Sunday, September 29, 2013

I want my kid to be able to make or fix EVERYTHING

Little hands helping Mommy tape together her sewing pattern. #isew #mytoddlersews

Little hands helping me tape together my sewing pattern

I want my daughter to be able to make, fix and understand EVERYTHING.

I don't want her to think she has to SHOP her way out of problems or challenges: I want her to know she can DIY, not BUY. I want her to know she can produce, not just consume.

I want to teach her self-reliance and self-confidence, not helplessness.

I want her to know that she is capable of making it or doing it or solving it herself.

When I was growing up, my parents made and fixed almost EVERYTHING themselves: they constructed and upholstered furniture, put in flooring and wiring, built a porch and installed skylights, gardened vegetables and fruits and canned them, fixed and customized computers ... my mom did photography and painted and sculpted and sewed and knit and quilted and baked elaborate amazing cakes, my dad built beds and tables and chairs and bookcases. (All while both working full-time as public school computer teachers).

And helping Mommy cut the pattern too. #isew #mytoddlersews

And always, always they tried to teach us.

Nowadays, I find myself wishing I had paid as much attention to my dad's teachings as my mom's — he would try to teach me how to build a bookshelf or install drywall or safely handle electrical wiring, but I really didn't listen. So I can paint, sew, knit, quilt and bake, but I can't repair a bicycle or fix a small appliance or design a computer network. Maybe next time I visit my dad I should ask for some lessons?

Little Z cut out the envelope all by herself. #mytoddlersews

Z cut out my Red Velvet Clutch pdf envelope all by herself!

Myself, whenever I am doing ANYTHING that is safe enough for Z to participate in, I let her if she is interested. She can't go near the pins and shears, but she can help me tape together sewing patterns and wind my yarn.

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No, I won't get things done as quickly as if I did them myself and let her play with her blocks a few feet away. Yes, she sometimes unravels my knitting projects or puts too many chocolate chips in the cookies. Who cares? The pride on her face makes it all worth it:

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Some of the things my husband and I are teaching her (or will teach her when she's ready) Sewing, knitting, quilting, baking, cooking, biking, painting, photography, cartooning, writing, graphic design, using a graphics tablet in PhotoShop — seriously:

Z using the Wacom tablet

Some of the things my parents (and my brother and sister-in-law) are teaching her: Gardening, carpentry, boating, fishing, farming (my brother has a farm in Maine)... spackling:

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Here she is helping my dad (her Zadie) build a custom wall-to-wall bookshelf in her bedroom:

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I think all of this is already having a big effect. Half the time when I try to help her with anything because I'm in a rush (like putting on her clothes or shoes) she says "No thank you Mommy, I can do it myself!" She also stomps around the house in her boots proclaiming "I am so brave and so strong, I can climb really tall ladders!"

Me Made May 23: Green and purple

Love you more than I can describe, my brave, strong, smart little girl!

P.S. The bookshelf in the above photo was built by my amazing dad, the sculpture of me and Masheka is by my amazing mom, and the skirt I'm wearing is by me.

So: What did your parents teach you to make? And if you have kids or plan to—what are you teaching them/will you teach them?

32 comments:

  1. I am amazed by how many kids start my kindergarten art class and have never held a pair of scissors. Keep letting her help and do for herself! :)

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    1. Wow! I will admit my nervousness when my parents first handed her the kiddie scissors a year ago, but I have been very impressed with how carefully she handles them. She will, however, cut EVERYTHING to shreds when given the opportunity.

      I imagine Baby Jane will pretty much know how to make any art project she wants far before kindergarten. :)

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  2. Looks like your daughter is off to a great start. My dad renovated our tenement apartment during the 16 years we lived there - kitchen, bath (original toilet in hall and tub in kitchen), built in storage cabinets below the ceiling so I learned that much is possible from nothing and all without power tools. Letting me and my sister help out meant that we can do it all too. I've done the same with my daughters and am proud that they can as well. Weirdly, my mother worked as a seamstress and discouraged all sewing and crafts, but that didn't stop us from crafting at all.

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    1. Without power tools? That's amazing! I DID actually help with all of our home improvement projects as a kid and wielded many a hammer and screwdriver and saw... I just don't seem to remember the details and principles as well as with sewing because I haven't kept up with it...

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  3. I saddens me to say that I didn't spend much time learning this type of thing from my parents. They are both neat-freaks but I'm not sure you can teach that and natural neatness skipped a generation with me. My grandmother was a seamstress, but was not particularly interested in teaching (all 5 of her daughters lacked skill/interest) once I came along. I learned to cook by watching and asking questions about things once I was an adult.

    I try to encourage my children to see the world as a series of things that people can make. While I'm not skilled at every thing, we watch a lot of programming that shows you how things are made or where materials come from. We also use the internet to investigate everything that they are interested in knowing more about. Followed up with any library books I can find on the subject. They help me cook and watch (and sometime help) me sew and they've developed an appreciation for handmade things.

    I hope that they will learn more than I know and share with their children and that that tendency continues with the next generation.

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    1. You are such an awesome mom and are raising your kids to be so smart and creative! I love that idea of the world as "a series of things that people can make."

      The appreciation for handmade things is so cool too... I love that Z clearly knows which items she owns were sewn or knit by me or my mom. She reminds us when she puts them on "Mommy, Grandmommy made these pajamas for me! Mommy, I'm wearing the sweater you knit!" etc.

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  4. OMG - I love this post. I'm totally crying! (PMS may have something to do with it.) I think you've totally got the right idea. My kid is not into learning from me at all - I've tried. And, if I'm honest, I was not able to be as laid back about my projects (with her assistance) as I might have been. So keep on. You've got a great thing going.

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    1. Well, I cry even when I don't have PMS so you are allowed! :)

      Not all kids WANT to learn such things so I am thankful whenever she is interested.

      The laid back part is hard for me and I have to force myself. She did once unravel several inches from the sleeve of a cardigan I was knitting and I almost passed out in sweater sorrow, but it turned out fine in the end.

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  5. Neither of my parents are particularly practical but my Mum can bake like a fiend, as can I as a result. Everything else is self taught and my husband (who can pretty much do anything) is the same. Boy is given the opportunity if he's interested and it's safe; he likes to do the reverse stitch on my machine and favourite teddies all have boy-made sleeping bags. He presented some ripped trousers yesterday saying that they needed fixing as they still fit or turning into shorts for next summer!

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    1. It's such a feeling of freedom to be able to DO everything and not need to pay specialists or buy fancy products to do it for you.

      Also, I just love imagining all the little teddies with boy-made sleeping bags. And how great that he thinks of making/sewing as a way to extend the lives of clothes...

      My mom recently added ribbing to the bottom of all of Z's pajama legs because they were getting too short and now whenever Z puts them on she says "These are the jammies that Grandmommy fixed so I can keep wearing them!"

      When she sees a broken bicycle when we are out she says "Mommy, that bicycle needs to be fixed! Someone needs to fix their bike!"

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  6. When I was a kid, if we were physically capable of doing something (laundry, making a sandwich, tying our shoes, etc), then we were expected to do it. We teach Lila to do as much for herself as she's able, and it makes for a very confident kid. I always feel sorry for kids whose parents do everything for them, how is that supposed to help them be functioning adults?

    LOVE the shots of her putting together the pattern! Lila helps me with patterns, she just recently cut out the envelopes, too! :)

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    1. That's the way to do it... your parents had the right idea and so do you. :) Z makes her own sandwiches and allergy-free pizza and helps me do the laundry too!

      I think nowadays our culture promotes BUYING things for kids to show love, but what better way to show love that to instill confidence and teach valuable skills that will stick with them throughout their lives? It is a little bit like that tired "Buy a man to fish... teach a man to fish..." slogan.

      It's important for all kids but I think especially important for kids like Z who have chronic health issues and often feel like things are out of their control because they have to spend so much time taking medicines and getting medical treatments that can be uncomfortable.

      The psychologist at the hospital we took Z too some time back told us over and over that the BEST way to raise a confident kid with severe health issues was to let children participate and do their own medical treatment as much as is safe. So Z does her own inhalers and puts on her eczema lotions and takes her allergy meds, etc (with a little help).

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  7. I can't say enough how much I love this! That is one of the best things my dad taught me, too -- that whole DIY spirit. He made us our own toys out of cardboard and wood scraps, let us paint up our bedroom walls with murals of our own choosing, and helped us to build a treehouse in our backyard with old pallets. I can't wait to pass on the same attitude to my future kids; I love that you're doing this with Z now!

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    1. I bet your murals and toys were AMAZING! :) We had a treehouse too. It is seriously one of the best parts of being a parent—watching her catch the DIY bug and just build all kinds of things.

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  8. Great post. I completely and wholeheartedly agree with you. While growing up, I learned that I could do anything, because my mom could and would (!) do anything. She grew up very very poor and she would always think of ways to get what she needed my making it herself. She built a giant room divider with built in desk, she could decorate cakes, paint, sew, and refinish furniture...etc etc. I love teaching my girls how to do things and I let them help me whenever they want. The best way for them to learn that they can do anything is to have them try everything. :)

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    1. Yes, EXACTLY. If we don't let them try, they will never learn! Your mom sounds awesome.

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  9. P.S. to all this. I showed my parents this blog post and they were very touched. My mom said "My work here is done!" as that was exactly what she had hoped we would get out of all of this. She also told me I shouldn't feel too bad that I didn't learn everything my dad knows about making things, since before he was a teacher he was a professional carpenter and electrician's assistant. But I still would love to know more carpentry and such.

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  10. Fabulous! Children can do so much if we let them. Good for you starting her off right!

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  11. Yep, I come from a long line of women who make lovely things and I love the way they applied their creativity to making ordinary things more beautiful.

    I am looking forward to teaching both my kids how to sew ... Joe now helps me pin patterns for cutting (he's actually great with pins - if you think about it, it's hard to seriously hurt yourself with a pin, so once they get past putting everything in their mouth, I say let them help with the pins) and he returns the pins to the pin-cushion when I'm done. I give Joe more age-appropriate scissors and he cuts out shapes on paper while I cut my patterns. He has helped me design several t-shirts, and we've sewed stitches on the machine using just the hand-crank (no power on) and talked a lot about stitching and sewing. He loves to help!

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    1. That is so awesome! I will admit I don't quite trust Z with pins yet (scissors yes, pins no!) as she has a habit of dropping them on the carpet and then we have to hunt around. I didn't think of trying the hand-crank method either.

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  12. Your daughter is so adorable. I love this post so much that I shared with several friends. I'm glad I grew up in a household where we were taught to use our hands and brains to do almost everything. Before I buy anything, I stand in the middle of the kitchen and ask is there anything I can use to improvise? If there isn't, next question is can I build/create this thing myself? As a single 33 yr old homeowner, my neighbors used to be amazed seeing me on the roof, up on ladders painting, washing my car, mowing the lawn. Now they are used to it!
    I am going to make sure my kids use their brains and hands too.

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    1. That is a great question to ask before you actually buy anything! I bet you save a ton of money (and get to use your skills) a lot that way.

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  13. this post just sent so many chils down my arms. so swweet and endearing . neither i nor my husband are as good of teachers with our kids. too impatient. i sure hope tehy at least see that we manage things by ourselves ! mending, cooking, sewing, knitting, gardening, my dh built our house and does mechanics etc... i also know my dh is very gender biased with chores (he's from south of france with spanish and italian heritage, what can i say!?). my kids are much older but i hope i'll be able to stop being so time -efficient and task oriented and let them participate more - might be too late, at the teen years, they dont really want to participate much :/. good job on you and your little darling and the whole family helping her along. so beautiful. oh and like you not paying as close attention to your dads work as to your moms, i often wish +++ i had payed attention to my grandmother's cooking and sewing and learned at her heels instead of just sitting back enjoying the fruits of it.

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    1. Ha, yes, sometimes it is easy to just enjoy the awesome things crafty relatives make but not actually learn how to make them yourself. But I am trying not to regret too much... it's never too late to learn new skills!

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  14. I really love this post! Hope to have my own kids someday and I like to see other people doing such a cool job of it :)

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  15. Oh Mikhaela, what a beautiful post! We're not planning to have children but I can still completely appreciate this sentiment -- what an incredibly perfect gift to give your daughter.
    My dad has always been quite handy, fixing and building things on his own, and I worked alongside him as he did these things when I was a small kid. I got my own toolbox with full-sized tools for Xmas when I was around 7, and I still have it and use it. :)

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    1. Oh I love that you still use those tools! I actually also still have a toolbox my dad gave me when I was a kid (and I use it, but I think many of the tools might not be original to then). Z just has stuffed tools right now but she'll get real ones soon.

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  16. I struggle with this - let the girls help (and then the laundry, floor mopping, book stacking, etc is done horribly and I often have to redo it) or do it myself (faster, better, needs to be done only once, but no teaching moment). I tend toward the latter and feel guilt... but when everyone is clamoring for food, how can we take an extra hour to make dinner? When I try to do something for fun (w/no time constraints), they tend to be uninterested. Sigh...

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  17. Omg Z, I love her so much in the most non-creepy way that is possible. I love that she stomps around saying how brave and strong she is! She's so blessed to have so many creative people around her who are willing to teach her, well, practically everything. Can't wait to see some of her first projects that she does by herself from start to finish ;) I'm sure it won't be long!

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  18. I absolutely LOVE this post. My wonderful mother recently died at 99-1/2 years old. She was a child of the Great Depression and had great intuition, inspiration and inventiveness. She could do so many things and liked to figure out ways to fix problems or deficiencies. She taught me all the household arts (although I'm not really much of a housekeeper – I prefer to use a cleaning lady than do that myself). I am a good cook and like to make everything from scratch. I also love to sew and make most of my clothes. I had a very close girlfriend, now sadly passed away, but we would see something beautiful or inspirational and instead of thinking we couldn't buy it because it was too expensive, we would stand there and say: "We could make that!". And did. And I still do. I find most store-bought items are not personal enough for me. Store-bought food doesn't taste quite right, etc. etc. etc. I think my mother was very patient, as you are. You are giving your daughter the BEST gift. I applaud you.

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