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I’m the mother of a little boy with an active imagination. He will happily tell me stories for hours, with incredible patience and enthusiasm, about the planet of the robots, where the fairies go to do war against villains and use their ice powers to freeze giant insects with multicolored eyes. I’m embarrassed to say that his stories are so long, so intricate, so enthusiastic, so effusive, that I can’t keep track. Often, my brain is so tired from a day of work or is wrapped up in some adult banality (or childish banality. Human banality) that I don’t even try to listen to the story. I put on my smilingest eyes and respond as authentically as I can, but it’s really a stream of, “uh huh! No way! Really?” which feigns engagement instead of actually jumping in.
My little boy has an alter ego that he values much more highly than his own natural-born self. His alter ego is 2 years older, goes to school (never daycare), and is the big sister of his primary ego. Her name is Anna, and she’s a fairy with ice powers (thanks, Frozen), and she has a sister Elsa, another sister Tinkerbell, a little brother Jean-Luc, and another little brother, Isaac (coincidentally the name of a close daycare friend). Because she is a girl, and a girl fairy no less, she has no interest in wearing “boy clothes.” Only “girl clothes.”
And as Mom, I have to figure out how I feel about this, and what I do about this.
At first, I was really happy to have a little boy who liked to twirl around in a skirt. He had a book where the central character, a little girl about his age, put on her prettiest dress for her birthday, and took such pleasure twirling around in it. I thought to myself, true! One of life’s great pleasures is twirling around in a full skirt. Why deny my little boy that pleasure, when he’s quite literally asking for it? I’d already bought him a kilt (dutiful bagpiper as I am), but the kilt didn’t twirl. So for his 3rd birthday, I bought him a big pink tulle tutu. It was a quick favorite, especially paired with his butterfly wings that Santa had brought, because butterflies had been all the rage in our house for the prior months.
That was when his first female alter-ego emerged, Zoë. Zoë wasn’t a well-defined character, just that she was a girl and liked dresses. She loved going to female friends’ houses and putting on their princess and fairy dresses most of all.
But recently my son has been doggedly interested in what it means to be a boy, and what it means to be a girl. It’s not surprising, when there are such strong distinctions, and when so many kinds of play are seemingly restricted by gender codes. My boy likes pink and purple, but finding pink clothes means shopping in the girls’ section by default. He likes flowers and hearts and stars and unicorns and fairies. He’s fascinated by magic, and wants to have magical powers. You know what? I just realized that magical powers are largely coded as feminine. Witches get magical powers. Fairies get magical powers. Witches and fairies are girls, by default. They have the ability to change reality, to make things happen, to control their surroundings, to build talking creatures out of snow, to frolic through the sky on a flying unicorn, to make flowers grow.
You know what boys get? Superpowers. Fighting powers. Strength. Danger. Sometimes (and only sometimes) these powers can be creative and productive. But they are largely destructive and adversarial. Light sabers. Flying machines with guns mounted on them. Laser beams. And my son likes these too! He’s fascinated by war (thanks, Star Wars), and imagines robot armies and cannonballs and poison forests. (I saw my family struggle with this during the holidays. This year J-L received a plethora of superhero capes and costumes, presumably the “boy” version of fairy wings and skirts that they’ve been seeing in the photos I post online.)
At this point in his young life, there’s something about being a girl that is more appealing than being a boy. Girls can play fairies with magic powers. Girls can wear twirly skirts and pink leggings and shirts with flowers and shiny stars on them. Girls can be mamas and have babies. These are things that he feels are forbidden him as a boy, and that he can embrace as a girl. I’ve tried to explain that, with the exception of the last one, which biology gets in the way of, boys can do all of those things too. Pink is just a color, not a “girl color.” There can be boy fairies! Leggings are cool for everyone, but really not warm enough in the winter, for girls and boys alike! But he doesn’t buy it, and I don’t blame him. He’s no dummy, and his whole job right now is to figure out social norms. Just because mom says pink is just a color doesn’t change the fact that no other boys or men that we see anywhere wear pink, or leggings, or twirly skirts.
And at this point in his life, he’s valuing these “girl” things as highly or higher than “boy” things. There’s admiration there, which I’m trying to prevent from turning into envy, by making sure that he has access to all these things and doesn’t feel excluded from the simple pleasures in life that he thinks would make him happy. I want him to keep thinking, his whole life, that being a girl is awesome, even if I also want him to grow into an acceptance of being a boy, and how awesome that is too. I want him to respect womanhood for what it is, as he grows in appreciation for the fact that it’s more than magical ice powers and ruffles, and to keep his love of things which are socially coded as “feminine.” I want him to be part of a generation that doesn’t say shitty things like “you run like a girl” as an insult, that doesn’t equate femininity with infantilism or weakness or pity. I want him to keep thinking that “girl” things are valuable, even if I eventually want him to really challenge the notion that they’re intrinsically “girly.” And while he challenges that, I want him to realize the subtle (and not-so subtle) differences in the ways boy things and girl things are coded and are treated as distinct — for better, for worse, for in-between.
Clothing and appearance just keeps hitting me hard these days. The way that girls’ clothes are cut to cling to the body, are flimsy, make it harder to climb and play, tear holes quickly. Seeing skinny, cold legs in leggings and tights instead of the awesome flannel-lined jeans and khakis I bought. They way nail polish makes your hands less useful for rough-and-tumble play, starting from the 10 minutes you’re incapacitated sitting still while it dries, through every time you think about what your nails are touching so as not to chip the polish off. How sparkly headbands slip off your head while you’re running, making you stop and fix your hair every few minutes, until you find it’s maybe too cumbersome to run today. They way girls’ shoes have slippery soles that are lovely for pirouettes, but less useful for sprinting, or climbing. The way parents say, “careful, you’ll get your nice dress dirty!” and are concerned that running it through the wash will take all the sequins off. A real concern! But boys don’t have to deal with that. At the same time, they don’t get the pleasure of a sequined dress and shoes that let you pirouette. Am I wrong to try to give my son both, and navigate the in-between?
Ah, conflict. Of course. Being a conscientious parent involves always questioning your parenting choices, from day one. Am I confusing him? Am I encouraging something that will cause him problems down the line? Is some intolerant asshole going to punch my sweet baby in the face someday and call him a fucking faggot, all because his mother humored his childhood imaginative play and bought him a couple of skirts on sale at Old Navy? Is there something I should be doing differently? Is this a subtle form of acting out against family dynamics that are sometimes strained, despite our consistent best efforts to be solid and happy and secure? Worry, mama, worry.
I think we’re doing okay. I know we’re doing okay. One day at a time.
It must be getting cold out there in North America…because the top search term that leads people to my blog is “Free knitted nose warmer pattern”.
There must be some cold noses out there! Keep warm!
(for all of you who have wondered where I disappeared to, I’m still here! And I’ve got a bigger post coming up – with a link to a lovely pair of scarves that can certainly keep those noses toasty…)
The winter is on its way out. Take heart, everyone, it really and truly is. Even if the thermometer doesn’t necessarily agree, the sun does.
Every day, my southwest-facing kitchen window gets a little brighter a little longer. This week I installed an extra shelf on the windowsill, to make more room in that sunny and warm spot for the houseplants that are thriving in their little oasis (this window also has a baseboard heater below it!), and for the seedlings that I hope will be taking root in their little egg-carton cups to make a fine balcony vegetable garden this summer. The first sprouts were spotted this morning!
Some of you readers might remember a post in the summer, where the cockles of my heart were warmed by the eagerness of my houseplants to brave the transition to a new land and put down roots. Well, they just keep making me smile. My little cuttings have turned into real plants. The Christmas cactus is due for a repotting, as the cuttings are overtaking the pot. The baby rubber plant has turned over a new leaf, so to speak, and instead of monochromatic green leaves, now sports beautiful, glossy light and dark leaves. My jade is more circumspect, and is taking its time to grow, but even so is doing well. A retrospective in photos:
The transplants, after a month in Montreal:
Today, 8 months in:
And what’s more, I planted some grocery-store sprigs of mint in the summer, and they’ve turned into a sprawling bush of mint. I chopped off some sprigs to try to tame the growth, stuck them in water, and within a couple of days have set out roots with abandon:
Things are growing!
Moving to Montreal was stressful for me, and the ways that stress manifested itself surprised me. For example, I became extremely concerned about the moment of border crossing, when I’d be coming to Canada as a “visitor,” bringing with my all my worldly possessions. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but on a 6-month visitor visa, you’re not supposed to be coming to settle permanently. That’s what permanent residency is for. Which I’ve applied for, and am waiting on. Meanwhile, I’m “visiting.” Visiting for 8 weeks at a time, as I keep heading back to Cambridge to get prescription refills and meet with my advisor. Indefinitely “visiting.”
In any case, this was stressful enough to figure out a way to cross the border with Jean-Luc separately from the moving van, so it would look less strange to say I was “visiting.” A friend drove us up the day before, and we went through with her carload of things, while Jonathan and his family stayed another night in Cambridge to finish packing up the truck, and to leave at the crack of dawn for the long haul.
This was also stressful enough to make me worry about bringing contraband across the border. Alcohol is strictly limited to 1.14 liters per person, so I gave away all of my booze to my knit night (you’re welcome, guys). Soil is forbidden, so I threw away my bag of potting soil. Unless you get an expensive phytosanitary certificate from the government, the only plants allowed are cut flowers not intended for propagation, so I gave away my houseplants, even the one made from cutting of my great-grandmother’s christmas cactus.
And what I’m about to say is entirely hypothetical, and does not have any bearing on me…
…but if one were particularly attached to your houseplants, one might be able to bring cuttings in a small bag in one’s backpack, and start rooting them in a different country.
And if one were to do such a thing, and if the plants were particularly hardy and eager to grow, they might take root in this new country with striking speed and ease, making their owner, feeling a bit uprooted herself, both envious and optimistic.
I guess you just need to want to grow.
An ode to Stitch House:
the toast I didn’t read at Friday night knitting, for fear that I’d turn into a big puddle of tears
by Katie Rose
In about 33 hours, my best friend Jeni will be picking up Jean-Luc and me, shoving everything we can into her car, and driving northward so that I can begin a new chapter of my life in Montreal, with Jonathan and his parents sticking around to pick up the pieces, load them into the UHaul, and follow us up on Monday morning. It’s a great adventure, with a lot to look forward to, and I’m genuinely stoked about the prospects (not so much about the next 33 hours of packing…).
But while celebrating new beginnings, I can’t help think about the chapter that’s ending, my Cambridge/Boston years, my time in residence at Harvard, and the main topic of this blog post, my last 6 years at Stitch House.
Six years ago, almost to the day, I flew home from a year in Russia, and resigned myself to bumming around in my mother’s house in the ‘burbs for the summer until the fall semester at Harvard, where I’d start my PhD in Russian Lit. No car, no job, so during the day I was reading Solzhenytsin’s Gulag Archipelago, knitting cabled knee socks, and going to lots of yoga classes, while at night I’d poke around on Craigslist. And it was a great summer for Craigslist. I found an apartment, cheap furniture, some fun dates with cute boys, and best of all, a job listing for a brand new yarn and fabric shop in Boston, looking for knitting instructors. Score! I emailed immediately, and after a quick back-and-forth, I had an interview in Dorchester with Annissa at the soon-to-be Stitch House.
Our interview was held across the street at the Sugar Bowl, and, used to walking all around Moscow, I decided I’d take the Commuter Rail from the ‘burbs into the city, and then walk to the shop from South Station. Ahem. So, on a hot July afternoon, I found myself on a super-scenic tour of Dot Ave, and arrived at the Sugar Bowl red-faced, covered in sweat and a fine layer of urban grime. I guess I didn’t make a horrible first impression, because Annissa hired me to cover weekends and teach knitting starting in September.
My favorite part of being at Stitch House has always been teaching classes. Teaching knitting was tricky at first, but I loved it, and got better at it over time. Finding different ways to describe what my hands knew so well; learning techniques I’d heard of but hadn’t had reason before to try. And then there were the mistakes — other people’s mistakes. People would come in with problems in their knitting, and would need help getting straightened out. I’d wager that more than 75% of the actual teaching I do ends up being troubleshooting and mistake-fixing, and it was scary those first few times when a customer placed their beloved project in my hands and said, “it’s ok, try your best!” Would I make a huge mess of it? Would it take forever to fix? Would they be angry? Luckily, no one was ever angry, and very seldom would it be a real disaster.
At Stitch House I’ve made some fantastic friends, lifelong friends. Friends who I went dancing with, friends I met for coffee and conversation elsewhere, and slews of friends that I’d see at the shop and knit with. We’d talk about yarn, the latest knitting gadgets and the upcoming fiber festivals, but also about life, about happy things and sad things. Important things and trivial things. Everything and nothing. And we’d knit, knit, knit.
It seems like I can measure my life in knitting sometimes. The socks from when I couldn’t commit to larger projects, the big projects when I had something to prove to myself. The wedding shawl, the baby sweaters. It’s all there, stitch by stitch, and Stitch House is intertwined in every single stitch. It’s in each of the fibers. Not just the shop, but each and every one of you who makes the shop more than just an edifice, but a community, an institution. You’re all knitted up in my life so tightly that I worry that by leaving, all my projects might just unravel on me, leaving me with no socks and no scarves and no sweaters. In chilly Canada! The horror!
But of course they won’t. No, instead, like it or not, a little bit of each of you is packed up in a suitcase full of handknits ready to make its way to Montreal in a little more than a day.
And of course, there are yarn stores in Montreal. There are always other yarn stores. But here’s the secret, one that I’m sure all of you already know – it’s not about the yarn. I mean, sure, the yarn is a lovely, sumptuous pretext, and knitting up good yarn is vital to my mental health, and really, none of us would have a job, and Annissa wouldn’t be able to pay the bills without the yarn, but really? It’s not the yarn. It’s you guys. It’s the magical community that forms around wonderful people doing cool things and sharing parts of themselves in the process.
And so I want to thank you. Thank you Annissa, for giving me a job to fuel my yarn habit, a place to escape the ivory tower across the river every week, and a family and fan club rolled into one. You’ve been a great boss, and a great friend. Thanks to Claire, Bill, Eliza, Jeanne, Valaree, Heather, Bridget, Cassidy, Jen, Moo, Elizabeth, and everyone else whose hard work has made this shop so vibrant, such a hot spot, so much fun to be in.
And thanks to all of you, the customers and friends and family of Stitch House. You’ve taught me so much, given me so much, shared so much. I will never be able to repay all that I’ve gained from you, but I hope to try. I hope that we keep in touch, and that this is just the beginning of an amazing cross-continent friendship that keeps growing stronger over time. I really mean it, I owe so much to my Stitch House peeps; you’re my Boston family.
So let this not be goodbye, but just “see you next time”. Come find me on Ravelry (gnochistickate), on my blog (spinspinspin.wordpress.com), and on Facebook (facebook.com/katiemaerose). Let’s see each other at Rhinebeck this fall. Look me up when you’re in Montreal. And I’ll do what I can to stop in on a Friday night when I’m in town. Because knitters (and crocheters and sewers too!) are awesome people, and you’re the very best of the best.
We’re moving in 2 weeks, so what better time to take a week-long vacation?
We all flew out to Seattle on Saturday night, and have been soaking in the unexpectedly beautiful weather and sheer bliss of a blank agenda. Why, I think I’ll knit until lunch while the baby naps.
In my last post, I wrote about an overlap of my academic research and my fiber obsession. This post is another synthesis, and is a rough-hewn idea I’ve been working through.
I’m in the process of putting together a pair of workshops that wed yoga and knitting as they deserve to be, highlighting the mindful meditative qualities of the handicraft and bringing some reflection and release to knitters who want to zen-out even more in the process, and to give a new set of creative skills to yogis who want to learn the basics of knitting.
One workshop of yoga for knitters, one workshop of knitting for yogis. Making mindfully. Coming to an LYS or yoga studio near you soon? Definitely more details to come.