Tuesday, March 31, 2009

covering ideas: Part One

There are few things more terrifying than a piece of blank paper.

Except, perhaps, a meeting in which a rabbi informs a group of type A (type AA, type AAA) parents that they have five? weeks to sew a cover for their child's siddur. 


Program, yes. Opine, certainly. Perform molecular analysis, no worries. Sew? Around the table, intelligentsia began to twitch. Oh, said the rabbi, but we will not judge your parenting by whether or not you produce high art. As people began, minutely, to relax - he produced some.

Siddur after sample siddur gleamed at us, rich with thought and craft and, yes, a degree of skill. There was applique, silk-screening, embroidery and photographs, and and and and quietly, parents began hunting for paper bags. In, out, in, out. To hyperventilate is to lose face. A flurry of details followed, falling past our ears as we checked to see who looked calm. Then we checked to see if the rabbi was chuckling evilly. He wasn't.

The children would receive their siddurim at a ceremony for their class, said the earnest (and non-cackling) rabbi, celebrating their study of t'fila, or prayer. It would be a sweet and serious little event, he explained, and the children will fall in love with their siddur - in large part because of the cover.

Oh, repeated the rabbi for the third, fourth, fifth time, but this is not a test of your parenting. 

Um. No. Clearly not.

Except yes. On the one hand, a parent said ruefully, you have your child. On the other hand, you have God. How could this be a time to phone it in?

And there we were, me able to messily darn a hole, turn out a wavy - but enthusiastic - hem, and a blank page.

But then there were fabrics, textured and oh yes, from the bargain rack at the local mega-craft place.

And there were ideas. An alarming number of ideas, actually, unlimited by our ability to execute them, but what the hell? God. Parenting. Kid. Parents running amok was pretty much guaranteed, and I do so hate to not meet expectations.

and so, the pages filled.

We could have constructed something that would describe the Eldest - his love of sports, his conviction that endangered species can be saved by him. Or possibly by Obama. This is a gift to your child, and a way to personalize the siddur, the rabbi had explained. 

We could have designed something that would describe our family, and our values, reinforcing the Eldest's place in it. This ceremony is about mesorah, we had been told, which means tradition, if not Jewish tradition. And how could it be otherwise? The siddur is a book of prayers: in giving it, we give our child a text that has grown from the prayers of Jews before him. And we give the child a suggestion: use it.

Or we could have built something that describes the Eldest as we hope he will be, combining mesorah and his quirky, splendid self into, oh, whatever he will become. And what an opportunity that offered, to daydream about who we'd want our child to be! But also, how silly. Whatever the Eldest will become, is not something that we can really predict. He will be himself. So why pretend we can foresee that?

You can count on the Imperfects to take a simple project and tip it over the edge. We sat and planned and talked - and I loved it. I loved the quiet hoping for the Eldest's future (because we do indulge), and the debates over what we thought best represented our traditions, our child, us. And we laughed ourselves silly over jokes funny only to the very overtired. 

Worth every hour I spent muttering and getting lost on the way to fabric stores - and I hate, hate, hate getting lost. In the dark. On little, branching highways. (aaaaargh, by the way)

Slowly, things took shape: 

If we are idiots about building a manageable project, happily we are also idiots with friends. It's almost a rule: when an Imperfect falls on his/her face, someone helps them up. Why? I have no idea. But thank heavens, because we are idiots. Frequently.

The siddur cover could have been a private joy, held close to ourselves as we worked. But hey, it's us. It surprised me to to find that, as possessive as I felt, watching friends join us in constructing and celebrating the Eldest was part of the gift of this project. We needed the offered hands, partly because, you know - the idiot thing - but also because a caring and right-on-your-doorstep community is part of our mesorah. Damn, but when the universe nudges an Imperfect, it's got to give a solid shove, no?

And so, friends called to cheer us on, and to listen to me wail. My grandmother's sewing machine turned up, escorted by a breathless and delighted Grandmere. I eyed the thing dubiously. How does it work? I asked. She blinked at me. I have no idea, I was informed. I was hoping you'd show me. Oh. 

A fellow hemo-mommy offered her home - and her machine - and I watched the pieces of our life come together as she sewed. So silly, the boundaries that we draw, I mused, and promptly burned myself on the iron.

Things went wrong. Things went right. While the Mikes whistled happily and we talked the Toddles out of toilet training (no washer, no underwear), people encouraged, volunteered, shared materials and ideas. Until hours of shared work, late nighttime hours, a pair of crucial working playdates and one stitch & bitch later, we were looking at something.

It's beautiful, I whispered to the Man. I'm a little scared of it.
The Man looked at the tree and smiled. I can't wait to see the rest.

Oh, right. That.


Anonymous said...

I really like it! I especially like how you combined fabric and needlework. That is truly special!

Rachel L. said...

Wow! When's the ceremony? So exciting! I want to see it when it's done...maybe you should have a quasi-gallery-opening ;-)

joy said...

It's really very beautiful. I'm thrilled it's coming together and becoming a story in and of itself as well.

Sarah said...

Wow, it looks great.

katrina said...

Your school is EVIL! I had a siddur play in the first grade, and here's how the covers got made: everyone got the same very simple, blue cloth covers, and then, over many weeks, WE the six-year-olds embroidered our names onto them, under the watchful eye of our teacher, an older Israeli woman who still kind of scares me. Was it a good use of our time? No. Was it kind of terrifying, on account of the aforementioned Israeli? Sure. But did our parents have to do anything except pay a ridiculous quantity of tuition and show up at the play, both of which they would have done anyway? No. And that's how it should be.

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