“We are born makers. We move what we’re learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands.” Brené Brown
Every time our military family moves, we face the uncomfortable and exciting first few months of transition. It is in this window of time that I grapple with myself. While I always look forward to the adventures that lie ahead, change continues to be a challenge.
I’ve found the busier I can be, the easier it is to push discomfort away. Busy is easy with a spouse and child to settle in. Busy is easy with a house to unpack. Busy is easy when you need to map your new road routes, find grocery stores, and start the initial first dates of finding new friends. I’m great at procrastinating with busy, but I cannot stay in that limbo forever.
It is in the quiet of the first full day that I am all alone in the new house that I feel the weight of our move. Busy is finally replaced with the desire to process my own emotions. I have secret weapons for processing -- needle and thread.
Whether I’m sitting at my machine or my hands are on the needle, I find a rhythmic hum. I come home to myself here, in the rising and falling of the thread.
For overseas moves, we may have a month to wait before the advanced baggage shipment arrives. It could be three to four months before our household goods make it to the door.
I have made a rule that my sewing machine must be packed within the advanced baggage. It’s my one personal item amidst the sea of clothing, toys, and kitchen utensils that belong to our family. But while I wait for it, I’m ready with an embroidery hoop, a few patterns, and the desire to make.
Peace washes over me as I create. Somehow sitting in our new home with an old skill wraps me in comfort. Whatever I make first will adorn our house immediately. The space and I greet one another this way.
“Hello there, you will be our new home. I promise to fill you with items that mean something to me -- items I make with my hands as my family grows here.”
The home answers back -- a sigh from white walls and blank beds as new beauty gets draped on them.
I stitch my time together as I wait for our transition to unfold. I make my sewing room wherever there is a space for the machine, the chair, and me. It becomes a creative and healing waiting room. It is where I can pass the uncomfortable in-between time of service member family life. With my foot on the pedal and the hum of the machine, I find a steady heart in the chaos.
Each piece in our home speaks to a time when I felt lost and made the journey back with my hands.
A giant triangle quilt rests on our bed. It took two full years to complete -- two years that held the struggle of back-to-back deployments. The pieces were cut out alongside a fellow service member spouse, my pregnant belly brushing the table. A baby was born in the time in-between, and then she accompanied me, kicking and gurgling on the floor as I pinned. It was my first ever quilt and at first I made it too small. This was a puzzle I could solve, and it felt good to work through the fabric. I could not bring my husband home sooner, or see him hold our daughter yet, but I could fix this quilt. Sewing the pieces together gave me hope for our future -- of one day resting underneath it together.
There is a cross stitch that reads, “This Life is a Great Adventure” hanging from a clipboard in my office. My fingers diligently worked to translate the message onto my head and heart. As it came together, so did my love for a duty station I felt uncertain of when we first arrived. Looking at it reminds me of how I felt at first and of dealing with the discomfort. It reminds me of the tears that fell, wishing I were anywhere but where we were living. It carried guilt and hurt and helped with letting go to start over. Life did indeed become a great adventure again. The stitches tell the tale of not giving up. There is good around the tough corner.
The elephant quilt on our daughter’s bed speaks to our most recent overseas move. My baby sewing buddy has grown into an adept sewing helper. She knows just the right nook to settle into on my lap so she can properly pull pins out while the fabric feeds through the machine. We picked the fabric out with my mother this time, and she cut out the pattern for us as we scrambled to pack bags and swap countries. All of the pieces were boxed and sent to our new address so that I could have a project in the waiting time. It filled the hours in my house before new friends came to join the table. My hands and mind processed how to pull a life together not just for me this time, but for my daughter. As I lined up the elephants to march forward on the soft fleece, my feet picked up too. For our first big move with our daughter, a new piece of home, a big-girl blanket, lies finished across her bed.
I have learned that as a creative military spouse I need to pack that part of myself along with our transient roots. It should not be tucked away. In the past, I have tried to deny it and believe I do not need it, but that only hurts me. What I need in the worst of times is all the help I can get. This little bit of stitching is how I pull myself through our rollercoaster -- up and down on the thread. It is how I transition from the waiting room of change to the transformation of celebrating our next chapter.
Making is within me, it is the framework of how I process our challenges. When I return to my hands and decide to breathe life into a new project, life breathes back into me.