Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Looks Like We Made It: Baby Making

According to science, Little Inside Baby could arrive any day now. We're hoping that she chooses a date well after June 6th, which would allow my teacher husband to be home with me without feeling the stress of missing the end of the school year. Lennon was nearly three weeks late so that's the timeline we're most accustomed to. Nevertheless, all of the crafty projects I'd wanted to make for Baby Girl are completed, photographed, and put away, leaving me with some time on my hands during what can be an excruciating waiting period.

Months ago I made a list of what I wanted to accomplish with my sewing machine before the birth, in order of priority. First on the list, for obvious reasons, was a special maternity dress. The maternity clothes I have are either borrowed, hand-me-down, or poor quality and I wanted to have one heirloom piece that I could save and pass on. The pattern is by Anna Maria Horner from her book, Handmade Beginnings. The fabric is a cotton voile from Anna Maria's Little Folks collection. I may have waited too long to make this dress as I had to add side pleats to allow for my eight and a half month sized belly. I pictured wearing it on spring days during pregnancy and then on the day we come home from the hospital. My husband threw me a surprise baby shower a couple of weeks ago—graciously, after I'd completed the dress—allowing me to wear it on that very special day as well. 

Before Lennon was born, I’d made a crib sized quilt for him using Amy Butler fabrics from various collections and unbleached market stall cotton. For Baby Girl, I did the same, though there is a marked difference in quality between the two. Lennon's quilt was the first I'd ever constructed and I knew very little about the best materials to use or where to find them in Berlin. Two years later, I'm not only a better seamstress but I've amassed some really lovely fabrics and materials from Berlin as well as trips home, knowing they'd bound to be used in the near future. Baby Girl's quilt is also made with Amy Butler fabrics but from her Gypsy Caravan collection. The borders are unbleached market stall cotton. The binding is the real treasure: it's made from various lengths of vintage children's fabric purchased from this Etsy.com seller. The quilt batting—now that I know all about proper quilt batting—is a beautiful 100% cotton.  

Unable to find Big Brother/Little Sister matching outfits that suited my sensibility, I chose to make my own. I wanted at least one photo shoot with them together wearing these pieces—complemented by pure white, long sleeved onesies—after which they can wear them throughout the summer. Baby Girl's dress is best for a three month old, so I expect it to be swimming on her at the photo shoot, but such is life. The pattern for the wrap dress can be found here and the pants are the Quick Change Trousers, again from Handmade Beginnings. The pants and dress are both reversible. The outer fabric on both is a natural linen found at Stoffhaus* here in Berlin. The reverse fabrics are tightly woven cotton lawns found at a local market stall for a song. The small patchwork accent pieces are cotton voile from Liberty of London. I purchased a scrap bag of various Liberty fabrics from this Etsy.com seller last year and was excited to finally put a few to use.

*Funny story about Stoffhaus—I normally buy my fabrics at the markets, because of budget. Sometimes, however, I need a specialty fabric that the market may not have or isn’t carrying during a particular season. Stoffhaus has reasonable prices compared to other brick and mortar stores in Berlin and a fairly good selection. I've made it my ‘go-to’ fabric store, though I've always suspected that there must be a Berlin equivalent to San Francisco’s Britex Fabrics or New York’s Mood Fabrics where people in the know (read: Germans) purchase their sewing needs. I was shocked to discover that Daniel Esquivel from last season's Project Runway was sent to the very same Stoffhaus in Berlin that I shop during the ‘Europe Here We Come' challenge! While happy that I'm savvier than I suspected, it was a rude awakening to discover that Stoffhaus is as good as it gets here. 

Every May, my husband has a series of three and four day weeks. This year, we took advantage of his time off to make Lennon's room into a boy/girl room. Though Baby Girl won’t be sleeping in there for a good, long while, this Mama wanted to have all of her ducks in a row, looking cute, before the birth—and before the care taking of two children begins.

We'd been long intending to buy matching frames for some the small artwork we have for Lennon. Mission accomplished! The fox in the sky with the long tail and the creature on the rug were drawn for Lennon by our friend and artist Josh Bauman. The middle print is vintage baby shower wrapping paper for a baby girl found last summer at my favorite church thrift shop in Tuolumne City, California. The mustache mobile hanging in front is by Jäll & Tofta. After an exhaustive search for the perfect changing pad cover in a price range that I could afford to buy in double—one needs at least two changing pad covers, in my experience—I decided to make my own. The one shown uses leftover ‘An Easter Story’ fabric, cotton terry, and vintage rick-rack. 

The boy and girl sides of the room mirror each other, save Lennon's Stokke Sleepi in its toddler configuration and Baby Girl's in its Mini bassinet state. Incidentally, lest you think we live like kings, we found both of these cribs gently used and for true bargains through other families here in Berlin.

The fabric initials you see above both cribs are from Anthropologie and were sold without the backing. I felt that they got lost on the wall by themselves so added painted canvases behind them and the rick-rack. Though not shown, the rick-rack around Baby Girl's first initial was made by an ancient weaving machine from the Museum of Early Industrialization in Wuppertal, Germany. I purchased it there on our trip last year to see Pina Bausch's Nur Du and was so happy to find a special project to use it in.

Mama and Baby Girl, 2013
Mama and Lennon, 2011

With most projects behind me, Baby Girl came upon 'Full Term' status. I took the same above picture during the same week whilst pregnant with Lennon. As with the passage of time and my skill development, Lennon's ‘Full Term' banner was made with printer paper and twine while Baby Girl's is, ahem, more elaborate. Specifically, her banner is made from burlap with hand embroidered black lettering, bound with lace. Very much hoping this doesn't cause conflict in later years.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Looks Like We Made It: An Easter Story

Growing up, Easter morning was almost as big of a deal for the kids in my family as Christmas morning. My parents created an elaborate treasure hunt with clues throughout the house leading us to Easter baskets and chocolate. Since moving to Berlin three years ago, 2013 was our first Easter in the city as a family—we normally travel during this time—and Lennon was finally old enough for a proper Easter hunt. 

The morning started off early—5:30am early—with a note from the Easter Bunny and a chocolate rabbit placed strategically near where we'd suspected he'd awake—in our bed. Behind the note was a clue as to where Lennon could find his next Easter surprise—from Mr. Bunny, of course. The clue came in the form of a printed photo of a location Lennon frequents in our apartment, making it simple for him to know where to look.

On the edge of the bathtub, Lennon found a papier-mâché egg with Easter stickers inside, along with another clue.

Atop his play kitchen, was a new cooking and eating play set. Though another clue was included here, he became a bit distracted at this juncture.

His final clue brought him to his bedroom where he found a new bed for his baby doll. We're hoping to make him into a little Papa before his sister arrives in June. So far he’s playing along nicely.

Later that day, we would be visiting several of Lennon's friends and I wanted to bring something special for each of them. I made five small Easter baskets with a few goodies inside. For the baskets, I purchased this pattern but modified the handles and some of the construction to make it more Easter basket-like. I used my handy printable fabric to make the name plaques on the front. The linen and dotted fabric was purchased from IKEA—of all places—and the orange and white rick-rack was a market stall find. 

Each child received two decorated sugar cookies inside their homemade basket. After much trial and disappointment over the years with sugar cookies I tried this recipe entitled 'The Best Sugar Cookies.' They lived up to their name! An organic chocolate bunny lolly made by Alnatura was also included.

The tutorial for the carrots can be found here—it's free! Along with the dotted fabric from IKEA and the market stall rick-rack, the green check fabric I used for the carrot tops was also found at the market, on an enormously wide bolt. Just one meter yielded so much that I've already made big plans for the leftovers.

The padded baskets came in handy later for egg hunting with Lennon's buddy Otis.

In the afternoon, we made our way to Kreuzberg for a family supper with more of Lennon's little buddies and their parents. Lennon had been gifted a beautiful, mint condition vintage suit, circa 1950s, by my Mother, purchased from an Etsy seller. I couldn't wait for him to don it as his Easter outfit. With the absence of an authentic 1950s boys button down shirt, Lennon wore a white long sleeve onesie from H&M underneath and I made him a coordinating neckerchief from leftover vintage yardage and mini rick-rack, which sweetened the whole look.

For supper with friends, I made an asparagus quiche and a carrot cake. Other folks had made lasagna, salad, and homemade bread. Our hosts made lamb and a pear tart—so much good food and really wonderful people.  

I pushed myself beyond my energy level this Easter making sure I created the type of day I really wanted my family to experience, but it was absolutely worth it. I’ve been taking extra naps ever since to make up for it. My stamina is just not the same in the third trimester. Fortunately, I'm currently on maternity leave from my PhD program, which I'll be writing more about in the months to come. Taking this leave has lifted a tremendous weight off my shoulders and has allowed this pregnant mother to do just what she desires at this exact moment: focus on being a mom.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

With 99% Certainty

Last week we had an appointment with my Frauenarzt (Gynecologist in German) for a routine checkup concerning Little Inside Baby, hereafter referred to as L.I.B. All looked well on the doctor’s grainy ultrasound monitor and she asked us—my husband and son were present—if we knew the gender of the baby. I had told her the gender in our appointment four weeks ago. We even had a conversation about how the health of the baby is what’s important, which seems to be the common condolence when I tell people I’m having another boy. No matter. She’s a busy doctor with many patients. She’s likely to forget a conversation that took place a month ago. I told her that the Perinatal Specialist had said we were having a boy. She started to shift her ultrasound wand back and forth on my belly, trying to get a better view of the baby’s undercarriage. “Is it still a boy?” I asked. She said that she just couldn’t get the baby in the right position to check for sure. It was of no consequence, really. I felt I was having a boy. I had committed, happily, to being the mother of boys.

Yesterday, we had our follow-up visit with our Perinatal Specialist. We chose to see a Specialist because of my “advanced maternal age.” Lovely. Lennon came for the visit this time and ran around wildly, playing with the nurse. Unlike my pregnancy with Lennon, I am much more calm this time. When the Specialist told us in November that our baby was healthy and had no signs of genetic defect, I imprinted that information in my heart and let it give me peace. With Lennon, I second-guessed every diagnosis. I think my calm this time also comes from the knowing that whatever child I am blessed with, I am just that: blessed—something I didn’t realize before giving birth to Lennon.

As I reclined on the exam table, five feet in front of me was the Specialist’s enormous flat screen TV where I could see the 3-D ultrasound of L.I.B. captured by his fancy, state of the art equipment. He started to verbally check off all of the baby’s features, with comments like “perfect” and “normal.” He then asked if we knew the gender already.

“Yes, a boy.” I said.
“Who told you that?” he said.
“Your nurse, when we called in December.” I answered.

He then told us unequivocally that we, in fact, had a girl! He was concerned that we had not been told that the gender results from the eleven-week ultrasound were not meant to be 100% accurate. I reassured him that, indeed, the nurse clearly stated that the certainty was only 99%. The Specialist apologized more than was needed, really, and stated that today’s gender results were now upgraded to 100%. We would be having a baby girl. My husband and I were in a state of thrilled shock. I believe I still am.

Afterward, the Specialist looked once more at November’s ultrasound picture, from which L.I.B.’s gender had been given that early determination. He said that in looking again at that eleven-week picture, he would still say it was a boy. Apparently, the little gender determining parts just look so darn similar at that point in the pregnancy and what with how the baby was positioned…that’s why he makes his early determinations at less than 100% certainty. He wanted to make sure we understood, however, that all the other factors he checked at the early ultrasound—the bridge of the baby’s nose, the Nuchal fold, the heart—were absolutely accurate. We had a healthy baby. He didn’t need to say this, but I’m glad he did.

On the way home, I felt a little guilty being so giddy about now having a girl, as if I was betraying the little boy I thought I was going to have. Silly, right? It’s still the same baby. Over the past six weeks, I had reconciled any disappointment in not having a girl and had really fallen in love with the baby boy I thought was growing inside me. What I learning now is how little gender really does matter. Boy or girl, I fell in love with this child’s unique soul.


Early on in the pregnancy, weeks before we saw the Perinatal Specialist, my husband and I performed the “thread and needle” gender test. The test is about as accurate as any old wives’ tale, but the needle that hung from the pink thread spun around in circles when dangled above my newly pregnant belly. We performed the test several times to confirm the result. I performed it again on myself the following day. Each time, it made gentle circles above my belly.

Circles for a girl, back and forth for a boy.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Mother of Boys

When we found out Little Inside Baby is going to be a boy, I’ll confess that I had to do some readjusting. Even though I’d long convinced myself that a healthy baby was the only miracle gift I could want and that having two boys would be such a magical thing, I secretly desired to see myself reflected in a child of my same gender. As soon as we found out, I began problem solving—figuring out how to not just accept that we wouldn’t be having a girl but to celebrate having a boy. I knew, after all, that there were no guarantees that a girl child would be any more a reflection of me and my interests than my sons would be. Their paths are their own. Still, I read a ton online about being the mother of boys and spoke to other moms in my community, also pregnant with their second sons, about how they felt. While I found some comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in my ego dream of wanting a baby girl, more so I found there to be pieces missing in the conversation about raising boys, specifically when it came to sexual orientation.

Valerie Monroe wrote an article for Oprah magazine entitled, “How to Raise the Men We’d Want to Marry.” Before I address the article’s the title, which is directed toward mothers, there are some important points in this piece I’d like to note. Monroe sites William Pollack, author of Real Boys, who contends that “for boys to be happy and healthy, they must be allowed to have feelings, to show empathy, to be able to express the range of emotions encouraged in girls.” Monroe continues by nakedly acknowledging that to do this isn’t always easy given so many of the images we’re presented with of what it means to be a man. She talks about the difference between “Daddy’s Girl” and “Mama’s Boy.” The latter has a decidedly pejorative connotation in our society, she asserts. “Mama’s Boy”, Monroe claims, draws up images of a man “tied to his mother’s apron strings.”

Olga Silverstein, author of The Courage to Raise Good Men, also sited by Monroe, says that mothers withdraw from their sons because they are afraid they will “contaminate them with female qualities.” Silverstein calls for a shift in how we perceive these “female qualities” stating that, “As a culture, we perceive empathy, nurturance, talent for friendship and relationship as belonging only to women and less valuable than independence and the kinds of strengths traditionally associated with men.”

If you’ve ever met my husband, you’ll understand that a strong, independent man can also be an empathetic and emotionally available one who has a very close relationship with his mother. Though I’ve believed it all along, Monroe’s article put words to my own formula for raising a brave boy: love and emotional well-being.

But the article’s title…

The closing paragraph of the piece reads thusly:

“A child who is fully and deeply loved, who learns to acknowledge his feelings and is well equipped to express them, and who learns to take responsibility for his actions, to value compassion and live it daily—this is the boy who will grow into a man who’ll make a loving companion. That’s good for the woman he marries. Even better for the man he becomes.”

I had a conversation with another expecting mother of her second boy shortly after I found out we were having our second. We cheered each other by recalling those things that make our situation wonderful: our little guys will be each other’s best friends and little boys love their mamas (see above why this is so very okay.) The other mama went on to say that the down side of having boys is that they leave you—they get married and become more attached to their wife and her family and become less attached to you. I wanted to say, “Unless my son is gay,” but I didn’t—not because it would have been just as gross of a generalization as her statement, but because after my pop culture, cross reference reading of what it means to be a mom of boys, I discovered that being gay is not a comfortable part of the dialogue for most people when considering the future of our children.

Monroe made assumptions, even in her article’s title, that the splendid partner her son would become would be for someone of the opposite sex. To be fair, that isn’t where the weight of the article is and my intention isn’t to undermine the value of the points she raises by harping on this one oversight. I suppose anyone who reads her article can do what I did and replace the word “woman” with “woman/man,” as surely the author didn’t intend to exclude this possibility but perhaps was just trying to be tidy and elegant with her verbiage—and even “woman/man,” of course, isn’t totally allowing for inclusivity of all gender and sexual identities possible for our children. As far as the politics of this article, my objection is minor, but what it and other sources keep intonating again and again is that we should assume our children are “straight” until they show us otherwise.

I’m just beginning to understand what it is to be a mother, but what I understand clearly is that the love I have for my child is deeper and more enduring than I ever thought was possible. I would be heartbroken if my son felt that there was a part of his remarkable self that couldn’t be expressed because he was scared of rejection. Maybe he’d never been told that being gay was bad or wrong, but if it’s never acknowledged as a possibility of life, will he feel any safer?

I read a beautiful blog account of one mother’s discussion with her six-year-old son. She’d noticed her son’s interest in the “Kurt and Blaine” high school romance on the TV show Glee. Eventually her son explained to his mother that Kurt and Blaine “just kiss boys.”

“Mommy, they are just like me!” he said.
“That’s great, Baby,” she responded, “You know I love you no matter what?”  

I feel grateful to this mother for setting such a loving example for us all. I want to be very clear here that my praise of her isn’t qualified, though her conversation made me curious about the message being sent when we use the words “no matter what.” Her “That’s great, Baby” said everything I wanted her son to hear, but the words “no matter what”—ones I’ve heard used before in a similar context—sound to me as if one is calling in the unconditional reserves—that it’s something to be tolerated out of love and not fully embraced as a wondrous part of being human. I’m so far from these moments with my boys—I may crumble under any implication of them having romantic feelings toward anyone. My research on this subject is as complete as the dialogue out there. But I do know that I want to be very aware when I talk to my sons about this kind of love—because to love and be truly loved by another person is my life’s hope for them. Full stop.

Post Script:

Last spring, my family and I made the trek to Wuppertal to see Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater perform. A sixty-two year old French dancer named Dominique Mercy performed the last solo of the piece. His body was completely fluid and vulnerable. A repeating theme of the solo was a collapse where he gave into gravity and seemed to crumble backwards towards the ground. I couldn’t stop myself from weeping at the beauty. I thought, what a gift it is to be a man in his sixth decade of life with the ability to give himself over to expression this way. How rare his gifts are in men of his generation. How unique and sublime his experience of the world.

Photo source found here

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Looks Like We Made It: Year End Making

I’ve been stockpiling ideas lately: things I want to make, things I want to write about. I’m saving them up for the New Year when it’s fresh and holiday time restores to everyday time. This last post of 2012, my seventieth, incidentally, takes care of a little house keeping. There’s a few projects I completed in the last months that need documentation before the year is out. No year end recap to be found here, but rather a hurried show-and-tell of last minute crafting before we’re pushed into 2013.

You may remember that I was commissioned to make a special hush-hush birthday crown for a friend here in Berlin. Her husband turned forty-five in November and she threw him a Moustache themed birthday party (sound familiar?) I had heaps of fun making this crown. I collected a few bits of inspiration that I shared with my friend before the build to make sure I was on the right track. She assured me I was.

It also gave me a chance to use my new HP DeskJet 1000 color inkjet printer and printable cotton fabric. I’ve often seen printable fabric used in quilting and fabric book making to transfer photos onto fabric and have coveted the technology. Once I realized how inexpensive these printers actually were—they get you on the toner cartridges—I splurged. Since we have a laser printer for documents, the color printer would only be used infrequently for crafting. I’m seriously hooked, though, and keep trying to find things to print out on fabric. My latest obsession: labels for everything. The photo below is of the keepsake label I printed for the outfit Lennon wore to his first birthday party. The printer is a stop-gap measure until I can afford an embroidery machine—an expense that can't truly be justified when I currently sew on a borrowed machine.

Just before I was finished with the crown, I looked over my friend’s original email request which explained that the color theme for the party was Tiffany blue and black and asked that I incorporate these somehow. Oops! The black was taken care of but I had to get creative in bringing in the blue, which, in the end, added a surprising twist to the color story.

Onto my Christmas making! I made stockings for all four members of my family. Though one of them won’t join us until summer, we’ve already chosen his name and it has been printed on fabric and attached to his stocking. All four hung in our living room but L.I.B.’s (Little Inside Baby) stocking included a piece of paper covering the name. The stockings are made from white burlap, natural linen, and white cotton rick-rack. I lined them with market stall unbleached cotton.

Each year I make an ornament for our tree. Last year, I allowed Paloma’s Nest to do so as it was Lennon’s first Christmas and required something extra special. Next year, L.I.B. will also receive a Paloma’s Nest ornament. This year, there seemed no better way to mark these Holidays than with a picture of what is to come in 2013. I scanned L.I.B.’s photo from the amazing 3-D ultrasound we received when he was eleven weeks in gestation and printed it out in color on the printable cotton. From there, I made a simple pillow with blue rick-rack trim. I love how chunky it is on the tree, just as the previous year’s ornaments are. I can’t wait for our tree to be overwhelmed by big, homemade ornaments from so many happy Christmases.