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:
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.