Making, Meditation, Meaning

I met my friend K just over 20 years ago. We were both still relatively new mums, our now 20-year-old daughters a mere six months into their lives.

I was early (of course) for the meetup at the YMCA.

I had bundled my daughter up against the prairie cold of February, driven down unfamiliar roads and made my way to a downtown I didn’t yet know. I had located the correct building and parked, carried my daughter inside, and searched for the room which a Somewhat Concerned public health nurse had recommended I find.

At six months, my daughter was smiling, sitting, crawling, exploring, babbling, sleeping through the night.

She was thriving.

I, on the other hand, was not.

I was teetering on the edge of something I don’t like to remember.

We had had *quite* the six months, my husband and I and our baby. There was the jolt of new parenthood: colic and nursing and diapers and sleepless nights. But there was also the move to a new province a mere eight days after she was born. There was the leaving behind of friends, family, career. There was two months of bout after bout after bout of shivering and painful mastitis. There was a house in disarray with boxes to unpack. There was my husband’s new job and his travelling schedule. There was crushing loneliness and a creeping and pervasive certainty that parenting wasn’t actually something I was built for, that I was incapable, that I would ruin this beautiful child.

When I found the room, there were a few mums already there, chatting and laughing and sitting in pairs or threes, in what was beginning to look suspiciously like a circle.

Heart pounding, I took a place by myself on the floor, setting my daughter in front of my crossed legs where she faced the centre of the circle. I kissed her on her temple as I did so often when I read to her at home; she had a smile on her face and I tried to breathe in her untarnished confidence, willing my skittering nerves to calm as I waited for the room to fill.

K, if I’m remembering correctly, raced in right-on-time, and took the only empty spot remaining, the one to the right of me, the new girl.

When I realised what the group did, I nearly panicked. What may sound simple to some — introduce yourself and tell the group how your week is going — strikes terror in those of us with anxiety. And when my short speech had to follow on the heels of a mum whose infant son had just lost an eye to cancer —

Can you imagine? In hindsight, that mum’s pain should have magicked away my loneliness and my overwhelm; why ANY of us had anything to say after that bleak report I now simply can’t fathom.

And yet, I tried—

Hello, my name is Marian, and we moved here six months ago, and I’m…just…so— 

And then, with a silent score of strangers to witness, I slid ashamedly into tears.

I can still hear K’s Oh dear!

And after a moment, when it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to go on, while I fumbled through pockets in search of kleenex, she repeated her Oh dear, and said, Should I just take my turn?

I’ve often reflected that K saved my life that day.

Which is (of course) hyperbole for what she *actually* did: she extended a hand, she pulled me out, she propped me up, she stopped the sinking.

(Never underestimate the power of friendship.)

I like to imagine I’ve returned the favour. I do know I’ve received it right back again with interest, on more occasions than I can count, despite the fact that we moved away from that prairie city seventeen years ago, and that K and I haven’t met face to face since the September day we left.

This is the sweater I’m knitting for her first granddaughter:

Pattern: Granny’s Favourite on Ravelry.  Yarn: Bamboo Pop (colour Silken).

This is what I know:  when a dear friend is expecting a baby (or a grandchild), one simply must knit a sweater … or crochet a blanket … or stitch a name onto a Christmas ornament … or sew a romper … or cook a lasagna.

For me, this welcoming simply must be handmade. And that’s because, for me, making is not merely about raw materials and a product: it’s not just yarn drawn around needles, loops engaged, fabric created; it’s the route by which hope and love and fervent good wishes are somehow made solid.

Although it’s my hope that the recipient will be able to discern this — that there will be a shot of something hormonal in this realisation, something that more-than-compensates for the lack of a Gap label — it’s perfectly okay if they merely see a sweater.

And that’s because the act of making has already served half its purpose.

It’s been meditation. It’s been coping. It’s been necessary action.

This — the knowledge that making things is both a comfort and a necessity — might just be the sum total of what I know about life.

It might even be the only thing I have ever known:

When scared witless, cross-stitch. When in love, crochet an afghan. When grieving, brew tea, sew clothing, keep stitching. When pregnant after a miscarriage, sew a quilt. When overwhelmed, crochet snowflakes. When patience is stretched, knit mittens. When the fact that you exist infuriates the very people for whom you would throw yourself in front of a bus, bake cinnamon buns. When worry threatens to swamp you, make a garden, make soup. When daughter grows up and goes off to university, knit socks. When you are helpless to help her, knit more socks. When 17-year-old son is too young two days away from leaving for university, sew him a housecoat, offer to sew a pencil case, hide inordinate pleasure when he accepts. When said son is having a worrying amount of fun at university, knit him a hat. When words are insufficient, knit socks for husband of 26 years. When grown children come home to visit, cook curries and bake bagels, mend clothes and sew buttons and darn socks, reinforce their belongings with thread and imagine it’s not a metaphor — imagine it’s literal, that it’s strength you’re weaving into the very fibre of their beings — and then send them off again with containers of love cookies and muffins.

This making has been my solace, my crutch, my raison d’être — I make, therefore I am — my entire life.

And now — especially now — when the world is too much and too wrong and too ugly — when my chest has tightened and I can barely breathe for considering a new life entering upon it — this is the only way I know to stave it all off, and to keep going:

Make something beautiful, do something useful, solidify hope, turn love into a tangible thing.

Advertisements

22 thoughts on “Making, Meditation, Meaning

  1. Oh, Marian, you made me cry. Because 1) I know the heartbreak of new motherhood loneliness and the GUTS it takes to put yourself out into the world.

    2) Because our handmade things ARE the metaphors – covering and binding and feeding the people we love with our hands.

    3) The world is so hard for me right now. Not the day to day life that I bury my head and hands into, but out there. And I’m trying so hard to make it safer and more comfortable in here, but my heart breaks for those who don’t have the same opportunity.

    Anyway, all this to say, this was so beautifully written. I hope you don’t mind if I share

    Like

    1. Thank you, Kate. I knew you would understand.
      My heart seems to be breaking on a regular basis these days; it’s so hard having two of my children out there in the world.
      I think about that too — the fact that much of this is nowadays afforded by opportunity, and that for far too many (both parents and children) the idea of handmade/homemade ANYTHING (a meal, a pair of mittens) is simply out of reach, whether because of lack of ability or lack of time or lack of money. In many ways, we’ve come full circle: a home cooked meal (for example) was once dismissed as unimportant and an unworthy thing-to-aspire-to-do, and now … now, when so many people have neither the time nor the skills, the message has been flipped on its head: it IS important, it IS a worthy thing to do, it DOES make a difference. Making matters.
      Sending you a hug, Kate.

      Like

    1. Thank you! I still need to find buttons. (But I know they’ll be pink.) Hopefully you’ve passed that hurdle with V’s sweater!

      Like

  2. Marian, this stopped me in my tracks. It’s all so familiar. I didn’t have a group to go to but a girl I had hardly know at school moved home from the UK and a third friend ( who guessed we were both in trouble) set us up on a ‘Mommy date’. The woman I had known as a popular and funny classmate laid her infant daughter on the floor and confided that she wasn’t coping. I responded by bursting into tears and confessing the fragile state of my own sanity. We have been propping each other up for fifteen years now but, to my horror, she emigrated to Canada two years ago! That was a driving force behind my blog. You know, of course, that I agree with all you say about crafting and growing and cooking. You have laid it all out beautifully here. This is a beautiful post.

    Like

    1. Thank you, Lynda. My heart goes out to you for losing a close friend to emigration, and to Canada no less! (So very far…)
      I think we’re often sold a story of motherhood-as-magic, and while there’s no doubt that there are many, many wonderful and magical moments, it’s also probably one of the hardest things many of us have ever done. As a young mum, I really did feel ashamed that I wasn’t coping as well as I was “supposed to”. And while I know the Internet can be used as a platform to showcase perfection, and thus can be a cause for INCREASED angst (in oh-so-many-departments), I truly hope it’s been balanced by women being frank and open about the difficulties they face as mothers. After all, there’s probably no lonelier feeling than imagining everyone else is doing just fine and that you are the ONLY ONE struggling.

      It’s funny — that was the ONLY time I went to that meetup! And my friend didn’t go on a regular basis either. I get metaphorical shivers at the thought of how unlikely it actually was that we ever managed to meet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I often think that life waits until you are down to your emotional bottom dollar before throwing you a lifeline. Maybe it’s a way of making certain you take it. Possibly, and this would be me, we ignore more subtle offers of help until we are on the very edge of collapse. I miss my friend desperately.

        Like

      2. I tend to be the same: “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine … ” until I MASSIVELY am not.
        Perhaps a trip to Canada to visit your friend will one day be in the cards. You’ve not said where in Canada she lives, but I must say we DO have quite a lot of wonderfully scenic stuff to make the expense all the more worthwhile 😉 .

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh my, yes (and I’m quite certain you already know this) — Calgary is only an hour from Banff, and then you’re not too far from Lake Louise and Jasper … all of which are quintessentially CANADA. (But I admit to being biased: I was born and raised in Edmonton, which is 2 and 1/2 hours north of Calgary, and the Rocky Mountains are quite near-and-dear to my heart.)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, Marian. I missed this earlier–caught up in the drama of my daughter’s homecoming and too-quick home leaving, and the end of school and a visit with parents and and and.

    Aside from the content of this post (which made me cry, too), I am blown away by the writing. The way you wove the threads of it together. I can just see you in that circle, can feel your anxiety. I imagine the new mother you were leaving all of your support and I just want to reach back through time and hug you. Living is such a challenge, at any time. And your words about making–so much truth in them. Wishing I could reach through not just time but space and electronics to give you a hug right now. Thank you for sharing this writing with us. That’s an act of making, too.

    Like

    1. And now you’ve made me tear up too — thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all of this, Rita, for the hugs back in time and across the continent, which I would have been — and AM — so grateful for, and for the very very kind words about my writing. You wouldn’t have known this, but I’ve been standing at a crossroads for quite some time, at a loss as to how to move forward. I finally, just last night, came to a decision, and your words, coming this afternoon, feel something like a blessing (which is totally ok for a non-believer to say, right?). (I should tell you I actually DID have a sentence in an earlier draft that spoke to the making which is inherent in writing (“when words are needed…”); it’s rather telling that I edited that out — I have no problem calling myself a knitter, but I cannot seem to lay any claims to writing.)

      Oh, I know all too well the drama of children coming and going — our late April and early May were filled with a mind-boggling schedule of back-to-back marches to and fro. I do hope all is well with your kids and with you as well. I was actually planning on sending you an email — partly to just say hi and check up on you, and partly because I had just listened to a fascinating two-part podcast about the evolutionary origins of storytelling on CBC’s Ideas. Not only did the subject matter make me think of you, but I also thought you might like them as well:
      http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/vestigial-tale-part-1-what-science-tells-us-about-the-human-drive-to-tell-stories-1.3086744
      http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-evolutionary-origins-of-human-storytelling-vestigial-tale-part-2-1.3088171

      Hugs to you, Rita.

      Like

  4. Oh Marion, I’ve only just read this (part of that ‘catching up’ I’m trying to do). What a wonderful, moving, and honest post, and so beautifully written. And how very hard it must have been, to move to somewhere and everything new so soon after becoming a mother. I still remember the other-worldly feeling about being a new first-time parent, and how hard it was to navigate my way through a whole new sea – and I’m 31 years on from that. A useful reminder to us all of how vulnerable we and others may be feeling, despite appearances to the contrary.
    Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
    I do hope that the crossroads decision you mentioned in your reply to Rita still feels like a good and positive one for you, and that you are well.
    My best wishes, Deborah

    Like

    1. You’re so kind, Deborah — thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave such a lovely comment 🙂 . It’s funny, but it still sometimes catches my breath, the way my husband and I made that move with our new baby, the almost nonchalant way we took it on. Clearly, neither of us had even the slightest inkling as to how fully and irrevocably parenthood would affect us! (Which, as it turns out, was probably a good thing; had we thought it through we might have been too scared to go, and we would have missed out on what was probably the best thing we ever did! (And that’s my lesson for the day, one you know I have trouble with: Don’t overthink things! 😉 .)
      Best wishes to you, too, Deborah.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. BTW, that cardigan is gorgeous, what a lovely gift for your not-niece.
    I have a family of not-nieces, who I have watched grow up and have children of their own, and it’s lovely now to have grown-up relationships with them independent of the relationship with have with their parents. And I so agree with you about the home-made gift with added love sown or baked into it.

    Like

    1. Thank you, Deborah! (My friend’s daughter loves the sweater, so that was a nice bonus that came at the end of making it 🙂 .)
      I love the term “not-niece”! My 12-year-old son has become the baby’s “not-uncle” (not-cousin?) and asks on a daily basis if there have been any further texts containing photos or videos of the baby. (It’s been so sweet for me to see my own son (SON!) so taken with this small baby!)
      It’s funny you should mention relationships; this is something I’ve been pondering all summer long, the way initial relationships expand and grow to include new people (such as your own children’s significant others), and how (hopefully) lovely all this interconnectivity is…

      Like

    1. Thank you! And thank you for sharing your poem — it’s lovely, and so fitting for my relationship with my friend too. I especially like the thought behind the words “every person we meet plays a role in our life”…

      Liked by 1 person

This thinker would love to know what you think ... thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s