17 November 2006

The Benefits of a Crafty Childhood

I seem to be on this sentimental streak. Bear with me (or just skip this and wait till next time; I should be reverting to my usual cynicism any day now).

Marianne commented on my earlier post about my knitting bag that it sounded like I had a happy childhood. This really made me think...you know how you refer to other people, saying they had a "happy childhood" or an unhappy one...I don't think I've ever thought about my own childhood in those terms before. Probably because I've only recently realized that I am, in fact, an adult now whether I like it or not. So, prompted by Marianne's comment, I thought about it.

This is the whole version of the photo that I cropped and put into my "100 Things" list. Now you can fully appreciate both my red knee socks and the Wild-People-of-the-Woods look my parents were sporting in those years (hey, it was an ugly decade - it could have been so much worse!).

There are a few reasons that I didn't immediately think, "yeah, of course I had a happy childhood!" For one thing, I was never a happy-go-lucky type person who runs around dancing and singing and liking everyone they meet. I've always been the introverted, observant type (and, okay, more than a little antisocial). In almost all of my baby pictures, even, my brow is furrowed as though I was contemplating life and death or something (I suspect it was actually gas). That said, I enjoy thinking, and observing. It seems to be my place, and I like it. So while I may not have always looked happy, much of the time when I didn't I was probably merely thinking, and was perfectly content.

Meanwhile, my parents married young and there was a lot of fighting in our house (they eventually divorced, as soon as my brother and I left the house; they're both happier now). And like I mentioned, there wasn't much money; my parents really only started to get their heads above water right about the time they needed to pay for orthodenture and college, so even then it wasn't easy. However. While they weren't necessarily sure they wanted to be with each other, my parents were deeply committed to being parents, and very, very good at it. Obviously my brother and I would have been a lot better off if they had been more respectful and kind to each other, too, but I couldn't ask for anything more in the way they behaved toward us (the one thing in which they were united). A lot of the theories that are popular today - attachment parenting comes first to mind - were things my parents were practicing way back then without knowing the name for it. That's even more impressive knowing they figured this all out on their own, so young, without much in the way of modeling from their own parents. As for the money - I admire them enormously for choosing to dedicate their time and energy to working in social services when (with their educations and social background) they could have made a lot more money doing just about anything else. My dad was a teacher in the public schools before his recent retirement, and my mom is still a social worker. It's also true that I didn't ever really notice the lack of money when I was young because - the story is famous in my family - I was perfectly delighted with things like a box of popsicle sticks (grandma gave it to me one year, and she couldn't get over the fact that my favorite present ever had cost about $5 - but have you ever tried saving popsicle sticks for an entire summer, tried to make anything at all out of those sticks despite the colored stains left by the popsicles, only to suddenly get a bonanza of some 1000 perfectly clean, new sticks all at once???!!! Oh wait - I'm talking to knitters. We're all people who get more excited about a ball of string than just about anything else. So you know what I'm talking about.)

I also grew up in a crazy, insular, intolerant, bigoted town. I'll just share with you the phrase - which I have actually heard spoken in all seriousness - "If ya ain't Dutch, ya ain't much" and that should give you a general idea. My friends at school went to church three or four times a week and really, truly believe(d) they were the only people going to heaven, and the rest of us were damned. Creativity, independent thought, and outside influences were all abhorred. People actually accused me of being a satanist when I admitted that I didn't go to church very often. To say I was a misfit in school is putting it very, very mildly. My whole extended family was (is) very much a part of this madness - my parents became such hippies because they were running away from the loving-in-its-way but suffocatingly repressive and punishing environment they'd been raised in.

But you know what? I did have a really happy childhood. Because when I look back on it, the stuff I've just described isn't what comes to mind. What I think of is how much I loved reading and crafting. I spent my entire childhood mostly immersed in my own little world...and it was an awesome, creative, stimulating world. My parents' brilliant attitude toward childrearing - lots of freedom within reasonable limits, lots of love and respect and communication - was obviously crucial in every way, but the most important thing they might have done was to expose me to the World Book Encyclopedia and another series of children's reference books which I've forgotten the name of but which had one particular volume that defined my whole childhood -- called "Make & Do." It was a craft book for kids, and I don't really remember which projects were specifically from there, but I know that whenever I was bored or at loose ends, I turned to "Make & Do," or maybe a Ramona Quimby book. How could you not be happy? Naturally it was just a hop, skip and a jump to where I am now...getting a PhD and knitting a lot. Even before I could knit I had a yarn stash. It was 100% variegated acrylic, and I did many things with it - finger knitting, spool knitting, gluing it in patterns on paper, wrapping presents with it, you name it - but I think it's fair to say I haven't been without a yarn stash since I was 3. How can you not have a happy childhood when you have a yarn stash, I ask you??

Someday when I have (hopefully) kids of my own, what I would like to be able to do more than anything else is to give them books, and creativity. If you've got those things, your life will always be rich and interesting, and that's bound to bleed over into everything else you do.

Thanks to everyone for all the wonderful comments on my last post. I'm sorry I couldn't show you a picture of any incarnation of the brown pullover, but I didn't have any of those digitized, and we don't have the prints here in NY. Hubbster was touched and adorably embarrassed by all the attention.

I've often felt a little worried that I might be or become somebody's 'Aunt Myrtle' - I think I sometimes hesitate to give a knitted gift because of that stereotype. (See the latest evidence of the strength of the Aunt Myrtle stereotype over on Specs' blog). Especially when I become a mother and grandmother someday, I want to be the kind of knitter Anna was for Hubbster. Kids anywhere need that kind of focused attention and care, and will always be proud to wear something that's just for them, as long as you pay attention and make it really something they want and need -- and that's a good excuse for getting to know a child even better, which is always the right thing to do! Failed FOs, though, shouldn't be forced on anyone. They can always be frogged. That's the lesson I'm going to try to take away, anyway.

I'm on the heel of the second peacock sock, and so excited to start the toe-up Widdershins pattern (David of Knit Like a Man sent me his formula for the 64-stitch version!) that I've also cast on the toe for that, in a spaced-dyed boucle cashmere (with nylon) sock yarn from School Products that, as you can see, is too busy for a complicated design and so is a good candidate for my first, plain stockinette Widdershins.

I know I shouldn't start a new, more exciting sock before the old ones are done. Couldn't help myself. And I discovered that (gasp) I actually really hate the magic cast-on. Maybe I just didn't give it enough of a chance and maybe it was the tiny needles, but I found it incredibly fussy on the first few rows, and impossible to get the M1s on every row without holes. I tried every kind of M1 I know, and increasing by knitting into the row below the next stitch, but most of those are impossible right above the previous increase, and the M1 where you just twist a loop over the right needle leaves a huge hole. I contrast this to the PGR method, where you start with the invisible CO done with waste yarn, short-row around, pick up the invisible CO and proceed. I've never had any trouble with that CO row, and the toe looks great, so I'm going to stick with that. On with Widdershins! Oh wait. No. Better finish the peacock socks first, or poor Hubbster will be sad. Then on with Widdershins.

(Did I mention that I also really, really hate DPNs? I thought I'd figured out why people like them when I navigated that first top-down flap heel on a magic loop and got royally irritated during the picking up sts process. So I did this fussing around with the toe of the new sock, and some of the second peacock sock, with DPNs. It may just be that I have the wrong ones, but one set was short Brittany birches that are so flexible that make my hands cramp up. I know some people like flexibility, but it makes my hands cramp, I don't know why, but it hurts like hell. So I switched to a set of steel DPNs, but they're really long, which makes it a very poky-poky, awkward experience, plus at this size they have almost no points at all. I might try a pair of KnitPicks' new DPNs in #0 someday just to see if they can convert me (and because they don't get offer a 60" US#0 Magic Loop, natch), but I doubt it.

Oh, and the Fair Isle is down to the cuff on the first sleeve, finally. I don't like how the sleeve pattern ends clumsily in the middle of a motif, but I also don't want my sleeve either an inch or two too long or too short, so oh well.

THIS JUST IN: Make and Do was part of the ChildCraft series published by World Book, the same folks who did the encyclopedia. I remember my parents saying they bought both sets from a very charming traveling salesman, around 1976 when I was 1 and my brother was 4. They used the grocery budget to buy them, but I say it was totally worth it. Dharmafey: Let the nostalgia flow.... :-) Thanks for giving me the first word of the series name - I figured it out from there.

Back. To. Writing. Chapter. Now.


Dharmafey said...

Oh man! I had that whole series of books...."Child-" something.... "Make and Do". Those were the days, man

Sonya said...

We had that Childcraft set too. To this day I pack a things to make and do bag when going on a trip.

Anonymous said...

Like you (though a few decades earlierm heh!) I was also a child enamoured of books and craft supplies. I always made sure my kids had both too. None of us are ever bored! However, I worry about families like my nephew's, 3 kids and nary a book or newspaper to be seen in his house. Just because he's dyslexic doesn't mean his kids should be denied the power of text! Videos, computer games, and tv aren't everything. Do not get me started!

Marianne said...

See, that's what I was talking about...and btw, your mother, what a beauty! I love that photo. What a bundle of information (yes, I am an observer and thinker, introverted, maker,reader also, from I swear, day one). My first husband and I didn't make it terribly long, just long enough to produce 2 of my three, but I always made sure (with help from my parents) that there were books, and lots of them, and all that inexpensive stuff to be had for creating, collecting all the old bottles, filling the wagon with them, you know different amounts of water in each and parading to the little woodsy area and making music..taking them down to the river's edge (which was just on the trail in back of the house) to watch for animal prints and figuring out who they belonged to, there's something to be said for not having lots of money...did a lot of sewing which they were all interested in, especially when they knew the garments were for them, special, and helping to design simple sweaters (yep, sorry but just enough for acrylic in those days) but they were soft and so washable, and most importantly, they loved them. You are the same age as my second son, your brother the age of my firstborn son, Havala showed up 18 months later (whew), I'm thinking your mom and I are the same age. I have asked each of my kids (and believe me they're all different) if they felt they had happy childhoods, my oldest, Aardron, who was the dark and broody type (even asked me once, why I had those other two) and I used to worry about him...thought for a few minutes and a huge sweet smile lit up his face and he said, "well yeah....".
Now with grandchildren (believe it or not, Aardron has been the only one brave enough to marry and reproduce) I get to do all of that again, and have had the great opportunity to spend lots of time with them, caring for them during the week, and so getting to really know them..it really is special.
Kate, you are going to be a great Mom, and eventually a fabulous Grandmother, and although *I* may not be around for the grandmother bit I'm hoping that the blogging thing will continue long enough that I get to see you being a Mom. Thanks for the post. Oh, and hey, I'm really glad you had a happy childhood, they're all different for everyone, like you, give me some space, a book, (I had an old upright piano in my room I got to create with), stuff to make things with, I was one very happy camper, and nope, we didn't have much money either....It wasn't such a bad thing at all.

Peg said...

I so enjoyed your post today. What a lucky little girl you were and happiness comes in many different forms. If you are interested in crafting, knitting and doing crafts with children, you might enjoy www.knittingiris.typepad.com She is a beautiful knitter, but she home schools her two little boys and they do the most fantastic crafts. Have a little look!

Kat with a K said...

Wonderful post! You made me all nostalgic too.

Laura said...

lovely post! i think a friend of mine had those books.

is it just me or does the dad on the spine of the "guide for parents" look like bobby kennedy?

The Purloined Letter said...

Your childhood sounds an awful lot like mine. I have some more thinking to do about this--and perhaps a post...

Thanks for your wonderful blog and all it has added to my days.