Keeping Up With the Past

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Baby has outgrown her onesies, not because they are tight on her, but because she is in full potty training mode. The snaps on the inseams get in her way as she prepares to go. And since we inhabitants of the Northeast are putting up with a frigid, wet spring, where we haven’t had a single three-day stretch of clear and warm weather, I thought those two inducememts were enough to convert her onesies into long- and short-sleeved T-shirts.

The thing is, until I took on this project I had not sewn much beyond basic hems and re-attaching buttons. I had never even owned a fully functioning sewing machine until I picked up the Singer Esteem II model at Target last winter. See the serious-looking Singer in the photo, the one with the foot pedal that comes inside the cabinet? I picked that up from an Italian woman who was clearing out her parents’ house to move them to smaller place. I mean to have it refurbished and get it up and running again, because I admire the workmanship that goes into these machines. I can’t see the sense in having a beautiful piece of work like that simply lay fallow and rust in my house.

I also like having it around because it makes me feel connected to my Caribbean past, and to a generation of women whose practical knowledge I envy and admire at turns. I know at least 10 very talented seamstresses. Aunt Mary is one of them, and she has a serious professional model. When Baby, Little Sister and I drove down for a visit on one of our (many) snowy days last winter, Aunt Mary let me take a few practice passes on it to hem up Baby’s “new” T-shirts. Readers, I was very rusty. But I was also determined to make these hands do something useful. Something that gave me something in common with some of the most creative and self-sufficient people I know. It is one thing for a family to assimilate into a culture, and send its second generation, myself included, into the professional workforce. Journalists like me tap out words for a living. (And a mean living it is, too. Generally speaking, journalists are among the most underpaid professionals you’ll find. Makes me mad.) For me, that’s not enough. I need something to do to take my mind off of work. Work, money, careers and getting ahead. It can’t be about that ALL THE TIME.

My late aunt Lena, my mother’s sister had a Singer similar to my vintage model. She kept it near one of my cousins’ bedrooms in the teacher’s cottage where we lived in rural Clarendon parish. I remember being a small child, about four or five years old, and sitting on the floor of that room while she sewed. The sultry air outside pulsed and teemed with noisy birds, monger out on the road hawked coconut water from homemade carts. Tiny lizards skittered along the verandah. Aunt Lena pumped the broad iron foot pedal and sent the machine whirring, joining these country noises, as she fashioned dresses, hemmed clothes, shortened or made drapes, or worked on whatever else was needed around the house. Aunt Lena’s son is married to a dynamo, Patrice, who is just as inventive as Martha Stewart, B. Smith and any other domestic taste maker out there. She just doesn’t have a syndicated media powerhouse to ply her wares, is all.   🙂  In any case, Patrice is a fantastic seamstress, who makes beautiful drapes, furniture covers and all sorts of other things. My mother is also proficient, and she made herself a few outfits during one of her particularly lean years in the early 1980s. I remember going into fabric stores with my mother. Colorful fabrics jutted out from everywhere, and the quiet was only broken up by one of the shopkeepers flipping the bolts of cloth around on a table to measure out the yardage, or the scrape of heavy tailor’s shears along the table as they sliced off what she wanted. I remember listening to her rev her Singer as she sewed her clothes. My mother looks great in pretty much whatever she wears—always turning heads—but I don’t remember any of her clothes (except for what she wore to my wedding) as much as I do her handmade outfits. Not to outdone by the women, my uncle Rowan worked as a tailor in London, where he lived for many years.

These women and uncle Rowan are all out of my league when it comes to sewing. We’re not even on the same planet, or galaxy, for goodness’ sake. There are times, like when I purchased drapes for Little Sister’s room and the kitchen, then brought them to a local dry cleaner to have the tailor shorten them, when I feel stupidly helpless.  With all this knowledge around me, why couldn’t I make simple, sturdy and attractive drapes for my house? Or just buy them and make them over myself? I regret taking such a late interest in developing this skill, which is just as relaxing as it is practical. For the few hours that I put into changing Baby’s onesies, sewing actually made me feel good, once I practiced. I got to feel a little more like a self-sufficient, can-do Jamaican than someone who has to run out to a store and swipe a card for every little necessity.

Fashion Score!

Last year, I cut through a discount fashion department store on my way to work, and stopped at a rack of beautiful designer handbags. I pulled out a fierce Oryany bag with irresitible hardware on its leather strap, but held back from buying it on impulse. I wanted to mull it and figure out if I had enough free cash to buy it. I went to work, and made my calculations. After only a few hours, I went back to buy it, but the thing was gone!

I did not make the same mistake this year, that’s for sure. This time, I caught the shop girl as she was stocking the racks, one pretty bag at a time. She had a WHOLE BIN of designer goodies, looking for good homes. I asked her if she was going to stack the entire rack with Oryany bags (please, Jesus!), but she said I’d have to check.

Soon after she hung this beauty, I was running my hand over its buttery smooth leather, zipping and unzipping the front pockets, and checking out the cavernous interior. It was a thing of beauty. I glanced at my watch, doing my scheming and calculations on the spot. When I saw how these front pockets peeled away like the skin of a mango or papaya, it was a done deal.

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So the other kids—Prada and Ferragamo—have a new sibling now.

😉

I’m Not an Ice Queen—Honest!

Does anyone out there think that Black women sometimes come across as … very serious and hard to pin down to a pleasant casual conversation?  I think so. After a few encounters with several Black women in another department at my company, I think many of us project a ‘don’t come hither’ vibe unknowingly. It dampens pleasant mornings, hinders friendships from forming, and (since we’re blogging about relationships) dissuades eligible bachelors from other races and ethnic groups from getting their hopes up with us.

Here is what happened.

A few weeks ago, I went to the kitchen at my office to wash my coffee mug. Another woman, from accounts payable, I think, was there doing the same. I gave her a bright, brisk “hello,” and we had a nice casual conversation. I thought all was fine, until she explained that she was relieved I was being so friendly, because she previously thought I didn’t like her.

Here we go again, I thought. Some other thin-skinned character claims I’ve snubbed her. I heaved a big sigh, inwardly, and asked, “Why do you say that?” She explained that on a few occasions, she has tried to exchange pleasantries with me in the morning or what have you, but that I never responded. I didn’t think it was worth creating any animosity with this woman by asking her “Are you sure? Maybe you misread me.” Instead, I apologized if I came across as rude. Her whole demeanor changed. She started talking about my beautiful smile and all that. So we finished our ‘chores’ and went back to our separate departments.

Reader, this does not surprise me, because I am a very serious person at work. It takes more than a few months for me to start chatting people up and making acquaintances. Unless the other person and I have an instant rapport, I make polite conversation and dole out small bits of information about my personal life until I feel at ease about being more open. But to ignore a hello from someone, especially if that person said it loud enough for me to hear? Well, that’s highly unlikely. Only if someone has horrid and insufferable, or is closely related to someone like that, do I really keep my distance.

But then something else happened a few days later. I started getting warmer, brighter smiles from her colleagues whenever I passed them in the halls or what have you. On the Friday before Mother’s Day, one of them invited a friend to stage a costume jewelry sale in one of the lower conference rooms. I saw them as I was heading to the same kitchen to wash that same coffee mug. I went in, because the mood seemed really casual. As I was picking through the stuff, this other woman made the same claim, that she was relieved I was being so friendly and she previously thought I didn’t like her.

OK. Look. I don’t know who has been saying what about me in accounts payable, but this whole claim that I ‘don’t like them’ is a crock. And anyway, Paige Turner is not the office ice queen up in here. Why was I being tried for bitchcraft in their little court, especially after I’ve had several nice little exchanges with at least a couple other ladies in that same department? Couldn’t someone testify on my behalf before someone slammed down the gavel on me?

And then I started to calm down and think about what this says of Black women and our different relationships. The women who seemed to have me pegged as unfriendly all have Caribbean accents. Wouldn’t doubt if two of them are Jamaican. I think it is far, far easier to make friends with Americans than it is with Jamaicans, because in many cases our mothers admonished us to “mind who you keep company with.” And so we learned to go through school, work, the mall etc., being very discerning when choosing our friends and boyfriends (eventually husbands). When it came to the workplace, we were told to do a great job, get promoted, not to make fools of ourselves and to mind our own business. It took me a long time to get on friendly terms with a couple of other Jamaican women in the office, but that’s just the way it is. They were always absorbed in their work. I never thought I was less likable because a couple of editors were taking a while to learn my name.

Being a journalist also works against me. This is a demanding profession, with long hours and exacting standards. One is always pressed for creative story ideas, penetrating reporting, precision with any and all facts, smart analysis and firm deadlines. Sometimes, you get editors with volatile dispositions, which makes coming to work everyday unpleasant. The other journalists I see around the office are usually pre-occupied with deadlines throughout the day. Every now and then, I come across a woman who is especially prone to withdrawing into her own little world, becoming so lost in her thoughts that she will pass within inches of me without so much as looking in my direction or even being aware that I’m there. I’ve never been that extreme, but I will own up to coming across as serious and unapproachable. That was especially the case up until last November, for various reasons that I won’t talk about.

Let’s assume that thousands of other Black women have my temperament, and have kept office friendships at bay with their sharp, all-business expressions. How much more discouraging have we been toward guys who don’t necessarily know how to approach us, but might want to try?

My Nature, His Nurture

A few months ago, the bracing winter cold back off for a few days, so I drove Baby to a nearby playground for 30 minutes of old-fashioned run around exercise. Baby is still too small, and her legs too unsteady to master this iron caterpillar, but she was still fascinated by it. She stood three feet off, looked up into its massive cartoonish eyes and said “ooooh.” Right away, I recognized Hubby’s influence on my daughter. He is the hiking, fishing, camping and roughing it type. The one who will take her into the surf at the beach, introduce her to wild animals and crawly creatures. It’s all in an effort to introduce her to the real world. She has to try things, he says. I agree completely .

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Then there are times when Baby is impatient and demanding about how things should be done. Spilled yogurt should we wiped up right away. She always shrieks when she has a runny nose: “Boo-ger. Boo-ger!” Until I clean her face, there is no letting up. And if I ask her where her white mary jane shoe has gone, or her toy dinosaur, she’ll walk me straight to the spot. In that way, she’s a lot like me. I hate messy dwellings. Can’t stand dirty ears or noses, and I’m usually good at putting everything it is particular place or tracking it down when it is not.

As Baby continues to develop, I see so many instances of her responding to her father’s guiding hand, and coming out of thin air, apparently, with something I would have certainly done at age 4 or 5. This will help her in life, I hope. We live in a part of the country where it almost seems like everyone we know is driven forward by an agenda for their own lives and that of their children. That’s where my ambition, as Hubby puts it, might help Baby identify something she loves and pursue it wholeheartedly. Hubby is a diligent go-getter on his own, to be sure. He is a freelance writer who works very hard, and is able to provide well for us. But his work is a means to an end. He likes to sample exotic cheeses, the smellier the better. He takes hikes and goes on annual camping trips with friends from university.

He tries and tries to get Baby to nibble interesting foods, like the ones he enjoys. And he has already informed me that Baby will be going camping and fishing with him, at some point. Fair enough. I think the explorer in Hubby should inspire an adventurer in Baby. We are both avid readers and professional writers, so she’s got the intellectual curiosity mapped out before her. When I get hold of that curiosity, and start to teach her about her black and biracial l background, I hope she’ll attack it with gusto. The same kind that she had when she went barreling down the slide in this photo.

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Easter & Post-Trim Dos

I think Baby and I are actually becoming reconciled to her hair-care routine.  :)   For the past few weeks, she has actually sat still for, oh, 20 minutes while I raced to style her hair. Even though we were always short on time, I think we pulled off a few cute styles. In the first two pictures, I gave her a sock-bun updo. In the second two, after her trim in a previous blog, I found a style to suit her shorter—and growing—hair.

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All dressed up ...

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... and off to church.

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Shorter hair ...

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... means smaller sections, and more of them.

Trimming Baby’s Ends

I trimmed Baby’s hair a few weeks ago, because her ends were getting rough and they seemed to be splitting. Here’s how I did it.

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After detangling, I smooth each section between my fingers, feeling for rough ends.

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Once I feel the rough, split ends I know where to snip.

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I'll divide this into two smaller sections.

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It is not as bad as it looks. Her hair will grow in as quickly as she does! The locks near the bottom of the picture look browner because they were dry when I snipped. Never again.

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'I'll take it from here, Mommy. '

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The tools. A pair of shears from a beauty supply store; a pin-tail comb; brush for gentle detangling; Shea butter cream and water to mist and moisturize each section.