Art Dealer Sarah Hoover met her husband at work. She and the artist Tom Sachs have since had their first son — and for Sarah, motherhood means little compromise when it comes to a bit of wit and glamor.
The month my son Guy was born, I treated myself to a gold and diamond necklace with a “G” on it. I’d never felt cool enough to wear nameplate necklaces or statement jewelry before, but the empowerment of knowing I made an actual human, one who I then removed from my body gruesomely, using both sheer force and the burning anger I felt towards my husband, provided me with enough courage to step out of my accessory comfort zone, and I splurged. Within three months, Guy had ripped it from my neck, snapping the delicate chain like a pro wrestler performing for a sold out crowd in Vegas. He laughed at me after, a gorgeous cascade of pure, innocent baby giggles that I couldn’t possibly get mad at or attribute to the inner workings of Satan. Though I was tempted. With all the other shit I had going on, I didn’t manage to get the necklace fixed for over a year, at which point I’d decided that maybe it wasn’t my look, anyway.
Gentle hands, Guy, became a mantra in our household as my son grew both stronger and more curious. Seeing what he had done to that necklace put me in a state of paranoia about the joy he might derive from doing the same to, god forbid, an earring. But it wasn’t just his toddler strategies of yank and pull that I needed to be worried about. There was also the omnipresent threat of him taking a pen to pale colored leather, and it only took me one crafting experience with glitter to know that I’d made a hideous error in judgement—I’m still finding sparkles in my floorboards and at the bottom of almost every purse I own, which, while all kept in a room very separate from where we’d been crafting, still found themselves victimized by the permanence of a material that is seemingly impossible to ever really, truly, clean up.
My first commandment is to let go of caring deeply about anything material staying pristine. Firstly, because none of this is permanent, anyway, in the grand scheme; and secondly, because I believe in the ethics of repair and reuse.
Now that he’s four, and I’m more accustomed to his impressive ability for casual destruction, I have some solutions that have worked for me, which I’d like to share. No judgement if you choose to let your kid ruin everything you own—sometimes it’s just easier that way. Our dearest babysitter once said that it was like Guy was born with a degree in fucking shit up, and I can absolutely understand not wanting to fight a battle with a tiny expert in demolition.
My first commandment is to let go of caring deeply about anything material staying pristine. Firstly, because none of this is permanent, anyway, in the grand scheme; and secondly, because I believe in the ethics of repair and reuse. Perfection of product is a capitalist myth to get you to buy new stuff all the time. I think it’s cool for your glitter-lined, ink-covered bag to tell the story of where it’s been, to lead to a funny anecdote about your child. After all, it’s a totally decent dinner party icebreaker to tell a stranger about how hard it was for me to get my necklace fixed after my child tore it gleefully from my body.
Motherhood has reinforced how important it is to remember there’s a time and a place for everything. Organizing a few systems to reinforce boundaries that make your adult life pleasant and possible is not only fair, it is good for children. Second commandment: Enforcing a steadfast rule that certain areas of the home—even a corner, or one table—are not for toys or messes or craft projects. This makes it easier to enforce bigger and more complicated boundaries later on. Insisting that your toddler participates in cleaning up (even if, like me, you end up doing most of it for the sake of your sanity and schedule) plants the seeds of positive habits and personal responsibility later. Banning a kid from an adult space, like the closet where you keep your expensive stuff, resorting to locks and child-proofing, and being disciplined about putting your nicer things in there the minute you get home so there’s no time for error, is not the trauma your baby will one day discuss in therapy. No, no, that will be reserved for what you don’t even know you’re doing wrong.
Second commandment: Enforcing a steadfast rule that certain areas of the home—even a corner, or one table—are not for toys or messes or craft projects.
So with the right rules in place regarding what can be touched and where the touching can take place, I believe it is possible to live in a world where a parent can remain committed to his or her accessory game. For me, that looks like purses and belt-bags I actually like being repurposed into “diaper bags” (as I’ve written about before, you don’t actually need that much stuff, despite what the blogs may tell you. A standard sized purse more than suffices). It also means big gold hoops for the day and fun baubles that catch my child’s eye. So, third commandment: repurposing. Use the stuff you’d always wear to assist with parenthood. Bags become diaper bags. Statement necklaces become a distraction to jangle at a whining child.
I have an early memory of watching my mom’s hands push along a grocery cart as I sat in the front part. I stared down at her red fingernails, shining like little candies, and her glittering, small diamond wedding ring. I was more excited by the ring than the surrounding snacks. I came to associate my mom with her signature nails and only now, as a mother myself, do I realize how important it probably was for her to have the small joy of a manicure.
Third commandment: repurposing. Use the stuff you’d always wear to assist with parenthood. Bags become diaper bags. Statement necklaces become a distraction to jangle at a whining child.
Parenting is really, really hard, after all. It costs a fortune, and despite the fact that parents and children need to be well cared for in order to be productive, contributing members of society, our toxic patriarchy does not always seem to respect the complex realities of raising kids. The least we can do is create a space for ourselves where we can enjoy some personal embellishments. Time passes, kids grow up, move onto their own lives, and those moments that seemed so endless when we are in them, are gone. Final commandment: own things that tell the tales of our experiences and hold meaning. Objects should represent the memories of ourselves and the tiny humans we love.
Copyright © 2022 by Sarah Hoover.