NO way, Jos'e,'' I said to my son, whose name is not Jos'e. ``That's man's work.'' ``Come on, Mom, won't you sew on my button?''
The lad, of late, had taken to saying, with increasing frequency, ``That's woman's work,'' especially in the kitchen. I had reached the outer limits of tolerance.
``Here's the needle,'' I said. ``This white stuff is called thread.''
``How do you get it through that little hole?''
I put on my granny glasses and tried but failed to thread the needle. I was, after all, a sewing class dropout in night school when I was anticipating the birth of this now 22-year-old chauvinist person. I remember thinking how convenient it would be to be able to ``whip up a pair of curtains.'' To me, there was a certain mysterious wonder in ``whipping up'' things: My goal in life at that time was to be acceptably domestic.
The sewing class met Monday eve-nings at the local junior high school. We were told we would each make a dress and should buy fabric and a simple pattern.
The fabric I chose had an all-over nautical design of sailing flags appropriate, I thought, for a sleeveless summer maternity dress. I could hardly wait to begin.
I don't know why threading a sewing machine is so much more difficult than changing a typewriter ribbon or bridling a horse, which I performed with aplomb, but it seemed an impossible feat. The instructor looked dismayed but explained patiently over and over again while I fumbled and grumbled and yawned.
At last I prepared to cut out the pattern, but I didn't understand about repeats until too late. The nautical motif began to give me vertigo as I tried in vain to match the lineup of flags. Upside-down was not acceptable. (Why didn't I choose a solid?) The solemnity of the task was akin to walking a tightrope.
Bleary-eyed and slightly queasy, I began basting two large segments of fabric together. ``Always baste toward you,'' the instructor said with a grimace, fearing for the safety of the other students, I suppose.
I honestly tried. But I sewed crooked. My fingers felt like pincushions. I dropped a spool of thread and 25 yards of royal blue unwound its way across the room, over the star pupil's foot, and underneath a radiator.
The next Monday night I stayed home and painted a chest of drawers. The following Monday night I applied 32 yards of contact paper to the shelves in our closets.
I never returned to my sewing class.
One day, as summer approached, I pulled the rumpled segments of the dress from a shopping bag and observed critically the one zigzag seam I had managed to attach. I took it to my mother, who laughed heartily, pulled out the stitches, and turned out the entire dress in 15 minutes.
I wore the nautical maternity dress many times during that summer of '63 and it elicited compliments. ``Oh, just something I whipped up,'' I said.
``Oh, do you sew?''
``Not really,'' I confessed, ``but I basted one seam.''
I returned from my reminiscence and glanced at the handsome 22-year-old who looked down at me with pleading eyes. I tried again to thread the needle and finally succeeded.
``OK, just this once,'' I said. ``Here, watch how I do it.''
Feeling like I was taking a final exam, I began attaching the button, hoping that I wouldn't get a nasty snag in the thread and have my son realize I'm a klutz. Slowly, carefully, down, under, over, up, around again and again. I knotted the thread like a pro and bit it off just like my mother used to do, pleased with my sudden skill.
``There,'' I said, ``just this once. That's man's work next time.''
Beth K. Wallach