My mom is an amazing crafter, and as I raise my own kids I find myself taking more and more of her projects to use as my own, albeit at a more junior level of expertise.
My mom, aka Nana, and my youngest son, Arlo, visiting Tombstone, Ariz.
When I was about 10 years old, my mom painted and numbered 24 whole walnut shells to use as present boxes for my sister and me for the 12 Days of Christmas. I loved this as a child, but whenever I think about doing it for my own kids I give up before even starting.
How did she get 48 perfect walnut halves in the first place? Did she crack 4 or 5 dozen walnuts just to get the perfect halves? And then how long must it have taken her to paint all of the shells, in many colors, and then paint on numbers in contrasting shades? And furthermore, where and how did she find the perfect little figures that fit in the shells? One year, we ended up with an entire miniature nativity scene, which remained one of my favorite Christmas decorations for years after.
Today, my version of this tradition is a store-bought Advent Calendar that the kids get to take turns counting down on, plus a couple of 99-cent chocolate calendars from Trader Joe’s if I happen to think of it. But I’m still trying. I’ve gathered up a dozen or so Altoid tins and several cool Advent calendar projects I’ve seen on the web, and every October I get a little closer to making them. At least I hope I’m getting closer!
As a child, I refused to learn how to sew, but was happy enough to take the homemade Barbie clothes and doll blankets. As an adult, I’ve finally learned how to sew curtains and pillowcases, so my kids have at least a couple of Made By Mom items. And I’m always quick to point out the hemming and mending that I, their mom, did on their pajamas and torn jeans. “See what I did for you? I did that myself! Isn’t that nice of me, and clever, too?”
Luckily, they have lots of Made by Nana items — Robot and SpaceBoy (above) are two that spring to mind, and my boys are quick to point out the Loteria Box (below) we’ve all enjoyed so much.
Besides sewing and decoupage, my mom has a knack for drawing and pastels, painting, wallpapering, gardening, and cooking. I followed in her footsteps where gardening and cooking were concerned, but everything else she’s so good at has come as a struggle to me. But I keep trying; painting seems to be the only one that’s sticking so far. I’ve managed to repaint a few dressers and other furniture around the house, but don’t hold your breath for a Portrait By Shawn anytime soon.
For a long while I’d save up mending projects and labor-intensive home decor projects for when she’d come to visit, handing them over to her much like a returning college student hands over her dirty laundry. “Fix this zipper, and then we need to refinish the wood floor, OK, thanks, love ya Mom!” I almost always ask her opinion about which paint colors to use, and she helped me revamp my wedding dress into the perfect gown, instead of one that was just pretty close.
And now I’m realizing that we’ve done a lot of projects together that came out quite well — the first set of curtains I ever made that we still use in our little guest cabin, or the “tile work” (really just nice wallpaper) we did in my kitchen almost a decade ago. We’ve made gingerbread houses together, faux-finished a medicine cabinet I got from a doctor’s office to match my new bathroom, and we’re still trying to find the perfect pattern to make me a skirt out of some Day of the Dead fabric I fell in love with.
With regards to her talents I’ve managed to pick up, we’ve cooked countless New Mexican, holiday, and Chinese meals that left the benefactors happy and contentedly stuffed. We’ve both made outlandish costumes for our kids at Halloween — she made me an awesome bookworm costume, and Arlo’s R2D2 costume that I made last year was a big hit. My garden, despite a lack of sun, looks surprisingly good most of the year, and one summer my mom grew a quarter acre of vegetables at an elevation of 5.700 feet, pretty much singlehandedly. I make the occasional cupcakes (from a mix) with homemade frosting for my kids or my kids’ classrooms, but my mom regularly sends us homemade decorated cookies and cupcakes. Outcrafted and outclassed again!
Last Christmas, my mom and I took a mosaic workshop together; we designed and started a table that I’m still working on (it just needs grout). The workshop instructor and other people in the class thought we were crazy to take on a project together, mother and daughter. But for us, I’ve come to realize, those have always been the best kind of crafting projects. I can’t wait to figure out what the next one will be!
Thanks, Mom, and Happy Mother’s Day!