Changing My Mind
Benjamin recently announced, “Mom, I’ve discovered that we really aren’t that American.”
This was news to me so I asked him to elaborate. His evidence? Squirt cheese. It would seem that his girlfriend was extolling the endless virtues of squirt cheese and was appalled to discover that he was unaware of its existence. Or, possibly, he was the one who was appalled at his lack of knowledge. It’s impossible to know in these reported speech scenarios. Either way, he was a squirt cheese neophyte. Therefore, we are hopelessly out of touch with American cultures and values.
While I fundamentally disagree with squirt cheese as a litmus test for Americanism, his comment got me thinking. Not about my national loyalties, really. More, a consideration of the tiny changes that led to this eventuality. I never set out to keep my 18 year old oblivious to the wonders (or horrors) of canned cheese-like products. I suppose it may be a consequence of spending nearly half his life outside of the United States. But, I can’t say that squirt cheeese formed a foundational part of our lives when we were on American soil. Certainly, I’ve been known to extrude the cheese-like substance on a cracker or two. But, I couldn’t name the last time I did. Thinking about it now, I can’t say I view it with any special longing.
And yet, there was never a day in which I declared an anti-squirt cheese platform. I made no proclamations. Squirt cheese just slipped from my dietary aresenal. I think, despite Benjamin’s protestations, it was a change for the better. But, that’s neither here nor there. What I’m trying to say has nothing to do with cans of pressurized cheese product.
Obviously, I’m really talking about mending. Or, my attitude toward mending. You see, this conversation about squirt cheese came about just as I was contemplating a pile of dishcloths. In my efforts to fold and put them away I could no longer ignore just how ragged they were getting. Instead of tucking them away in their cupboard, I settled them on my sewing table.
In assessing their damage, I recognized they would need extensive patching. So extensive, indeed, that the prospect promised a very slim return on mending time investment. I decided it was more efficient to sew them into pairs, allowing the one to patch the other.
Thus inclined, I began to iron, cut and prepare the seven to become three (one could still be repaired well enough to stand on its own). It was, perhaps, not the most tantalizing way to spend my sparse sewing time.
It got me thinking about how imperceptible change can be. Minute, really. And yet, inexorable in its effect. My children inch up on me millimeter by millimeter until the baby I once cuddled now towers over me. The sunset holds off for one minute longer and will inevitably lead to the prolonged evenings of summer. And tiny shifts in attitude slowly rewrite my entire perspective.
I hold up a pair of towels to the light, examining the pattern of holes. I inspect my stitches, to see that I’ve addressed each tear. I wonder at my changed attitude. It used to be, that a hole in a garment felt like a relief to me. I’ve told you already that I’m a bit addicted to decluttering. A hole, a tear, a stain—those were all excuses to move a piece of clothing along. “Move a piece of clothing a long”—we all know this is simply a euphemism for throwing it away, don’t we? Sure, I’d find a new home for the clothes in good condition. But, who wants to offer a neighbor a pair of pants with the crotch ripped out? And, so, “move it on” I would—straight to the trash.
I might feel a momentary twinge of guilt at the blatant waste of it all. But, it wouldn't compel me to action. You see, I felt no particular responsibility toward any of our clothes. Sure, I might save a few special baby clothes, but the vast majority of our wardrobes I saw as simply temporary. Nearly consumable, even. So, of course, a hole meant simply and excuse to dispose.
How, then, do I come to be mending a set of inexpensive dishtowels? I can explain it only by a process of slow, imperceptible change. A perspective shift so drastic that it seems to me perfectly natural to mend and preserve. And, yet, so gradual that I can point to no one moment of change.
And, I suppose that’s how life teaches us. In squirt cheese and in dish towels. In exposure or lack thereof. In small acts of preservation. One millimeter. Sixty seconds of light.
Until, here we are.