Dedicated to my mother and grandmothers. Happy Mother’s Day.
Through all of life’s changes, my mother knits. She knits in waiting rooms during doctor’s appointments for her elderly parents and in-laws. She knits in hospital chairs alongside my sister or me after the births of our children. She knits when she has quiet time to herself, when no tethers, young or old, are pulling on her.
When my mom first started knitting again, reigniting a hobby she learned as a child from her grandmother, Mary, she had no grandkids. It was as if a factory had opened and we, her four children and our spouses, were the only customers. Suddenly I had scarves of many colors, mittens, ponchos, wraps, and hats; one made of something called Fun Fur.
“People love this stuff,” my mom said, as I nodded in amazement and tried it on. Fun Fur has colorful threads sticking out in every direction from the main structure of the hat. I looked as if I had a charge of static electricity bursting from my head. One cold morning in New York, I couldn’t find my usual hat in my rush to work and grabbed the Fun Fur one, prompting my colleague to ask me if I was guest starring on Yo Gabba Gabba.
After filling our drawers with whimsical items, my mom honed her skills and expanded her customer circle to include her favorite waitress at the local diner, her hairdresser, and my friends’ newborn babies. Overall, we were quite impressed. We told her about Etsy.com and brainstormed online store names.
“Oh, I couldn’t charge money for these!” she insisted, as my dad commented that he would have to start a new category in the budget for all these knitting supplies.
Soon my mom had her first grandchild, and the knitting reached a new level. My son, Robert, spent his newborn months in cardigan and hat sets made from creamy, buttery cotton yarns, items that my third child, Ian, has long outgrown but that I cannot let go. Every winter, a call comes asking if they need more hats and mittens, and my answer is an emphatic Yes!, as if we couldn’t procure these items easily in New York City. The boys’ hats arrive with trucks and snakes on them. My daughter, Eliza’s hats are adorned with crocheted flowers or ribbons threaded through the yarn holes. Occasionally, a mitten or hat gets lost and I turn the house inside out trying to find it. There will be more, I remind myself. The factory is still in business.
As my mom’s knitting hobby grew, so did her connection with friends who were also becoming grandmothers. She and some of her close friends started a quilting circle, meeting every Thursday night from before Robert was born. They make quilts for each grandchild’s arrival, selecting the fabric, doing all the careful measurements and slowly piecing the quilt together as they talk about their families. I never see these women’s children, peers of mine I knew growing up in a small Pennsylvania town, but I feel like I know them from my mom’s updates. Recently, the baby boom has slowed, but the quilts are scattered around the country, each one signed on the back by the women in the circle. Mine adorn chairs and beds, wrap up dolls and line the floor for pretend picnics.
I dabbled in crafts as a kid, but nothing turned into a true hobby. As teenagers we teased my mom about her cross-stitching, claiming in our obnoxious adolescent tone that it was not “real art.” Despite our mocking, cross-stitch pieces adorned the walls in my childhood home, simple scenes reflecting hours of work and patience. Now, on my children’s walls, I proudly display her handcrafted, cross-stitch birth samplers, another priceless newborn gift. Each child’s name and birth stats are framed in a decorative motif, a mosaic of multicolored thread that transports me in an instant to the day they were born.
My mother and grandmothers grew up in times of arts and crafts, of handmade Halloween costumes and handwritten letters, when Do-It-Yourself was not a vocabulary word because they just did it themselves. My paternal grandmother was a self-taught photographer with her own darkroom in the basement. She died a few years ago, but her black and white photographs are now part of our family keepsakes connecting us to her. For Christmas this year, my favorite gift was a cross-stitch Santa from my maternal grandmother, one of four that she made and framed for each of her grandchildren. He found a new home on the mantle above the stockings crocheted by my great-grandmother, Mary. As a mother of three young children, my house is full of so much stuff, but nothing means more to me than these gifts.
I tried to knit once, when I was on bed rest during my first pregnancy. With no other children to care for, the initial stress of bed rest soon morphed into a relaxing calm before the storm, except when my mother arrived with knitting needles and her “dollar yarn.” It was a cotton ball in mottled shades of green and white plucked from the clearance section at Michael’s. She kicked off the lesson by teaching me a basic stitch, slowly forming rows that would eventually become a washcloth. I hated it. The yarn was ugly, the craft was frustrating, and I had plenty of washcloths. I quickly tossed it aside and went back to reading my stack of books, convinced that bed rest was not the time to learn a new skill.
Over the years since becoming a mother, I have found a craft I love – writing. Some stories come together like a well-planned quilt; others, like Fun Fur, seem like a good idea in my head but unravel on paper. They are all worth the effort. I hope to pass my love of words and stories on to my children, to adopt as their own passion or to reject, to tease me about when they find it silly and to treasure when they learn the value of memories. Someday, they will tuck away the quilts and samplers, replacing them with teenage posters and collages of friends. Someday they will choose their own hats and gloves, but for now I will cherish this moment.