Sunday, October 16, 2011

On Thinking and Doing

Sadie was in the bathtub the other day when she announced: “I sew princess dresses!”  “You do?”  I asked. “Yes.  I sew princess dresses!”  It isn’t the first time she’s made that sort of imaginative announcement.  One day when we were in the car she told me that I didn’t need to teach her how to knit someday, because she already knows how.

Lately, she’s watched me work with pliers and wire, needle, thread and fabric, yarn, a crochet hook and knitting needles and hammer, nail and wood (I’ve built seven bookshelves since we moved!) and she seems to have come to a conclusion: Mommy can make anything. 

It comes up throughout the day.  The words: “Mommy make me __________.” frequently leave her mouth.  She worries about Mae too.  Before I finished Mae’s princess dress she reminded me almost hourly that Mae didn’t yet have a princess dress, and that I needed to sew one. 

As I cut the fabric for the latest dress she watched, with a slightly worried look on her face before saying “Mommy, can you knit it back together?” 

The baking we’ve done recently also seems to play into the idea that “we” can make anything.  After helping me make rolls earlier in the week she’s become fascinated with baking and has “made” pizza every day using a brown fuzzy blanket as “dough”.  The couch is the “oven.”  She even covers the “pizza” with another blanket so that it can rise, while repeating to me over and over again: “It’s not ready yet!” 

And I like that her first thought when we need (or want) something is that we can make it.  I think this might be why we have (so far) never had a tantrum in a toy aisle.  We’re way more likely to have a scene in JoAnn’s, which usually involves Sadie running up and grabbing a bolt of fabric while saying: “I like this one more better Mommy!” while I scramble to make sure it doesn’t fall, along with the five other teetering bolts around it, to the floor in a pile of gauzy sparkling organza (it’s happened). 

Craftsmanship, along with manual labor, are often undervalued in our culture.  These tasks, which actually keep our world running smoothly in many ways, usually aren’t looked at as appropriate goals, as if they’re somehow beneath us.  I remember being interviewed in high school for a newspaper article shortly before graduation and being asked what my favorite class was.  I knew innately that saying “wood shop” (the real answer) was out of the question for one of our classes two Co-Valedictorians and so I gave the next best answer “government.”  I enjoyed government and math and all the other subjects, but I already enjoyed working with my hands and coming up with a finished project, more

Then again, I didn’t know a single person growing up (through college) that just wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  Something like that would have been seen (by ourselves and our peers) as a horrible waste of our very-special-one-of-a-kind-brilliance. 

Of course, being a mom involves much more than just making things, or manual labor.  As Chesterson said: 

"To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labours, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, cakes and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can imagine how this can exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone and narrow to be everything to someone? No, a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute."

As usual Chesterton’s wisdom holds true over time because the truth doesn’t change. 

There’s something to be said, especially in the sort of economy we’ve had since both of my girls were born, for being a little more self sufficient and knowing how to do and think.  Just being able to fix things as they fall apart has become a real asset that I never would have dreamed was valuable back when I was dreaming about what I would do when I grew up.  Mending things isn’t my favorite job… but it is rewarding and does save money that is needed elsewhere.

I hope that’s something that I can impart to Sadie and Mae and to any other children we have:  A classical education that teaches them to think, alongside a more practical education that teaches them to sew a button, knit a sweater or crochet a blanket, make an inexpensive healthy dinner, or build a book shelf.  I want them to understand that knowledge is beautiful but that so is action and work, and that the two go hand in hand. And hopefully they’ll discover that most tasks become easier, and some are even quite enjoyable (I think it’s safe to say I’m addicted to knitting, crocheting and sewing), once a person is proficient in them.   

I hope that they understand, as far as one can understand when they head out into the world, that our vocations, which are who we are called by God to serve, often involve a life that is a bit more strenuous than we might imagine from a “traditional liberal arts education” because serving others is seldom easy.  That since we are composite creatures, both physical and spiritual, serving those we are called to serve, often involves meeting physical needs, and that we can grow spiritually through the mundane, unglamorous tasks that are part of daily life, which go alongside the sometimes lovely and sometimes difficult moments where we are given the chance to strive to grow in faith and love.  


  1. Oh this is SO TRUE. Being able to make what you need and having the confidence and mindset to DO so are as valuable in educating the kids as the great books!

    My husband can make anything I think. He can repair anything from the engine of the truck to an electron microscope-- and I am in awe of him!! HE thinks it is nothing but he came from a family who built what they needed, repaired what they had and kept going. I covet his attitude and skills for our children!!

    Thank you for a post that brightened my morning.

  2. I think you speak so many mothers' hearts, Cammie! Thank you in the way you express it.

  3. And having built everything from my deck to MY cabinets, and re-built everything from my car to my plumbing, the money saved from "doing for yourself" is money that is available for "doing for others." Doing, for myself and for others, is one of the best lessons my parents ever taught me. I have never looked to any one else for help, before I first looked to myself, then my God.

    It is a most precious lesson you teach you little ones. Your parents must be very proud of you -- the ones here, and in heaven.

  4. Well said, both your words and Chesterton's. It's very true that we need both sides of the coin - classical and practical education - yet we live in a society where some of the most brilliant individuals "work" in think tanks all day, and SAHMs are seen as wasting their intelligence.

    Have you heard of a book called "Shop Class as Soul Craft"? I haven't read it but my husband highly recommends it. Sounds similar to some of these ideas - about a man who leaves his job as an "intellectual" to repair motorcycles for a living, and how that affects his philosophy of life.

    Love this blog. Hope you're feeling better!

  5. Excellent! Thank you for sharing. I am hoping to become more adept at the hands on things; this year everyone is getting handmade crochet items for Christmas!


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