In September my folks visited and brought with them costumes from my childhood costume cupboard. One item was a black and white clown ensemble that my Mum made for me when I was about 10 years old. It was like one of those figurines of a clown you might find in an old ladies memorabilia store. “If you break it you bought it”. It was like a big checkerboard with one arm white while the other black and the torso divided in two, one side black the other white. Around the neck was a yellow-felt star-like “ruffle”– each pointed end sporting a miniscule jingle-bell. My kids pounced on the costumes immediately and danced around wearing the over-sized identities of people who they were not. My six year-old sported the clown outfit and it hung hilariously huge on her small frame. She chose this costume to dress up for trick-or-treating and Hallowe’en parties. I had to step up and do a serious alteration to the costume in order to make it fit.
Being a mum I have lots of time for projects. So it was late on the night before Hallowe’en after the kids had gone to bed when I got to work. I sat at the Singer Sewing machine that my Mum had bequeathed to me. The very one she had used to make the costume. The job took longer than I expected but it gave me time to contemplate costumes and identities and their place in my world. My Mum made the neck hole the access point for putting the costume on, sewing elastic into the wrists and ankles that could accommodate a growing body. Easy. A flexible costume. One that could be worn over other clothes. One that could be altered.
I think of myself as close to my Mum. I am told I look just like her. She and I are middle children. We are married to men who share the same rather public profession. A profession that carries a certain number of expectations for the families and includes a fair number of costumes.
Holding the clown costume my Mum made for me 30 years ago I wondered if she also toiled the night before Hallowe’en creating a new identity for me? Did she have any inkling that her work would be passed on to another generation? Did she identify with her Stay At Home Mother identity or did it feel like a costume?
Growing up I knew my Mum as my Mum. I knew that she had trained to be a nurse but to me she was Super Mum and Volunteer-Extraordinaire. When my Mum got married and had kids did she also have to alter her costume, her self- identity? Take in her ambition by 6 inches? Tuck in her hopes, hem her dreams, change the elasticity around the edges?
My kids don’t know me as much other than “Mum”. They have not seen the other costumes I have worn in my life. The people I have been. In my life on stage I have been Queens and Princesses, servants, commoners, geishas and peasants, shepherds, townsfolk, goddesses, noble-women, demi-gods, Little Red Ridinghood. My Kids know me in a way that I hardly know myself. I changed from having many costumes to having one that doesn’t always fit me right. Stay At Home Mom.
From my daughter’s measurements I found that I needed to decrease the length of the costume by 6 inches everywhere- torso, legs, arms. I didn’t want to change anything permanently during in my alteration for maybe in the future someone bigger would want to wear it. My Mum’s choices of black thread or white thread talked to me. Which colour thread should I be using? Is the fabric strong enough after 30 years for this kind of transformation? I noticed the elasticity around the wrists and ankles had suffered the same sort of fate as my own skin’s elasticity after 3 children.
Many times I wonder that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mom. I don’t have the patience for all the nagging, the interruption of thoughts, the three healthy wellbalanced nutritious meals produced each day, the noise, the clutter, the cleaning, the dirty socks flung everywhere, the Mum? Mum? Mum? Mum? the expectations that I will be on the PTG or make cookies after school everyday … Did my Mum have those same thoughts? What was it like for her to alter her costume to become the Mum that I knew? Mum?
My mum went back to work after all her children were in University and it was amazing to see her new identity. Here was a professional woman, with updated nursing skills, a leader in her workplace and an earning power that probably out-shadowed my Dad’s income. I wish I had known more of that side of my Mum as I was growing up too.
Sitting at my Mums old Singer I conjured the techniques that she had taught me at that same machine. How do we discover the right technique, the tweaks that will make the costume fit? One limb at a time. Using a stitch that can be altered later I pressed my foot to the pedal - re-crafting a gift through time. I finished two arms and the torso before I absolutely needed to go to bed. I hastily finished the job using safety pins to shorten the legs. More flexibility. The costume was functional for Hallowe’en.
My life as a Stay At Home Mom is a safety pin alteration but I’ll sit at the Singer for awhile yet. The costume fits, for now.