begged they stop doing it and still they did it.
After my shirt-murder my husband immediately got the kids dressed to leave. “If Mama’s done with that shirt, it means it’s time to get the moving boxes so we can pack her sewing stuff.” I was a hundred percent grateful for his calm and decisiveness in the moment – although I was still so devastated at how much in that moment I loathed my children. Sophie stayed home from the event out, though, and immediately fell asleep for a very uncharacsteristic nap. And I – helpless to do anything at all useful – watched some of my HBO show and tried to feel better and eventually got up and made dinner (Japanese noodles with asparagus, green beans, seared mushrooms and hardboiled egg; garlic saute of broccoil and cauliflower; grape tomato and avocado salad in a creamy lemon dressing). And cooking made me feel better; it almost always does.
Ralph and Nels got home as I was finishing the meal preparations. My son once again apologized, and I sat with that a bit. While I drained the soba noodles I told my husband that I knew I should be sorry for what I’d done and said, but I didn’t yet feel sorry. Ralph said, “I can’t speak for Sophie, but Nels and I don’t think you did or said anything terrible.” This was a relief to hear.
And of course… as lovely as the blouse was, in reality I sew a lot and it’s merely another thing I made. It just died before its time.
My husband goes back to work tomorrow. Today he and the kids have been having good old fashioned fun while, as it turned out, I frittered my day away on wasted efforts. The three built an elaborate, large, and gorgeous diorama for the kids’ dinosaurs, started a rock-candy experiment, and built a cardboard house from a few spare moving boxes. It was one of those days where I was deeply glad to be partnered, even if the fellow in question is the one who’d impregnated me with my (lovely and well-loved, really) hell-spawn in the first place.
I love my children and family but sometimes my resentment is larger than one can imagine (actually, if you’ve been a mom as long as I have, maybe you really, really can imagine it). At times my biggest worry is that I’ll always carry the resentment or that it is somehow growing – how would I know if this was the case? – that forgiveness and good humor and let’s-try-again will run out and I’ll just be this bitter vessel who is not even a shred of a human being. It helps tremendously my children really know, really know, how to apologize – and how to accept my apologies. And that coupled with all the love I have, a love that dwells within me as constant as the rush of blood in my veins, an amazing huge boundless love, really more incredibly large than I could have ever forseen, I just hope it’s enough.