I made that

I learned to knit when I was nineteen, in a sunny shoreside beach house with my aunt. I cast four yellow stitches on to a needle, and began to knit. Three minutes later, I slid them all off, wrapping the yarn back into a ball. I started over, and over again, and over again until eventually I had something resembling a triangle.

It was supposed to be a square.

There were several more lopsided dishcloths over the next few years. They were followed by a scarf made out of expensive wool, twisted into a simple garter knit stitch that did not do the yarn justice. After this came hats that fit no one, and scrapped attempts at baby booties that never made their way to baby showers. 

Eventually, I gained some competency. I still dropped stitches, and watch rows of holes cascade down my work to the sound of me swearing. Rows were knit and subsequently unknit. But now, when I bound off the final stitches, my projects were recognizable. A sweater. A blanket. A pair of mittens. 

We like the idea of homemade items far more than we like things that are actually homemade. Stores sell chunky cardigans and dishcloths with precisely frayed edges. Jars of jam with quaint labels and precision cut gingham wrappers line market shelves. The goods are perfect even in their imperfections, reminding us of the soft comfort of home.

It’s all an illusion.

Homemade sweaters are lumpy, with a left sleeve slightly longer than the right. Homemade jam is slightly too runny, with a scribbled Sharpie note on the lid: “Raspberry jam and/or pancake syrup.” Machines can make everything I make quicker, bigger, and better. They can even manufacture in a bit of homemade charm.

I’m at the beach again this summer. Dangling from my needles is an impossibly small green sweater. When the kids have gone down for naps, I pick it up. Hours and hours of work to make something that costs $19.95 at Target, and will contain several more mistakes.

But it’s not a gift for the baby.

I don’t know how I am going to hold it all together this time around. I knit the first sweater wondering what I was getting myself into, the next worrying if I could love a second child as much as I loved the first. With each stitch, my fingers prayed. Prayers that were drowned out by the hum of a TV in the background and the rhythm of daily life. It was a gift for me. 

You don’t tie knots when you are knitting. The stitches are made by pushing one loop of yarn through the next, resulting in a creation that can be completely unraveled if tugged in just the right way. Even at the very end, knitters don’t tie a knot, but rather weave the tail end of yarn through and back through their work. All that holds it together is trust.

My sweater won’t be perfect. Perhaps from a distance it will appear lovely and warm, but up close I can show you each snag and every poorly recovered dropped stitch. 

I don’t knit to make something beautiful. That would require a level of skill and discipline I do not possess. I knit to remind myself I am imperfect yet capable. Maybe, when wrapped in soft green wool, a baby can sense the amount of work that when into it’s creation. Maybe it would be just as warm in any old sweater.

I don’t know if I will be able to tie it all together this time around. There will be so many mistakes, and the closer you look the more you will find. A family cannot be purchased off a shelf. It must be built, earned, and assembled by hand. There is no shiny store-bought version. Only those who are somewhat better at hiding their mistakes. 

No knots are allowed. No guarantees can be made. Only trust that it will all hold together. 


Earthquake Children

Last night, I lurched out of bed. The ceiling seemed to shake before my eyes. It took a few seconds before I realized what was happening – never having felt one that lasted more than a second or two at most. 

I ran to my youngest child’s room, still bleary eyed and confused. It wasn’t stopping. He snored soundly, grateful for the gentle rocking. Why wasn’t it stopping, I wondered? Was this the big one, the one that destroyed our town one hundred years ago?

The rocking slowed and then stopped. I returned to my bedroom to find my husband standing in the middle of the room, confused. 

“What was that?” he asked. 

“An earthquake,” I answered. 

“No!” he said. 

“Um, what else did you think it was?”

“I mean I’ve just never felt one that big.”

He was right. It registered as a 5.8 magnitude earthquake – enough to rock and roll a house, but not enough to cause significant damage or injuries. The condiment aisle at the local Walmart fared the worst damage: a picture soon circulated of bottles of ketchup and mustard splattered everywhere. 

We were fine. 

I crawled back in bed, ready to forget about what had just happened when the tremors started again. My oldest started whimpering in his sleep, and I ran to his room. I knelt by his bed as the ground beneath me shook. 

Earthquakes, at the risk of undermining my point by using the analogy which they inspired, are unsettling. The foundation which you take for granted, whose stability  you never notice in its certitude, asserts itself with the threat that your very assumptions about the world can be stripped away. I sat by my son’s bed for another minute as the vibrating continued. It wasn’t the strength of the movement, but rather the subtlety, that disturbed me. It was a quiet reminder that nothing was guaranteed. 

We returned to bed again, only to be awoken by aftershocks for the next hour. A wind storm was blowing through the town that night as well, adding to the creepy and slightly apocalyptic feeling of the night. Every time I heard a howl or a roar and felt the house shift, I wondered if it was the start of another – perhaps larger – quake. 

The next morning I surveyed the damage. A few bottles knocked off shelves, a picture frame fallen from the walls. Nothing broken, nothing cracked. We told our kids the story, which they only half believed. 

An hour later I looked through the living room again. Couch cushions were strewn across the living room. My knitting needles were scattered and yarn trailed down the hallway. Breakfast cereal littered the carpet. 

A second earthquake had struck. My children. They managed to wreck more havoc in the amount of time it took me to unload the dishwasher than a 5.8 earthquake could bring. 

Children are like earthquakes. No matter how prepared we believe we are in the face of a life-changing event, they rattle us to the core. They remind us we have no control, and our assumption of stability is a lie we tell ourselves to function day to day in an ever-shifting world. Children change everything we know to be true, rocking our basic assumptions and letting us down stronger but slightly changed. 

The world feels more delicate today. I walk gingerly across the floor of our home waiting to feel the next tremor. They haven’t stopped completely yet. I am humbled by the power the earth can bring, just as I was humbled by the magnitude of a tiny body laid on my chest. 

I suspect my children will jump off the couch several times today, rattling picture frames on the wall. They can break and be broken so easily, and I have less control than I wish to believe over which side of that equation they will land on. 

Although, the child currently climbing out of the first floor window I do have some control over. Must go bring him back inside, and pretend it’s safe.