Parents and Children: Inheritance
By Tanya Ward Goodman
This morning I forgot how to thread my sewing machine. I pulled the old, pink thread out and popped on a new, navy spool in its place. And then I stopped. Or I was stopped. The machine looked as foreign as if it had just fallen from the sky and landed on my table. There were two metal rods, a round silver button, a little hook. I knew that eventually the thread needed to get from the top of the machine down to the eye of the needle, but the route was impossible to imagine.
I freaked out.
I don’t sew often. I never make my own clothes or even clothes for my kids. I drag the little sewing machine out of the closet to make Halloween costumes and hem my son’s pants. Sometimes my daughter and I will design clothes for her stuffed rabbit. I like having a sewing machine. It makes me feel industrious even when it’s just sitting in my closet.
In fact, this morning, just before I forgot how to use it, I’d said to my husband, “I love this sewing machine. I love it.” And I meant that.
I tried to figure out how to thread the machine for a few minutes during which time my daughter was shouting for my help with her hair and my son was dancing around the house in his underwear. (I was supposed to be hemming his pants.) The more I stared at the little metal button and the two metal rods and the shiny hook, the less familiar they looked.
“How’s it going?” my husband asked. He was feeling the pressures of our morning. He had been disinvited from helping our daughter with her hair, he was annoyed with the pantsless dancing and the pile of papers that should have been in the boy’s backpack instead of cascading off the edge of the table. The clock was nudging everyone out the door.
“I can’t remember how to thread the machine,” I said through tears. And as soon as I said it, I couldn’t really breathe. I know a panic attack when I feel one and so I made a solid effort to settle my brain. My husband looked worried and I could hear the squeaky, weepy sounds I was making and I kind of crumpled down into the chair.
“It’s just…” I started.
“I know,” my husband said.
My son was still dancing around in his underwear. My daughter called to me from her room. Her hair was not cooperating.
Her hair is thick and curly. In the sunlight, red highlights gleam like polished wood. On a damp day like today, wisps curl romantically around her face, at the nape of her neck. It’s the hair of my dreams. But it is not the hair of her dreams. She wants stick straight, smooth hair. She struggles to control her curls. She combs and combs her hair until it’s almost straight and then she pulls it back close to her scalp and subdues it with a series of small clips.
My daughter is frustrated with her appearance. I wonder if she has inherited this from me. When I was her age, I spent hours trying to coax my straight hair into waves. My son, dancing and distracted, has inherited my short attention span, my quick temper and thankfully, my silliness.
Have I inherited my father’s forgetting?
Every day, I see something of my parents in me and I see something of me in my children. I hear my mother’s voice when I talk, see the shape of my father’s hands in my own. My kids say things like “let’s high tail it out of here,” and “for Cripe’s sake,” not just because I say them, but because my parents did, too.
My father was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s when he was 57. He died when he was 62. I think about this every time I misplace my keys or forget the password to my bank account. I thought of it today. I remember the day he told me he knew the word “knife,” but he could no longer pick it out of the silverware drawer.
This is a scary thing, and one I am usually able to skirt around. I exercise a lot. I eat well. I learn new things. I do the crossword puzzle. But I am my father’s daughter.
I don’t sew very often. Threading the machine is complicated for anyone. There was a lot going on this morning that made it hard to concentrate. I am most likely fine. It is what it is. Like curly hair or straight hair or a short attention span or a love of dancing, this forgetting and this fear of forgetting is just another part of me.