I hear it all the time - "You are a machine!"
"Do you sleep?!"
"Your kids are so lucky."
"How do you do it all?"
"You amaze me!"
The truth is that I'm not a machine. I sometimes don't get enough sleep. My priorities fall by the wayside. My family suffers. I am not always amazing. And as for my kids...well, yes, they are lucky to have clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet, but an unlucky consequence of having a type-A, overachieving mother/parent can often be that they get shuffled to the backburner when mommy goes into project mode.
Now, this post isn't a declaration that I'm giving up on blogging or sewing or restructuring my life in any way. I've done those before - and I've found that quitting things cold-turkey when you have my personality can seriously backfire. Instead, these are just some thoughts I've had about productivity and motherhood as it relates to sewing. I'm sharing it here because it's been on my mind and to hopefully help another parent for whom this is also a daily struggle.
Let me first set up the situation for those of you who might be newcomers. I have two children - Ezra and Harper - who are almost 2 and 4. I am due any day now (38.5 weeks) to give birth to our third, a little boy. Ezra and Harper go to preschool three full days a week (MWF), and they are home with me on Tuesdays and Thursdays (and obviously the weekends). My husband goes to work very early in the morning so he can pick them up in the afternoons. I drop them off in the mornings. Once the kids are in bed around 8pm each night, my husband and I have time to pursue "our" things - which for me is usually sewing.
YES. I know that some people think I am incredibly lucky to have three days to myself during which I can sew and pursue my business goals and all that jazz. And then, of course, there are others who think I am neglectful and selfish for having said days. To each her own. I am a better mommy when I have time to actually FOCUS on both fun projects AND pursuing business ideas that DO bring a significant amount of income to our family.
But things are about to change. We are adding another baby to the mix. Harper is starting advanced gymnastics and dance classes. Preschool days are changing and getting staggered to accommodate extracurricular activities. Naptimes don't sync up. Businesses need attention in order to stay fresh and profitable. Extended periods of sleep are few and far between.
Add to that the fact that I've recently decided I want to try to make as much of my kids' wardrobes as I can, and I get OVERWHELMED. (I want to make my own, too, but I am currently on hold until I lose the baby weight.) In fact, sometimes I get plain ole burned out.
I'm sure that people who follow me on Instagram think I have it totally together most of the time. I post photos of things I'm sewing on a daily basis along with pics of my kids and me on fun outings. Occasionally there will be a belly pic taken at the most flattering angle possible - cropped strategically to make me look "great for a pregnant woman" (as my husband says) or at least passable as not awful. My Instagram photos are not usually staged or perfect or in the best light, but they still present an image of productivity and good-doing for my family.
But friends, Instagram is not reality. Facebook is not reality. And Pinterest is sure-as-hell not reality. Nowadays, we can carefully curate our entire lives for our online "friends." And that can become really dangerous - not just to weary onlookers who feel like less of a mom because they didn't knit all six of their kids matching sweaters from hand-spun merino wool - but also to ourselves as we struggle to maintain the image that we've so carefully created for ourselves.
I have 2K followers on Instagram which to some is a TON. But I do have friends with many thousands more, and of course, there are bloggers with hundreds of thousands of strangers following their daily routines/curated selves. Do I get a high when 100+ people "like" a photo of something I'm making? Of course. Do I respond to every comment? Nope. I simply don't have time, and Instagram's interface isn't exactly the best for it. But on the dark side - do I sometimes get sad if followers "like" one photo (perhaps of my little boy) more than another (maybe of my little girl)? Yes. It's stupid, I know. But I'm a mother. It's how I'm wired. My point is that it's easy for social media to take over our persona and force us into actually being that thing we wanted - even though being that thing can be really damn hard.
Blogging and actually working toward great photos has taken a back seat for me over the past few months, but I've been sewing a TON for my kids. My goal has been to accumulate a stash of tried-and-true (TNT) patterns from which I can create their wardrobes over the next few years as they grow. But just like shopping, it can become addictive. That new shirt needs a new skirt, and that new skirt needs new leggings, and then there are shoes and socks and all other sorts of considerations that must be purchased. Oh, and if you're like me, when a pattern turns out great, you want to create a whole assembly line and make one in ALL THE FABRICS because...well, because it's addictive.
There's also pressure to create Pinterest-worthy, unique garments. The truth is that my kids would probably be happy wearing solid-color tees/tanks and leggings (Harper) and sweatpants and tees (Ezra) every day. Throw in a dress or two for Harper, and it would be like a party. Does she care if I have the perfect zipper installation or $40-yard Liberty fabric or that imported-from-Northern-Europe knit fabric with what-have-you block printed all over it?
Do they care that I hunched over my sewing table tracing and cutting and sewing into the wee hours of the night?
How about those countless hours I spend pinning stuff I find on blogs to a kids'-sewing-specific Pinterest board? Or the time I anxiously peruse the fabric store trying to find JUST the right combination of colors, prints and textures?
Do they care that I just got 100 likes on Instagram on their new outfits (which undoubtedly have stains on them by now)?
How about whether or not *my* creation got featured on XYZ blog?!
Okay, I'll just stop talking.
In fact, it's probably just the opposite. My kids suffer when I am tired and stressed out. They sense my anxiety, and it affects their behavior, attitudes and sleep. And of course, that affects me. It can become a downward spiral.
Granted, my kids are really young, so perhaps they will appreciate it more when they're older. Or they may just refuse to wear handmade clothing. There's no way to know. The kids are definitely appreciative, and Harper tells people that "my mommy sewed this," but I'm sure she'd be just as appreciative of a $6 tee bought on sale at Carter's (some of which I plan to buy this afternoon) and saying "my mommy bought me this." In fact, she might like it better because of the instant gratification aspect of it. Currently, she sometimes sees works in progress for weeks before she actually gets to use/wear them.
So, while I've created a significant portion of my kids' spring/summer wardrobe for this year (and continue to do so), I'll be taking my little coupon to the kids' clothing store this afternoon and doing a little filler work so I can stop stressing into the night about whether or not I've coverstitched Harper's leggings with the right color and whether or not I chose the most perfect shade of chambray to go with Ezra's handmade button-downs.
They say that happiness is found in the journey - not the outcome. And it's definitely true when it comes to crafting a handmade wardrobe for your kids or yourself. You learn that certain $20+/yard knit fabrics do, in fact, pill when being worn on a playground by a 3-year-old. And you find certain designers' patterns run large or small or fit your kid's body type. And you realize that as cute as it is, maybe white wasn't the best choice for that sun dress.
You learn new techniques and improve upon old ones. You get better machine and supplies and discover things like Wonder Tape. You stop taking shortcuts and start creating processes. It gets easier and more productive, and you produce better garments. And perhaps you stop creating what you WANT your kids to wear and just make what you know they WILL wear.
It can be overwhelming, I know.
And sometimes, when I'm overwhelmed, I make poor decisions. Personally, I have a habit of hoarding sewing supplies (instead of actually sewing) when I get overwhelmed. I might have a stack of shorts that just need elastic added to be done, but I convince myself that I need to go to the fabric store BECAUSE FABRIC or BECAUSE COUPON or BECAUSE ALL THE THINGS! I will "stock up" on $1.99 patterns that I will never sew, and I waste small amounts of money that add up to large sums. My shopping addiction of a former life (yes, that is a real thing) sometimes rears its ugly head in the form of sewing hoarding, and it's not pretty. Well, it IS often pretty...but it's not good for my family or my overall mental health.
So when you find yourself up at night checking the weather and wondering how you're ever going to get all those shorts done in time for the impending season, remember to relax and think about why we do it all in the first place: our kids. If it becomes overwhelming, that's a sure sign for me that I'm doing it all for ME instead of the kids. They would be happy, healthy people wearing second-hand clothes from the thrift store if I so chose. They might even be better off - who knows!
Enjoy your sewing. Enjoy your kids. And when it gets overwhelming, take a step back. And don't be afraid to buy a few $6 tees.
At least, that's what I'm telling myself. :)