Knitting a muffler

I should have cleaned my bathroom this week. I should have answered work email, gone to the gym, attended a choral boosters meeting at the high school, brought my dog to get her nails trimmed or finished the last of my thank you notes from Christmas. Instead I spent most of my limited free time knitting a scarf for my oldest son. I started this project only eight days before the Post Office can ensure a Valentine’s Day delivery. I sat hunched over, clicking oversized aluminum needles for hours on end, creating a swatch of chunky, utilitarian fabric that I could have bought for about ten bucks.

I could end now and leave the impression of Super-Mama-Walton-Cleaver-Real-Housewives-of-Pleasantville. In truth, this was not an effort of selfless maternal affection. The start of my endeavor was timed precisely with my son buying a plane ticket to spend spring break away this year, with friends, in another state called “I make my own decisions with my own money.” With every stitch I am counting the days he has been gone since going to college and the days to come when he will be gone entirely. I am managing my complex emotions like some anti-Fate, trying to reverse his destiny, willing him back so we can reweave the threads into a pattern I can recognize. And control. And cling to.

It is knotty work facilitating the transition of a modern human from child to adult. In the old days, a parent just married them off or gave them a few acres of farm. They stayed close to home. There wasn’t much to negotiate. Now there are so many options and voices; my son is a literal kid in a virtual candy store of majors, internships, job opportunities, love interests, apartments, limitless markers of maturity. He races headlong into the future and I stand on the sidelines biting my nails. I am proud of this bold man and his trajectory that seems a path toward success and independence and mostly, I lead cheers of encouragment. But not all the time. I harbor the smallest doubts and reluctance: “relax, live in the present” or “you/we need more time” or “really, you just did/think/said . . . what?” These often go unspoken or unheard. So I knit a scarf.

Ironically, I will mail this package and then drive to the airport to pick up my parents. They are visiting for the weekend. I wonder how many of my scarf thoughts have crossed their minds over the years. In Pandora’s Barbie Dream House they expected I would make lasagna and wear mascara and lead the PTA. My husband would want his shirts pressed and ask me to make him a sandwich. And my children would be Eagle Scouts and know baseball stats. In Pandora’s Real Life Troll Cave, I work all time and my husband makes soufflé and my children rush home from Speech Competitions to watch the SAG Awards. I am not, nor are any of my siblings, living the lives my parents might have imagined.  

In the card aisle at Walgreen’s, Valentine’s Day is about the love you choose and how you choose to assert it. This year I am considering ways to love when the only choice seems less “Be mine” and more “Be your self.” Trust is a risky message, hard to sum up on a paper heart, harder yet to give away. So I am sending a scarf. Because all I can do is keep him warm in his adventures. And leave a long trail of yarn, just in case.

11 responses to “Knitting a muffler”

  1. Rachel says:

    This took my breath away with its beauty. It also made me think about how creative work toward human connection is not a frill or a luxury, but an essential part of life. And I hope you’re proud that you’ve taught your kids that with your very example. You couldn’t give them a better tool to take out into the world.

  2. AWB says:

    This made me think about how so few kids have parents who make them things at all. Sure, parents might do the labor of cleaning up or mowing the lawn, but having a parent who knows how to make a treehouse, or a cake, or a scarf is more rare. When I was growing up, the other kids thought it was weird that my mom made my lunch, rather than buying it, and made my Halloween costumes, rather than buying them, and made my birthday cakes, rather than buying them. She always said it was because we were poor that we didn’t buy everything pre-made. But I always thought there was something really special about having one-of-a-kind things and eating one-of-a-kind food.

    For the past several years, I’ve gotten handmade scarves from friends in exchange for food—pralines or pie—and I love it when people ask me where I got my scarf so I can say who made it for me. Wherever your son goes in the cold, he’ll be reminded of you. I love it!

  3. Tim says:

    When I was hundreds of miles away in college, my mother knitted me a sweater. Now I realize she was most likely weaving the same sort of familial fabric you describe here so beautifully.

    When I received the package with the sweater in it, a friend saw me opening it up. She said, “That’s so cool! Wearing a sweater your mom has made is like wearing armor. It protects you against the world.”

    May this scarf provide that protection for your son and help keep you in his thoughts as he sets out on his adventures.

  4. KS says:

    I realize now how much I suck for making fun of all the home-sewn clothes my brother and I had on in every stinking first-day-of/class-picture-day-at school photos. Your story made me all weepy and emotional in a very good way. I wish I could evoke emotion with my written words as you do. I can’t imagine your son doesn’t appreciate what an amazing mother he has. If he doesn’t now, he will eventually.

  5. E&R&O's Papa says:

    Lovely parenting, and writing. As an adoptive father (one from birth, two plucked from the foster system), I have spent the last few years insecurely obsessing about “attachment.” But after all that effort it takes my breath away to realize that it’s already time to start the pain of a lifetime of detaching….

  6. candace says:

    this is simply a gorgeous piece of writing. so painfully honest, articulate and tender.

  7. Kirsten says:

    Ah, my friend… this is wonderful. He’ll love the scarf.

  8. Stella says:

    This made me feel like I’m wrapped in a little bit of that scarf too.

  9. lane says:

    the creative sublimation of anxiety…

    yeah, wow, knit girl knit…

  10. lane says:

    UHHH!! painting,… deadline.

    professional knitting. Hey PB! love being here! and telling you that….

  11. Allytigator says:

    This was so beautiful, tender, poignant, and wrenching. If you knit as well as you write, that’s gotta be one helluva gorgeous scarf! I hope your son realizes it’s made of love, not just yarn.