Monday, October 12, 2009

knit and purl

Nothing says love quite like a hand-knit item. A few of the most beautiful and meaningful items in my life, right now, are hand-knits. I once read that the best recipients of hand-knit items are other knitters. While I have made knitted items for many other people, not all of them knitters, I will say that after I became a knitter myself, my own appreciation for hand-knit items grew exponentially. I suppose this has something to do with what knitting means to me, but it also has to do with knowing what it feels like to cast on and purl and knit and bind off, and make something useful and loving out of a ball of yarn.

I began knitting with my mom when she was battling cancer. My mother was an artist, and had experimented with many art forms throughout her life. Her sister, my aunt Joanne, is a master knitter. But my mother had only dabbled in knitting and crocheting, so when I learned to knit it was like my mother was learning to knit all over again. One day, sitting in the middle bedroom with her at my parent's house, a drizzly Ohio fall day outside, my mom sent me to her closet to find yarn and some needles, and my own love of knitting was born. I didn't know it at the time, but learning to knit with my mom was one of the last things she got to teach me. I bought us a knitting book, and as we leafed through the projects together, I imagined us journeying through the patterns and clicking our needles while chatting. We'd make mistakes and master the art together, like novice kayakers trying out a tandem for the first time. Instead, it turned out, my mom was more like the kayak guide who stays behind, helping me into the boat alone, standing on the shore and pushing me off into the water, smiling and waving as I figured out the strokes. She only had the chance to knit a few rows before she was too weak or too uncomfortable to go further, but I kept going.

My first project was a garter stitch scarf in gray wool. I knit it on small needles - maybe fives - and it was only about 15 or 20 stitches across. I took it with me for mom's doctor's appointments, knitting in the waiting room while she got radiation treatments, quietly clicking my needles while the nurses gave her a bag of fluids to combat dehydration. I knitted in the car while my exhausted father drove us back and forth from OSU, hoping for good news and never really getting any. The scarf had holes from dropped stitches and was bound off too tightly. It was decidedly imperfect, but it was mine. I finished in time to give the scarf to my mom for Christmas, just shy of two weeks before she died. She was distant and tired at Christmas, trying to be part of the celebration but only really mentally present now and then. But we exchanged glances and a smile when she opened my gift, and I know she knew that even though the scarf had a lot of errors in it, it had been made with a lot of love.

I have the gray scarf now, and its just about the only thing I've ever knitted that I've actually kept for myself. I love to wear it, even though it's got holes in it, because I know why I made it and who I made it for. I wore it today, and when I picked Dora up from school, she said, "I want mommy's scarf". I let her wear it home in the car, and she sat in the back, sucking her fingers and quietly pulling little pieces of fuzz from the yarn.

Dora is blessed to have many hand knit items. My aunt Joanne, the master knitter, has made her a beautiful sweater with matching mittens and booties, as well as a hat and scarf set that match a hat and scarf set that she made for me. Aunt Joanne also makes the most amazing hand knit socks. Hand knit socks are like pure luxury - they make you feel wonderful even on the dreariest of days. I wear her hand knit socks all winter long, and now Dora has a pair, too. My friend Mandy is becoming a prolific knitter, and made Dora a sweet little kerchief for her birthday. It looks so sweet over Dora's blond hair.

Dora's night-night is a hand knit, too, made for her by my friend Maria. She sleeps with that blanket every night and loves it so much I have to sneak it away to wash it. She loves to hold it in her arms, sucking the fingers of one hand while pulling at the blanket with her other hand. If I need her to calm down, the night-night brings instant calmness.

Today was a cold, rainy day just like the day when my mom asked me to find yarn and some needles. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss my mom, but some days are harder than others. As soon as I got in my car today to drive home, the theme song to All Things Considered and the drizzly cold rain and the scarf around my neck made me think about my mom, wishing so intensely that I could just drive up the driveway at my house to her warm kitchen and her wry humor and her absolute, total love. Dora and I came home, and I made dinner while she watched the Muppet Show. After dinner we sat on the floor playing with the teddy bear puzzle. I thought about my mom, and wished more than anything that she could be here to see my baby girl, to see how absolutely beautiful and brilliant she is, to help me figure out how to do this right. I would give anything to see her sitting on the floor with Dora playing with the bear puzzle, to hear what she would have to say about her, to watch what she would teach her.

I know that my mom gets to be with Dora through me, that I get to learn how to be a good mom by remembering what my mom did, that I have to teach Dora things my mom would have taught her because she doesn't get the chance. I know that my mom is here inside of me, and inside of Dora, too, and I know what a gift that is. But it doesn't really make the tangible absence any easier and it doesn't make me miss my mom any less.

The thing I love most about knitting, more than its meditative quality or its beauty or its warmth, is the way it connects us. I knit the same way my mom knitted and the same way my aunt knits and the same way women throughout history have knitted. We're all connected, one long yarn extending from cast on to bind off throughout history. I love that now I can wear my mom's scarf, knowing that it was once around her neck, and Dora can wear it, too. To me, it's my mommy's scarf, and that's just what it is to Dora, too. So even though we aren't together right now in the way that I'd like us to be, we are all together in another way, all three of us enveloped and embraced by the same warmth and love.