This post is for mijito (and all Burqueños who love someone who is serving or has served our country).
There’s a literal component to this post: I’m an Albuquerque mama who actually wears aprons. I’ve got my cooking apron, my cleaning apron, and my holiday aprons. When my kids were little, I made them aprons – Easter aprons for dyeing eggs, Halloween aprons for making jello brains and spaghetti guts, Christmas and Valentine’s Day aprons for making cookies, and even a National Parks apron with a moose, just because my son asked for it.
I have a much treasured little girl’s apron, hand embroidered by my great-grandmother and worn first by my mother, then me, and most recently my daughter. It has picked up some stains over the years, but the baby blue rickrack trim still sets off the adorable little girl’s face on the round patch pocket, complete with satin stitch brown eyes, a button nose, and brown yarn braids dangling. Someday I hope to see a grandchild wearing this apron, but that’s not likely to be anytime soon.
Wearing and sewing aprons is one thing. Cutting apron strings is another matter altogether.
If you set it up right, it happens in stages. First, short bursts of independence – summer camps and trips away to visit family and friends in far flung places. This gives parents a much-desired break, but it also gives children practice tasting independence.
These solo sojourns aren’t exactly cut apron strings. They’re more like kite strings that you have the option to cut loose lots of slack (until you reel them back in). The slack times are golden: this is when parents get a chance to experience a quiet household again, and when kids get to figure out how they’ll cope with their newfound independence.
I remember my first week away from home. It was Girl Scouts Camp – the summer where the big transition between being a Brownie and a Junior Girl Scout took place. Camp was in the nearby mountains, with two rows of cots for sleeping outside, a mess kitchen, and pit toilets. There was even a patch of poison oak near the cam entrance, which one of the girls rolled around in -- wearing just her underwear -- just to prove to us that she was immune. She dared us to do the same. No one took her up on it.
The first two nights were a blissful adventure. No parents! No siblings! No teachers! On the third day pangs of homesickness emerged. First, I missed my cats, then my mother and father. By that night, I even missed my little brother. I wasn’t about to cry, though. I had seen what happened to girls who blubbered.
I couldn’t lose myself in a book, either. The only book we were permitted to bring to camp was the Girl Scout Handbook, and I had already read that cover to cover several times.
So after supper I picked up the construction paper journal I had made in arts and crafts hour, and I started to write. I wrote about the stars that I had seen from my cot, the chores we were expected to do as part of the community of campers, and the camp counselors' nicknames, which I had initially misunderstood because I couldn’t hear well.
I didn’t write about my loneliness or homesickness. (I was paranoid that someone might read what I had written.) Through the writing, I became stronger – my confidence and independence grew as I wrote out what my days had been. Instead of missing my family, I looked forward to my evening pastime of chronicling my day so that when I did see them, I could share my adventures.
Even then, books and stories were my escape hatch from a bad day. What I learned at camp, during my first solo trip away from home, was that I could create the stories myself. Writing was a way of structuring resilience; from the first experience away at summer camp, it became a technique that has carried me through a lifetime. Not surprisingly, my children have followed in my footsteps.
Apron lover that I am, I inherited my grandmother’s May Day apron. (Yes, there were socialists in the family – I also inherited a Eugene Debs campaign button that belonged to my grandmother’s father.) My May Day apron is white muslin with 3/8 inch satin grosgrain ribbon trim and ties in Crayola colors: sky blue, pink, peach, yellow, lavender, and spring green. I’ve often thought these apron ties a fitting metaphor for life’s apron strings, which (at least in my case) didn’t come in two thick bands, but in several little strands: getting that first job, buying my first car, moving out, going to college, gaining economic independence, moving out of state, getting married, and bearing children.
I’m on the other end now – no longer cutting apron strings of my own, but gathering the fallen ribbon strands in my hand, looking at frayed and freshly cut ends with a lumpy-throated joy. I know this is what we do as parents. I know that if we do it well and if our children choose to reproduce, they’ll don their own aprons and hold out the scissors (blades clasped safely in fists as they hand them over) and watch the strings get cut from the vantage point I now inhabit.