Crafte's Inferno: Crafting For The Familycomments (9) August 15th, 2008
Last night, as I sat watching the Olympics on television, I experienced a moment of recognition while watching the faces of the competitors in gymnastics. It wasn’t in their athleticism or endurance that I saw myself. It wasn’t a triple twisting dismount or some feat of great balance on the pommel horse, that seemed familiar. Rather, it was the look of betrayal on some of their faces that made me sit upright. As I watched them run toward the vault and hurl themselves into the air – knowing the countless years of training and practice that had gone into this moment – only to see them land, with a splat on the mat. That's when I thought, “Oh yeah, I know that look.” A similar expression has fleeted across my own face, as I have sat and watched the members of my family ripping open all of my carefully wrapped Christmas presents.
Years ago, I had the wonderful idea of handcrafting presents for everyone on my Christmas list. I had the requisite skills in sewing and knitting, but more importantly, I possessed a great dose of denial that I called "Christmas spirit." I called it that to disguise what I knew would be the months of self-enslavement necessary to pull off such a task. I carefully combed through the Vogue and Annie Blatt patterns books, choosing only the most complicated and time consuming projects (no quick-to-makes for my loved ones). As the big day approached, I relinquished all opportunities to go to Christmas parties, caroling and tree trimming, opting instead to watch the sunrise, with red-rimmed eyes, after another all-nighter spent crafting.
I mostly ignored the frightened and concerned looks of my roommates who, over morning coffee, watched as I proudly displayed the yield of the previous night’s work, a pile of perfectly crafted gifts, all made by just one elf. I swallowed the feeling of reproach I felt whenever one of them breezed in after a day spent Christmas shopping at Macy’s and exclaimed, “Whew! All done!" Instead, I sat alone, stitching manically, with crippled fingers, watching the Grinch and Scrooge on television as they learned what I felt certain I was putting into practice: namely, the true meaning of Christmas.
My family is the kind of family that has never had much use for the Santa pretense: we tear into our gifts as soon as it starts to get dark on December 24th. That Christmas, my sister Erin was the first to open one of my handmade gifts. It was a dark blue satin dress with white satin trim that I had created expressly for her. At first, she looked confused. She could tell it wasn't store bought. But, when she realized I had made this garment - by hand - she looked at me as if I’d just arrived, via a time machine, from another dimension. "You know, you can buy this, Kayla." My mother held up the velvet opera cape I’d made her, stupefied. "Only you,” she murmered.
My family liked the presents I’d made but instead of the enormous gratification that I’d been anticipating - dreaming about for months, actually - I felt a sweltering disappointment and a sense of remorse.
I was explaining this all to a friend of mine on December 26th - let's call him Virgil - when Virgil asked, "Well, is your mother a huge opera buff?" "Not especially” I admitted, "But, you never know." "Hmmm,’ Virgil said gently, "Well, it sounds like you felt your family didn't get you." That's when I realized that I hadn't really given my family anything. Instead, I had showed them who I wanted them to be and, more than that, I had showed them who I wanted them to think I was.
That New Year's I resolved to never make anything else for my family (“that'll show them”). My resolve lasted about two months before my desire to please - and my mother's desire to spruce up the house - resulted in me sewing new curtains for every window. Thus, began a long period of crafting to my family's exact specifications: I started making for them only things that they wanted (instead of what I wanted them to want). I made things for them I would never in a million years have chosen to make of my own accord. But, now that my crafting talents had been fully revealed, my family slowly began to see and appreciate me for what I was; an alternative to a trip to the mall.
Years later, as I sat weeping into one of the one hundred and fifty heart-shaped 'Dream Pillow' bridal shower favors my sister had commissioned for her upcoming wedding, my friend, Virgil once again, intervened, " Uh, what exactly is a ‘dream pillow’?" he asked. "They are like little sachets, filled with chamomile, lavender, and rose petals, to put under your pillow and make you dream better" I sniffled, to which Virgil replied " Do you ever make anything for yourself?"
It was as if a spell had suddenly been lifted. I had never even considered such an obvious thing, 'make something for myself.' So I made the dress that I wore to my sister's wedding. Then, I got really carried away and wrote a one-woman show called "Something Blue" that was basically about how I had been torturing myself under the guise of trying to please my family. The show ended up being produced Off-Broadway and, when my family came to see it, they each shook their head in wonder and said, “Only you, Kayla, only you." And, they were right.
Previously on Crafte's Inferno: