By Lois Ann Ell
I sat in my yard with scissors, surrounded by a sea of green foliage. Piles of ti leaf and laua’e fern were in heaps, where I was in hour two of cutting the leaves in half, then some in strips, some in diamond shapes. I tried to decipher amounts of leaves needed for two wrists, two ankles, and two heads, and six hip-length lei. Like a song I couldn’t recall the words to, I struggled to remember the instructions for the weaving: pinch, add in, fold under, pull over, and repeat? I stopped counting how many leaves I had cut. Perhaps it was too much; perhaps too little. I wasn’t sure. This is my twin daughters’ first year in hula.
While I remained cutting into hour three, my girls were a few yards away bouncing buoyantly on the trampoline. They are too young to help. I did try to include them at first, as it was their Ho’ike I was preparing for, but when they cut jagged triangles of what are supposed to be diamond shapes, I smiled and dismissed their help. It’s one of those many tasks with young children, where, in theory, it would be an opportunity for a bonding and learning experience, but in reality easier and more efficient if they were not involved.
Nothing was easy or efficient about this for me. I still have a hard time braiding my own hair, so using live plants to create incredibly fluffy, tightly woven, gorgeous braided pieces is a stressful situation. The fine motor skill tasks, like sewing, nail painting, and beading, have never been a breeze, but rather bring on a back ache, sore eyes, and a reminder how large my fingers are. I would much rather speak in front of an audience, cook for 50 people, type up a research paper, or do some other task most find daunting.
After an hour of trying to braid one small wrist kupe’e, my softened leaves were worked and reworked so many times they started to fall apart, and the oils from the plant became sticky and wet on my hands. My cut leaves began breaking in half and falling to the floor like giant green snowflakes scattering on the ground. It was time to do the other thing I fear as much as fine motor skill tasks: ask for help.
Here’s the fortunate thing that happens when you do ask for help though: you find out how supportive and willing people are, and in this case, how crafty and talented as well. The night before the performance, I sat with my friend and my mother and we tackled those piles until they were complete. While kids played around us, we sat in a circle, our feet propped up on the table with green knots slung between our toes, and we made all 16 pieces my daughters needed for the next day. After watching their method of braiding, I got a little better, a little faster. It became fun, suddenly. I started to get it.
I had to. For my daughters to show up as their best, it meant I had to show up as my best too. That’s one of the many gifts I am learning about hula; it’s a practice where you strive for excellence.