I am not a particularly craftsy person. I don’t decoupage. I’ve never hand-painted anything. Using a glue gun is as foreign to me as using a machine gun. But knitting I can do. It’s vaguely creative, but really, all you do is follow a pattern. Sure, you can design your own sweaters, but for me, knitting is picking a yarn or two, leafing through books or magazines for a simple pattern, and following said pattern TO THE LETTER. It’s kind of like paint-by-numbers with a hefty price tag.
I learned to knit while pregnant with twins. Partially out of a need to nest, but mostly out of a desire to stave off the mind-numbing boredom I anticipated suffering during my inevitable bed rest. Bed rest was boring, but it also prepared me for a radical life change. Rather than abruptly switching gears from frenetic freelance television writer and producer to frantic mother of two, I had two months of best rest as rest stop on the road to motherhood.
Even with the medically sanctioned transition built in, motherhood took a lot of getting used to. Suddenly, I wasn’t a career woman – I was a walking milk-machine, chained to two hungry mouths. (Attached to two babies in hand-knit clothes.) I could no longer lounge in bed in the morning. Sunday’s paper had to wait until Wednesday when I finally decided I was never going to read it and threw it out. I grew proficient at doing everything with one hand, so that the other could hold a baby. My social life changed, my priorities changed, my figure, well, let’s not even go there. But none of this was shocking. I’d expected those changes. I’d chosen them. Sure, my social circle was different, but it was easy to find other new Moms to talk to, other frazzled parents looking for kindred souls. I settled into my new life, and started knitting again. But if the ramifications of becoming a mother were expected, the dire social and sexual repercussions of becoming a knitter were not.
Knitting, according to the media and the crowds at my local knitting shop, has enjoyed a resurgence lately. Young women are knitting themselves big chunky sweaters and slinky little tank tops, and young moms are eschewing $250 hand-knit baby sweaters in boutiques to spend $300 and countless hours knitting their own mini-masterpieces. Even so, there’s a stereotype about knitters. Old ladies knit. Spinsters knit. And expectant mothers knit. When I became a knitter I entered this triumvirate. With each stitch, I knit away my sensuality and crafted myself into a drool-wiping, poop-cleaning spit-up covered Mommy with the same sexual appeal as the old ladies and spinsters whose sisterhood I had joined.
How do I know this? Several weeks ago, I was riding the subway when a good looking man smiled at me and took the seat next to mine. As a mother of two-year-old twins, I feel lucky when men don’t recoil in horror from my disheveled hair and food stained clothes, so this small smile translated into a big ego boost for me. Were I still single, I would have been planning our honeymoon by the next stop. But then I pulled out my knitting needles. Mr. Attractive looked at me with abject disgust. “Jesus Christ,” he exploded, and dramatically hurrumphed himself to the other side of the subway car, plunking himself down next to a presumably non-knitting man.
Perhaps he thought the knitting needles were weapons, and were the train to come to a sudden stop, I would stab him in the jugular, and he would get blood stains on his Armani tie. A male friend of mind suggested that I had “shattered the poor guy’s image” of me. B.K.N. (Before Knitting Needles) I was a babe, a woman of style, daringly braving the subway’s toxic fumes and even more toxic passengers. A.K.N. (After Knitting Needles) I was a Knitter: a grandmotherly spinster expecting twins while doddering around my cat-filled house in a tattered housedress and hip-high underwear. (His theory was subsequently proven when a client of mine walked into my edit room to find me knitting and blurted out “Hey, whatever happened to that sexy babe I used to know?” Ouch.)
It’s no surprise that:
(Sleep Deprivation + No time for the Gym) – Privacy = declined sexual activity and desire
But since when does being craftsy make someone undesirable? Granted, Martha Stewart isn’t exactly a sexual icon, but I think that’s more due to a certain WASP-y froideur then to her proclivity for glue guns and “good things.” But from what I can tell, knitting, not mothering has changed my sexuality, or at least the perception of it.
Picture this: my husband and I are lying in bed at night after meal-time, bath-time story-time and bedtime are complete. I’m knitting. He languidly reaches across to caress me lovingly and UGH!!!! My knitting needle stabs him in the chest leaving my children fatherless and me with a whole lot of bloody bedding to clean. Unless you’re extremely kinky, this is not a romantic scene. But let’s say my hobby was – oh, I don’t know – long-jumping. The scene would play out quite differently.
My husband lies in bed after my incredibly toned physique has made it possible for me to complete meal-time, bath-time and all those other “times” in one fell swoop. He looks at me as I cross the room, and without missing a beat, I long-jump over the dirty-laundry, onto the bed, and into his arms.
See? Long jumping: sexy. Knitting: deadly.
Knitting has changed my social appeal, too. A few months ago, I was sitting in a cafe. A group of single women admired my shoes, which of course sparked conversation. (Ah, Shoes! The only thing I can still wear in a size six!) We talked about restaurants, shoes, politics, shoes. I showed them pictures of my kids. They oohed. They aahhed. I said something witty and self-deprecating. We laughed. I ordered another chai latte. Then I took out my knitting. The women all pretended to be impressed by my skill and dedication. But the conversation died. Perhaps they feared that knitting was contagious. Conversing with me might lead them, too, to feel the urge to knit and thereby lose their sensual identities. Being a mother was fine. Being a knitting mother was not.
Even without the knitting, though, I didn’t really fit in with those women. I don’t really know where I fit in anymore. I have my husband, my family, a few close friends, but those early days of instant sisterhood between new mothers have waned, a casualty of the stresses of mothering toddlers. Motherhood has forced me to craft a whole new vision of myself. Where I used to be eminently capable, I’m now permanently overwhelmed. Where I once kept up on the latest restaurants, I now keep mac and cheese in the cupboard. And while I used to track my success in dollars earned, I now know I’m doing well when I earn thank-yous, pleases, and I love yous from two two-year-olds. Invaluable, yes, but unquantifiable. What is my worth now? The threads of my life have become tangled.
Working part-time only complicates matters. Am I a mother or a careerist? Is motherhood affecting my work or working affecting the quality of my mothering? I wonder if stay at home moms lose it and yell at their kids, if they have time to cook real meals and keep their floors clean. I have trouble finding myself in this quagmire of questions. The only things I can hold onto are my two two-years olds’ hands.
But then I put my toddlers in their coordinated red white and blue jumpers that I knit on subways and buses and during rare downtime late at night, and I know who I am. I’m a proud mother. I’m a capable woman. So there are dust bunnies under the bed. There are piles of pictures waiting to be put into albums. There are days I wish for time alone, wish my kids would stop screaming, order in when I could make dinner. I even leave my children sometimes and go to work. But I do knit. Look, there they are, matching sweaters, slightly lumpy, maybe, but concrete, quantifiable knitwear. Made by me.
Knitting lets me interweave my life at work with my life at home. I bring my knitting to freelance jobs, and in the inevitable downtime on set I knit little sweaters and vests and dresses. I knit to keep a connection to my babies even while I’m working. I knit to tie myself to them with a not-so invisible thread. I knit so that when some perfect-looking mother who surely never yells at her kids, or feeds them take-out, or even knows what a dust bunny is, asks me wherever did I get those beautiful baby sweaters, I can answer proudly: “I made them myself.” Turns out I’m pretty craftsy after all. Craftsy and damn proud of it.