I grew up in a makerspace. My mom was, and still is, a maker. Left to her own devices and ingenuity, she makes things. Lots of moms do, and dads too, and plenty of other random people, but I grew up with my mom and dad and this is my essay. Everything here is filtered through my memory and my feelings, so ties to objective reality are tenuous, but you’ll get the gist, and it’s pretty close to correct. I think.

My mom’s approach to a problem, or really anything even if it’s not a problem at all, is: “I can solve that. Let me think about it, find some instructions, get the right tools, and work carefully. I can do this!”

My remembrance of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s was a series of my mom getting the needed instructions and equipment, figuring out how to do it, and then making stuff (or making stuff happen). Macrame trend? Mom got yarn, and glue, and a book, and we had a hanging plant holder. Crewel embroidery? Sure! But Mom quickly tired of following packaged patterns, so she’d figure out how to transform something I drew, or a picture I liked out of a coloring book, into wall art. Everybody’s crocheting an afghan? No problem: a book, some hooks, some great yarn, and we still have the afghan she made. It’s fabulously warm and has held up beautifully. Altra luggage kits? I still have the garment bag, tote bag, and dopp kit she made. They work great.

Ballerina Barbie coloring book image, rendered by my mom in crewel embroidery.

I went away to college. I called home: “Mom, it’s COLD here.” The first stop on my next trip home was the chain fabric store, just for patterns (it’s hard to get great fabric at a chain store). I found the pattern I loved (ankle-length, with slash pockets and raglan sleeves). Next stop: a fabric store in a mobile home, where they had gorgeous remnants and remainders and who knows what all, where we bought yards of stunning, thick, teal wool. I went back to college leaving my mother to find and procure this amazing lining fabric that was windproof on one side and satin-y on the other (making the coat easier to put on and off, and warm like Thinsulate but with even less bulk). Perfectly matched buttons? You bet! Add an inside pocket that’s not on the pattern? Of course! I wore that coat all the time, including one night I spent standing outside the bus station in Lynchburg, Virginia, watching the temperature drop from 43F to 23F, waiting for a bus that was 5 hours late. I live in Florida now, but I still have the coat.

I loved going to the fabric store as a child: I could pick any pattern I wanted, even if it was marked “plus difficile” in the Vogue pattern catalog. I learned really early how to understand what fabric would work for what design. And there was never a problem if I couldn’t find a pattern for exactly what I wanted: we could buy different patterns for different features and my mom could make them come together. If I wanted Those Sleeves on That Bodice with a Different Skirt, my mom would help me evaluate the plausibility of how they’d work together and then she’d just… do it.

My mom’s college degrees and avocation (as surely you’ve noted) are in clothing and textiles. She made her own wedding gown, and she made mine. We were in NYC in July 2001 to visit the Jackie Kennedy exhibit at the Met, and I saw some unusually-set sleeves: “Mom, can you…?” Sure! We went to the garment district and bought cream-colored velvet and she designed the dress (including those fabulous sleeves), made me a muff to carry, and turned her attention to millinery to duplicate the design and construction of a velvet cap I found in a thrift store. Ta-da! A flower-hating, crew-cut, February-in-the-midwest bride.

I was happy and lucky to have both parents walk me down the aisle.

And it wasn’t magic (she can do magic, don’t get me wrong: she can balance a Barbie doll standing on its own two feet with no support) — it was skill, and work, and perseverance, and willingness to re-do and re-do as needed. Speaking of Barbies, though, and weddings…if I wanted a white dotted swiss bride gown for Ballerina Barbie and a pink dotted swiss bridesmaid gown for Fashion Photo PJ, lucky me, because mom would buy the pattern (yes, Barbie dress patterns), rootle through her scrap bag, and sew up some eyelet-trimmed dotted swiss bridal wear. With matching headwear.

Having a house to decorate and maintain let Mom expand her skills substantially. Patterned wallpaper in the 1970s? SURE. Mom bought this fabulous booklet at Wallpaper Warehouse in Bridgeville, PA, for 50 cents. Take a look: I scanned the thing (although not very well, sorry, and PLEASE check out how self-efficacious the woman in the booklet is). As a result, we had wallpapered rooms where the patterns matched exactly at every seam and lined up perfectly around every switch plate and outlet cover. Want ceramic tile to replace the old vinyl flooring in the powder room, and a tiled backsplash in the kitchen? No problem. Buy a book, buy the equipment, and we had tiled surfaces that impressed even the contractor who did the kitchen remodel (yeesh, even my mom drew the line at in-depth kitchen cabinetry and serious plumbing, although she did cedar-line a closet once).

Don’t look at me having just had my wisdom teeth removed; look at the outlet/switch plate.

I didn’t learn patience and perseverance and resilience and creativity from all this, but I should have…well, maybe I did, a little: I never sit down to sew without having a REALLY GOOD seam ripper at hand — I know it’s almost always better to re-do it if it’s wrong, and trying to cover up a mistake rather than acknowledging it and fixing it is a recipe for disaster. I also know that, from the fun of picking out a pattern and buying gorgeous fabric, there are MANY steps of prep that are easy to skip…if you want to produce something terrible.

Yes, it’s hard on an impatient kid to cut the pattern pieces, press them flat with a warm iron, pre-shrink the fabric, straighten the fabric, fold everything correctly so the grain of the fabric is lined up, pin the pattern carefully and following the layout directions (yes, including the eons it will take you to match the patterns on a figured fabric!), cut slowly and carefully including the notches you’ll later use to line up the pieces, and use a pencil or washable marker to mark every line and dot. If you don’t do all that, you’ll still put in a lot of time, but wind up with a product that isn’t very good.

Anyway, since I am by nature an incredibly lazy person, I don’t have the maker urge. Thanks to my mom, though, I CAN make things, and I know how to learn how to fix, or make, a new thing, and I occasionally even do so. When my kid’s wizard costume for halloween — yes, we bought it, although when I was a kid NEEDLESS TO SAY I never had a bought costume — was too long, I got a needle and matching thread and I hemmed it. (And wouldn’t you know I can still do a completely invisible hand-hem?) When the turn signal bulb on my car burned out, I found some YouTube videos, got out my socket set, identified and bought the correct bulb, and changed it. But I’m not the real maker in my house — I know a good characteristic when I see it, and my dear husband works very much like my mother does. How would we make a removable and reusable PVC-pipe-and-bird-netting cage for our blueberry patch? Let’s just say we have one now. It works great.

I made the dried-bean wall hanging…well, yeah, I did, but LOOK AT THE SWITCH PLATE COVER. LOOK AT IT!

“I watched a movie today…”

Recently, my dear spouse asked me for suggestions for movies to watch with our kids (11 and 7). We’ve run through what we can access easily through our streaming services. “What movies do you remember from your childhood that we could watch?”, he asked. I laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

This isn’t an essay about movies (if you want to learn about movies there are many people FAR more knowledgeable than I am, Kevin Smith comes to mind as your required first stop). This essay is about my dad. I’ll write another one later about my own experience of film from high school forward, but this one’s about my dad and his ideas about “movies for children.”

“Talkies Uptown Video” independent rental store incorporated in 1984 in my hometown. I reckon we got our VCR around the same time. My dad had something like membership number 3, 13, 37? (you can ask him). My parents were high school teachers. During the school year my dad averaged a movie a day; in the summer, two. I wasn’t always invited to watch with him, and I had my own activities later on, but watching movies on VHS with my dad was a huge part of my childhood.

We saw stuff on the big screen, too. Looking at “top movies of 70s 80s lists” prompts me to remember amazing movies we (my dad, mom, and I) saw in the theatre. Imagine a kid at these ages, rapt in these films:

  • Terms of Endearment (1983; I was 12)
  • Crimes of the Heart (1986; I was 15)
  • Grease (1978; I was 7)
  • Kramer vs. Kramer (1979; I was 8)
  • On Golden Pond (1981, I was 10)
  • Educating Rita (1983, I was 12)
  • Gandhi (1982, I was 11, we saw it in the theatre and then I asked my dad to rent it for me during a no-school “in service” day so I could watch it again by myself. Which I did. But I DID see ET in the theatre as well as Annie, that year)
  • Amadeus (1984, I was 13 and I saw it in the theatre twice)

In 1984 (I was 13) I started to exert my own wishes: I saw Ghostbusters AND Beverly Hills Cop AND Temple of Doom AND Gremlins AND The Karate Kid AND Footloose AND Romancing the Stone AND Splash in the theatre as well. In those years of early teen-hood it was a good mix: I saw Out of Africa AND The Color Purple AND Mask in the theatre, but I also got to see White Nights and Back to the Future and Rocky 4 and Jewel of the Nile.

But what I remember the most *without any prompting from lists or anything else* was sitting with my dad watching wonderful things, like:

  • Sleuth (1972, Laurence Olivier & Michael Caine)
  • Psycho — which I saw the way it was meant to be seen, without having ANY idea where it was headed or who the “psycho” was. DELICIOUS.
  • Rear Window (still easily one of my top 5 faves)
  • Rope!
  • The Trouble With Harry
  • Taxi Driver
  • Raging Bull (YOU go back and look at a list of top movies from 1980 and pick some to bring home to show your child — I bet this isn’t what you’d pick, but you’re not my dad)
  • Harold and Maude (which among other things gave me a lifelong love for the Cat Stevens tunes featured in this movie)
  • The Exorcist (long story I’ll share later)
  • Stand By Me (1986, this is later, I was 15, so it’s time to pause this list)

Plus, my dad was a Woody Allen fan, so we flew through ALL of those (I no longer watch Woody Allen films; I wouldn’t now, anyway, but I stopped before many people, because of what I feel to be intellectual dishonesty in the lack of explicit acknowledgement of James Thurber’s The Catbird Seat in Curse of the Jade Scorpion, but I digress). I was particularly blown away by The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), which I used to sneak downstairs and watch over and over while my parents slept, and Broadway Danny Rose (1984).

Much of my experience of movie watching with my dad is tied to one of two introductory phrases: “let’s go to the movies this weekend” or “I watched a movie today, maybe you want to watch it with me tomorrow before I return it.” Each of those meant magic was going to happen. My dad liked to be really, really low-key about setting my expectations — I think he was fascinated to see my reactions to movies when I came in cold, so…. I’d be prepared for a film like this (titles are at the end, in case they’re not obvious to you):

“I saw a movie today. It had fans. Maybe you’d like to watch it tomorrow afternoon with me before I return it.”

“You like Moonlighting, right? Maybe you’d like to watch this film later tonight.”

“You liked The Elephant Man [we saw it in the theatre in 1980; I was 9], there’s another movie by the same guy…”

“You think you might want to be a lawyer someday?”

“You dance.”

“Want to watch a movie with a computer?”

And at some point we began binge watching before that was even a thing, grabbing everything we could and gobbling it down:
Apocalypse Now
The Graduate
and, and, and…

But it wasn’t completely out of control! — I didn’t see A Clockwork Orange or The Deer Hunter or Deliverance until I was a little older. And there were other gaps: my dad didn’t really love “old” movies so favorites such as Double Indemnity came later, when I found them on my own. He also dislikes Cary Grant and isn’t huge on musicals, so I missed a bunch of wonderful films that I didn’t see until later.

But later will have to come later. For now, I’m still wrestling with my husband’s question: “what movies did you watch as a kid that we could watch again now?” I’ll take a page from my dad’s playbook and ask: “you liked Roy Scheider in All That Jazz, right?**

*Blood Simple (1984)
*The Last Picture Show (1971)
*Eraserhead (1977)
*The Paper Chase (1973)
*All That Jazz (1979)
*2001 A Space Odyssey (1968)

**We need to watch The French Connection. Obviously.

And here’s a picture of my dad. You can tell it’s taken at the time my story is set, by the paneling. And the orange chair….

Ron Kazmer family room 1986 2015-06-25 11-51 copy

How I lost my nursing credibility

Okay, that title is intentionally mis-leading. I have two kids and I breastfed for a total of 7.5 years, and I trust you to do the math and determine my credibility, or lack, for yourself.

For context: the second one was a breeze. Baby latched on, slept, weaned in 4 years. The first one would have been a nightmare except nobody, not even the cat, was sleeping through that mess. 13 weeks, 5 lactation consultants. Trytrytry to nurse, fail horribly, cry, bottle, burp, cry, sing, pump, cry, and it’s time to trytrytry again. Who was crying? All of us, including the cat. After 13 weeks I gave up. Baby and I both burst into tears every time we got near each other, which is no way to live. We gave him a bottle of the Best Possible Formula. He HATED it, and the look on his face was priceless. He nursed okay from then on and we went for 3.5 years (should’ve tried the formula earlier, but who knew that would work? plus All The Advice About All The Things indicated that everything we were doing was completely wrong but that anything else we could try would be equally wrong. Pleh).

So how does this mom lose her nursing credibility? I’ll tell you, but it’s going to take a minute, and I need you to clear your mind.

Imagine you’re out somewhere: restaurant, airplane, what have you. You’re minding your own business when a baby starts throwing food at you. Hmm. No, it’s not at you — it’s hitting other stuff, too. Other people, tables, chairs, walls. That’s kind of annoying. Shouldn’t somebody stop that?

This isn’t oaty-owes or pabu-crunchies. It’s sticky. And sweet. And greasy. And it smells kind of gross when it dries.

So you look. And you realize the baby isn’t throwing food. No, every time this kid looks away from its food, even for a second, the MOM is throwing food. And it’s going everywhere. You watch for a minute and you realize, worse yet (possible? YES) that in addition to throwing food everywhere, she’s even chucking it AT THE BABY. Bam! Food in the hair. Bam! Food in the ear. Which makes the baby cry. Plus all this food-chucking is really, really wasteful. Maybe mom should STOP throwing food?

Great idea! I agree. But my letdown* was so strong that anytime, day or night, for the whole 7.5 years, if a child latched OFF suddenly, to turn to look at a bright light or a loud noise or an interesting motion or just to wave HEEEYYYYY to the world, I involuntarily shot milk all over the whole universe. All over everything. I could get people sitting in the next booth in a restaurant (over the table, over the people sitting across from me, over the back of the seat, onto the head of the person on the other side). I could hit the TV from our couch. Strangers sitting in front of us on an airplane. And so on. It’s hard to clean up after that mess every time, plus it’s wasteful. And people often** find it kind of annoying to be sprayed with milk coming from the breast of a stranger. So I covered. Yep, I admit it. I covered. Me and baby, with anything I could use. Sheet. Blanket. Coat. Shirt. Purse. Scarf. Shawl. And finally, The Poncho.

At home. In bed. On the couch. On a chair. In the car. In my office. On the plane. In the airport. In the hotel. In a work meeting. I nursed those kids EVERYWHERE I went for 7.5 years and they were covered Almost Every Single Time.

No breastfeeding mother should ever, ever, ever have, or be expected, or be asked, to cover unless she and baby(ies) mutually desire it. Many (probably most) babies don’t like it and won’t eat well. For me and my little ones, covering was mutually AWESOME. I’m always (always!) cold, so being covered kept me from freezing to death while they munched away. Being covered kept my little ones from getting distracted, and made it easier for them to focus on turning into big, giant, roly-poly healthy happy babies and toddlers. I liked to eat while they nursed (I like to eat anytime), and they got a lot fewer crumbs in their hair this way. They loved to play peekaboo with the cover before they got started or after they were done. And both of them thought it was FANTASTIC the way they felt like they had this cool little face-time with Mom once I got The Poncho. The Poncho had a hood and a zippered neck, so I could pull up the hood and pull down the zipper, and baby and I could both see each other but no one else, and no one else could see us. We’d giggle and coo and get downright silly in our little tunnel. And nurse!

The Poncho was great — giant, made out of grey fleece — and I could wear it over top of wearing the baby in his wrap or sling, keeping us both warm. Plus it made a great blanket.

But…it meant I couldn’t go to nurse-ins where only uncovered breastfeeding “counted.” It meant moms who weren’t covered gave me sad (or worse) looks because I wasn’t brave enough to do the right thing for my baby (I actually got the best of both worlds in terms of catching negative looks: because my little pteranodons belonged to the Loud Eater Club, people who didn’t like me breastfeeding “in public” even though I WAS covered also gave me grief, because they didn’t like the Really Loud slurping noises!).

I said this once but it bears repeating: No breastfeeding mother should ever, ever, ever have or be expected or be asked to cover unless she and baby(ies) mutually desire it. But we shouldn’t assume that a covered mom is doing something wrong, either. I worked hard for those 7.5 years of nursing, and I enjoyed every second of it (AFTER THE FIRST 13 WEEKS). So this mom is reclaiming my credibility: Covered breastfeeding counts! Shooting milk all over the room, while a really cool ability, is kind of messy, can be wasteful, and in my case, tended to annoy the baby. Plus I still have a super-spiffy poncho.

*You can look it up. I’m not calling this “overactive” or “oversupply”; it was just how my breasts worked while lactating.

**I’m not going to address the cases where strangers were not annoyed by this. You do you, I say.