When we first got word that all “non-essential” businesses would be shut down, I admit it, I panicked. This panic manifested as, “What am I going to do with my hands?” I love to be busy physically, and if I wasn’t going to be able to run more (too injury prone) or go to the Nest and play in the storage room…ACK WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?! So I went online and found KnitPicks was still sending out orders (for one more day!) and bought 16 skeins of baby yarn (the super soft 60% Pima Cotton/ 40% Modal kind). Plus a new downloadable baby sweater pattern. And I felt SO MUCH BETTER, like I could survive anything. Like an aloe bath for my brain. (Some folks have been binging on serial puzzles. I can relate to that too.)
. . . I started knitting as a mechanism for calming anxiety.
I’m not sure when I started knitting as a mechanism for calming anxiety. My mom is an expert sewer (she made my wedding dress), a knitter, and a rug-maker. She was, and is still, always making something, sometimes to the point of giving herself an overuse injury. Ah, now I am making some familial connections.
I remember the two weeks before I started medical school in 1993, super amped and nervous, I knit two complete adult sweaters. I sat in my ground floor Philly apartment in my bikini (no AC) with the windows open and a fan blowing on me, sweating my ass off, listening to NPR, and just tore through piles of wool and fuzzy angora. I made these sweaters PERFECT. If there was one stitch awry, I’d rip out to below the defect and fix it. In a way it was a huge relief when med school started so I could do something else! I gave one of the sweaters to my new sister-in-law (who I found out later was allergic and never wore the sweater). But what happens to the knitting after it’s done is not the point.
I knit for my first two babies, but after I had my third boy, I stopped knitting. I just didn’t have the time or physical space to hold needles and yarn on my lap. I hadn’t really had the urge either, until it came back in the COVID-19 rush. Luckily, I could target a recipient of my zeal: the one and only Brenda “B” Alvarez, gutting through her own coronavirus pregnancy-saga, hospitalized with twins for a month awaiting delivery. How convenient for me!
“Motherf*cker!!” really adds some love to a baby sweater!
After the yarn arrived, I enthusiastically cast on the first little sleeve cuff row, and felt the groove coming back. I listened to podcasts (Brene Brown’s new Unlocking Us is fantastic), public radio, the new Fiona Apple album, and settled into the calmness of manual obsession. But then I hit a snag. I was very rusty. I actually couldn’t remember how to do many things (SSK?) and had to YouTube a bunch of knitting terms. The metal double-point needles I was working on were slipperier than I remembered, and I kept dropping stitches off the back end that I had to go pick up (but often ended up backwards). I was swearing more than I had anticipated. (“Motherf*cker!!” really adds some love to a baby sweater!) I felt myself getting tense. My stomach hurt from the stress. (I realize this seems ridiculous. Maybe it wasn’t just about the knitting.)
I improvised like a champ and kept going. . .
And then, something changed internally – either by effort or reflection, I’m not sure which. I remembered that I’m 50 years old, and not trying to impress anyone. That knitting a sweater is yes, an act of love, but also just a way to keep my hands busy during a pandemic. I borrowed a circular needle from Atsuko. I started laughing at myself for getting worked up, and decided I didn’t care that much about the mistakes. I improvised like a champ and kept going when I thought the pattern was wrong or unclear, instead of emailing the pattern help desk.
And now sweater #1 is done! The wrong side is pretty lumpy and messy, and the neckline/collar has a lot of “character,” but I feel such fondness – for the sweater, myself, my mom, and B’s babies. The buttons were some I grabbed from my little Frog and Toad button collection, and I found two more that I can use on sweater #2 , which will be different colored yarn but with matching buttons for B’s matching boys. And I know sweater #2 is going to be so much easier; I can tell I’ve improved by leaps and bounds! I’m feeling a lot more confident.
My knitting lessons: it’s ok to improvise; use it for relaxation and flow—not to impress anyone; ask your friends for help; lower your standards and don’t try so hard; mistakes add character; recognize when you’ve improved. It’s supposed to be enjoyable and increase your love quotient for the world!
So maybe this little story is actually about running. And life. During and after a pandemic.
(P.S. And B, just so you know, I stand by my assertion that I don’t need you to put the twins in these sweaters! For real. I love you so much and I can’t wait to meet your little snugs!)