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With the craziness of Halloween and the long weekend at the cabin that immediately followed because of a school holiday, I nearly forgot to post photos of Quinn’s monster costume as promised. I’m hoping we’re not too far past the big day for you to enjoy another little monster fest. Here’s the three-eyed yellow monster preparing for his preschool parade (with little sister monster Ada in tow).

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Xavier's Monster Picture_costume design
Until about a month and a half ago, Xavier was dead set on dressing up as Optimus Prime for Halloween and Quinn was all set to be a fellow Rescue Bots Transformer, Boulder. They had both decided that Ada would be Bumblebee (the Transformer, not the insect, of course).

But after a quick read through some of their favorite Halloween books that had just come out of storage and a line in the sand drawn by yours truly that this was the time to make the final choice on costumes (as I would be the one purchasing them or making them), Xavier pronounced that he had changed his mind and now wanted to be a monster. Quinn, ever ready to be “on Xavier’s team,” announced that he, too, would be a monster, and his description of his ideal costume mirrored Xavier’s exactly (Xavier would be green with yellow spikes, Quinn would be yellow with green spikes, and so on). Soon thereafter, Xavier’s vague description became very specific as he sketched out his design. Granted, I had requested such an illustration so I could have a sense of just what he was picturing when he said “monster,” but I had no idea he would become so attached to his vision.

At this point, I could have easily snatched up some ready made costumes, managing expectations that sometimes we don’t get exactly what we want. I could have looked for a green sweat suit, sewed on some yellow spikes, and called it a day. I can’t quite explain why my instinct was instead to make a trip to the fabric store to pick out a pattern to work from, scour the aisles for the perfect shades of green and yellow fabric, and plot out my plan. Perhaps it was the weeks that stretched between that day and Halloween and the many nights that remained to do a little here and a little there until the costumes were done.

Instead, I found myself knee deep in yellow and green fleece just hours before our scheduled photo session (because if I was going to spend all of this energy on the costumes, you better believe I was going to collect photographic proof before the kids dragged those precious little tails around in the mud). My mother had totally bailed me out by finding an adorable blue monster costume for Ada at a consignment sale, realizing long before I did that two handmade costumes was tricky enough; there was no way I could make three. I finished the boys’ costumes just in the nick of time and was literally sewing little yellow spikes onto the feet of Ada’s costume to make them all look like a coordinated set in the car ride over to the photo shoot.

I am quite happy with the results, as are the boys, and Ada has surprised us all by keeping her costume on for hours at a time, happily plodding around with her long tail and hood.

Xavier rewarded me with his awe that I was able to match his sketch so closely (“How did you even DO that, Mommy?” he asked) and with a ridiculous Mommy-son photo shoot during which he practiced his best monster poses until I finally had to tell him it was time to come inside. That kid really knows how to lay it on. Honestly, I appreciate every kind word as the undertaking was much larger than I imagined. But I am absolutely thrilled with the results.

I hope you enjoy these glimpses of Xavier’s costume. I’ll share some photos of Quinn and Ada in a future post.

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This is part of a new sometime series titled “Thinking Thursday.” While striving for the elusive work-family balance is so common it’s become a stereotype, I find it particularly difficult to reconcile the feminist, political, cultural, social, and economic theory I contend with in my academic work with my work as a mother and domestic partner. Some days the two seem so obviously and inextricably in sync, and others I find myself baking cupcakes and scouring the store aisles for the perfect white noise maker by day and reading and writing critiques of our expectations of women’s domestic labor and our failure to see women as nothing other than mothers by night.

I actually take pleasure in much of my creative domestic work–the baking, the art projects, the sewing. I see these things as “extra,” not necessary, and I wouldn’t do them if I didn’t enjoy them. I don’t depend on them to define my self worth. But I’d be kidding myself if I thought social and cultural expectations didn’t in some way shape both my behavior and that of my husband and children. This new series is meant to be a space for me to reflect and work through the collision and concord of my academic and family lives.

*  *  *

Xavier’s obsession with Batman began with a bin of superhero action figures at the home of the child care provider he and his brother stayed with two days each week. The toys were probably purchased secondhand cheaply and in bulk without much thought, but Xavier and his friends returned to them every day and soon each of them had identified his favorite Batman figure that the others would save for him if he arrived late. Slowly, despite my insistence that our home be free of branded toys and products, Batman toys slowed found their way in.

Accepting that this Batman obsession was inevitable, I sought out ways to steer it in positive directions. I emphasized the imaginative side of superhero lore, and talked about how superheros can fly, jump high, and, in the spirit of teamwork with their superhero friends, use their powers to help other people. I rejected the cartoons designed for older children with bulging muscles and violent clashes in favor of the Superfriends of the 1970s (while all the while biting my tongue about the troubling and simplistic trope of the “bad guy”).

While I wasn’t crazy about the idea that “good” and “bad” are so perfectly clear cut, at least the Batman of the 70s relied on trapping his enemies rather than destroying them in bloody battles. My worry that the ethos of the male superhero simply perpetuated the myth that helpless and weak women need strong muscled men to protect them didn’t seem to bear out in this older version of the cartoon where Wonder Woman often played a leading role.

This teamwork-loving, gentler hero is the version of Batman I strove to recreate in costume form when Xavier decided, shortly after his birthday (in July!) that he would dress as Batman for Halloween. And the same little boy who sometimes changes his mind about what he wants for breakfast three times during the ten minutes we spend making it never wavered from this choice.

With gusto, I threw myself into finding the perfect pattern to use as a starting point, buying the perfect fabric, and planning my inevitable tweaks. Meanwhile, in my moments of weakness when I let him watch the occasional Superfriends episode on YouTube, Xavier learned about teamwork and using your powers for good. That is, until we discovered the three part 1977 episode titled “The Mind Maidens.”

Aquaman along with the other prominent charact...

Source: Wikipedia

The plot is fairly simple. The evil Medula (“the most brilliant, the most dangerous woman on Earth”) seeks to rule the world with the help of her female minions. In one of the first scenes, we see a young woman on a date with her boyfriend and a mother serving her family a home cooked meal (“Another piece of chicken, dear?”). The young woman and the mother and her daughter are all zapped with Medula’s “will booster”; overtaken by its power, they “dematerialize” the men in their presence, shooting rays out of their now glowing eyes “using their strange powers,” and pledge their allegiance to Medula. (“We are with you, Medula,” they chant.) The men are stored on “computer tape” (it seems the threat of technology is almost as menacing as the threat of the growing women’s movement).

Men in power, like presidents and kings, are among Medula’s most coveted targets. (“Soon the entire Navy will be commanded by my women,” she pronounces. Later, she commands her followers, “Women of the world, go forth and take over all armies, governments, and ruling bodies.”) The women are drunk with power and one older woman pronounces, “You men are powerless against us.” “Jupiters!” observes Gleek, “they’re taking over the government.”

You can see where this is going, right?

Enter the Superfriends to the rescue, including Xavier’s coveted Batman, who foil Medula’s plans, but not before Wonder Woman and Jayna fall under her spell. Superman is, of course, the mastermind who brings down Medula’s short reign. The most disappointing (and most obvious) scene of the episode (which, by the way, I never let Xavier see) is the very last one, where Wonder Woman and Superman explain why those Second Wave feminists simply need to cool their heels and slow the heck down. Their leaders are no doubt in it for personal gain because, well, why else would a woman seek a position of power? “Medula’s method of controlling women and putting them in power was wrong,” Wonder Woman explains, “Only gradually, a step at a time, can social customs be changed, no matter what they may be.”

With this episode haunting me, I tried to put it out of my mind and dove into my work of constructing Xavier’s costume, almost literally jumping for joy when I found a pair of plain gray pajamas to use as the base, taking care to make sure the emblem looked exactly like Batman’s, shortening the cape and re-engineering the hood when it didn’t fit Xavier’s head, constructing my own version of Batman’s infamous utility belt, along with working pockets. Following the rule of good enough, I decided Xavier wouldn’t notice the missing blue briefs and gloves and the fact that Batman’s cape  actually has a zig-zag edge. I abandoned plans to make blue boots and decided that the gold ones I made for last year’s costume looked great despite the fact that they weren’t “authentic.” After thinking about this costume for weeks, I ultimately didn’t want to spend more than a few nights putting it together.

Choosing (quite quickly, I might add) not to beat myself up about the missed details of Xavier’s costume (which he absolutely loves, by the way), I directed my worry instead to allowing Xavier to immerse himself in all things Superfriends. Realizing yet again that I’m not always going to get this parenting thing right, I felt reassured after reading Janice D’Arcy’s Washington Post blog post recounting her second thoughts about her daughters’ Wonder Woman costumes (and her regretted decision to encourage them to watch episodes of the old TV series). I am not alone in this struggle, it seems.

And then a funny thing happened.

I watched this morning as my costumed son ran over and grabbed his little brother’s hand after he had wandered out into the street and walked him back to the safety of the driveway and I listened as he told me that he was doing this because he was Batman, and Batman helps people. It was a welcome reminder of what Batman means to Xavier: helpfulness, teamwork, and magical thinking. I felt a little better admiring his costume just then (it is a pretty darn cute costume, isn’t it?) and thinking that I just may have managed to instill in him some important values after all.

Or perhaps I have Batman to thank for that.

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My goodness, has it been a busy couple of weeks around here.


With Xavier’s help, I canned several jars of applesauce.

He contributed some chopping, hard work at the food mill, and–perhaps most importantly of all–the perfect name for our sauce.


Among oh so many things, the past couple of weeks have also brought us mini pumpkin cupcakes with (vegan) cream cheese frosting (yum)…


…some sorely needed dissertation writing time…


…and some all-important Halloween costume making time (complete with the requisite gnashing of the teeth time followed by triumphant squeals of delight for having outsmarted the pattern makers once again).

We are trying so very hard to embrace this happy chaos. And with a weekend full of Halloween fun ahead of us, we’re just getting started.

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A couple of years ago a friend sent me a link to SouleMama’s post on the Winter Solstice pajamas she makes for her family every year. It was an eye-opening moment, this discovery of both the blog and the tradition. It was a revelation to find another family making an effort to celebrate the seasons. It’s important to me that my children have a sense of the cycle of the year, of how the world changes around them as the year passes by, and to have traditions through which they can take notice of these changes. At that moment, I vowed to put this tradition into practice for my own family. But why stop at the solstice? I decided that if making Winter Solstice pajamas for the kids each year was a good idea, making pajamas for the dawn of each season was an even better one.

Of course I did.

I have since made one matching pair of seasonal pajama pants for the kids. Last fall. I had found a lovely nighttime owl print while on vacation in Maine at the end of the summer and I couldn’t let the fall begin without making them into a couple of cute pairs of pajama pants for my boys. And here we are at the start of fall again and again I have vowed to give the tradition another try. Yes, the leaves are turning and falling from the trees, the weather is growing colder, and in so many ways this seems to be a season of death, of the fading life of summer. But the crisp air, the moist, cedar smells of the outdoors, the aroma of warm soup on the stove, and those beautiful colors, not the candy colors of summer, but the browns, deep reds, oranges, and yellows that suggest a kind of seasonal maturity and trigger in me an urge to slow down and reflect all make this season a perfect time to resolve to start again, to make a new beginning. Perhaps it’s a holdover from my grade school days, but I always find myself making resolutions in the fall. And giving the seasonal pajama tradition another go is among them this year.

  

For this season’s pants, I chose a cute retro mushroom pattern I’d been eying for months and finally had an excuse to buy. I re-sized a simple mushroom coloring page and used it as a template for a basic design to iron and sew onto two plain t-shirts in coordinating fabrics. Yes, I stayed up way too late to get them done by the equinox, and yes, there are a few little imperfections that only I will notice, but all in all I’m quite happy with the results and the kids love them, which is to say that Quinn did not immediately try to take them off and Xavier accepted them with a gushing display of so many things he’s heard and observed grown ups say and do:

Xavier: Oh, Mommy, I love it!
Me: Do you know what that is, honey?
Xavier: No.
Me: They’re pajamas. Mommy made them for you and Quinn to celebrate the beginning of fall.
Xavier: I love them! I love mushrooms. Did you know that I love mushrooms, Mommy?
Me: No, honey, I didn’t know that.
Xavier: Yeah. I love them. I saw a mushroom one time. Did you know that, Mommy?
Me: Yes, we’ve seen mushrooms together.
Xavier: Yeah. And Quinn’s look just like mine! Can I put them on right now, Mommy?
Me: Of course.

I have just a couple of tips if you’d like to do something like this. First, it might be worth it to purchase a basic pattern. This is the second time I’ve used the method of using pants that fit the boys now to make a pattern for new pants and, like last time, I struggled over it longer than I’d like. Also, it’s worth it to make the pants a bit long and use wide hems (mine are two inches wide). That way, you can fold them up to start if need be and unfold them when the kiddos get bigger. Xavier is still wearing last fall’s pants because I used exactly that technique. Kids tend to grow up more than they grow out at this age, so the fit in the waist seems to work for a good while. This year the length of Xavier’s pants turned out to be just right and Quinn’s are turned up for now (which generally looks better than it does in the photo above, I promise, but the boys were rather…er…restless during their photo shoot).

Despite the ants in their pants (their dad had just arrived home and they were eager to start movie night), the boys did oblige me by sitting still for a couple of photos before descending into chaos breaking in their new pajamas.


A happy (and reflective) fall season to all of you!

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A Preschool Tote

Xavier starts preschool this week and I am very likely more excited than he is. The kids are all required to have cubby bags and, after chatting with some veteran parents from the school, I learned three useful tidbits: (1) tote bags are preferred over backpacks since the kids’ art is large and plentiful and it’s much easier to roll and stuff it into open tote bags than backpacks, (2) the vast majority of students use the tote bags offered by the school that have the school name and logo on one side, and (3) the tote bag and every single thing that you pack in it for your child must be labeled with that child’s name. With all of this in mind, I decided to split the difference between conformity and creativity: I would buy one of the school’s totes (Xavier picked the red one) but do something a little more special than simply writing his name on it with a Sharpie.

In the name of being okay with “good enough” when it comes to these things (more on that in a later post), I tried to keep the project as simple as possible. After abandoning my early plans to applique fabric letters onto the bag, I ended up with a no sew project that took no time at all.

I started by picking out the fabrics I wanted to use for the letters. The school name and logo (on the front of the tote) are in black and white, so I stuck with the same color scheme. I wound up buying some fabric for the project because I didn’t have enough black and white fabric on hand, but this would be the perfect project for scraps if you had them.

I picked out the font I wanted to use and printed out Xavier’s name in a size that would fit well on the bag. I used this copy to hold up to the bag to get a sense of how it would look and to label which fabric I would use for each letter (I decided to alternate black and white fabrics). I then printed Xavier’s name as a mirror image to be used as a template for the letters for my bag. I opted to use Heat ‘n Bond Ultrahold iron-on adhesive to adhere the letters to the bag rather than appliqueing them in part because I already had some on hand, but also because I wasn’t sure how successfully I’d be able to sew through the fairly heavy canvas material the bag is made of.

After ironing the iron-on adhesive to the back of the fabric scraps, I used tracing paper to transfer the mirror image of each letter onto the paper backing of the appropriate fabric. (I used the mirror image since I was tracing the letters onto the back rather than the right side of the fabric.) Then I simply cut out the letters, peeled off the paper liner, placed them where I wanted them on the bag, and ironed them on. I still think they might look a little more polished if they were appliqued, but I don’t imagine Xavier will notice the difference.  I also imagine I will be thankful I didn’t spend too much time on the bag when Xavier ______ (uses it as an art canvas/drags it through the mud/spills his snack on it/loses it). And the great preschool adventure begins.

 

Update (9/13/11): We didn’t even make it through the classroom door on Xavier’s first day of preschool before I noticed that a couple of the letters were pulling away from the bag at the edges. I could have probably fixed them with a little iron touch up, but in an effort to save myself from endless touch ups, I bit the bullet and straight stitched around the edges of the letters about 1/4 inch from the edge. My fears about the gooey needle that would result from ignoring Heat ‘n Bond’s explicit directions not to sew through their “ultrahold” product and the trouble I would have given the thickness of the canvas fabric were largely unfounded and the job didn’t take any longer than 10 minutes. The bag is now much more preschool proof and–as an added bonus–it looks more polished.

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