Wednesday, June 16, 2010

O to be a child.....

Tuesday nights at Artisan Knitworks began to be very, very special when a local knitting group decided to meet in our comfortable little 'social' area instead of at at coffee shop. They told us that we should open the group to others, and so we did. Months later, it's the most amazing sight. Not only has Tuesday Night at AK developed into a marvelously congenial group of adults -- if not the most interesting of all of our social knitting periods, then surely among the top two -- but it's also attracted a growing number of children.

And the children have got me thinking about youth, old age, how we learn, what difference it makes that we turn fiber into cloth. Consider Alex. I've mentioned him before. He came to us at age 11, a young fellow trained in music, pretty good at math, not very good at certain other subjects (I won't mention them!), who took to knitting like the proverbial duck to water.....He is now teaching his middle-school teacher to knit (!!!) and helping me teach other kids. He brings his little girl friend; she finished a hat last night, partly with my help (she made an I-cord topper on a hat destined for her grandmother). She is 12. Dierdre, who is also a friend of Alex, is one of the most beautiful children I've ever met, and a patient person with really good fine-motor skills -- working now on a beautiful red fuzzy scarf, and a baby blanket out of non-baby colors for someone she knows.

But then there are the younger children. I didn't have my own children to raise, so much of this is new to me. For instance: The beautiful little girl who is seven is eager to learn, able to master the knit stitch, but having trouble with attention span -- She still makes holes, of course, as all starting people do, but wants to get going on something "real," as she put it, rather than endless practice. To her, everything in the shop is beautiful -- She wants her mother to "make something" out of absolutely everything, in a few hours -- and then she thinks she'd rather see her make whatever it was out of something else, and so on. While helping her mom pick out yarn for a hat (her mom is trying to remember how to knit), Elyse found about 15 yarns that were "perfect" -- and she didn't find it impossible to imagine that every one could be part of her life. So, while she is okay with her hands (though not yet what I would call fully developed), the problem at age seven is attention -- patience, focus. Dierdre has it, Elyse does not. She WILL. But not yet. Her magical, sponge-like brain soaks up everything, wants to soak up more and more, and will be doing that for the next five or six years. Something is lost when we STOP doing that -- when we become perfectly rational, less given to mental flight.

So we need to find ways, don't we, to communicate with the very young, to say that it's okay to make something with holes, to find it beautiful. I shouldn't have warned her about holes. She has taught me not to do it the next time. I tried to have a different kind of conversation with her last night -- "Just promise me that you won't quit if it doesn't turn out to be something just like your mom would make....It's yours, not hers." I think she understood.

But I also thought, as I struggled with all of it, that I need to rediscover a language that I once spoke fluently. In the end, it's not the young people who need help. It's us. When we are 65, or even 55, we forget how we once found happiness. I had almost forgotten. Once, I was a young child learning to crochet at my gifted grandmother's knee. She was not patient. She was not even very pleasant. I almost gave up a dozen times; she fairly bludgeoned me into finishing a doily -- a doily in fine crochet cotton as the first project, for heaven's sake. Afterward, I didn't crochet for a year or two. I see now that I just didn't have either of the necessary ingredients for success at age 6 -- not the fine motor skills, nor the patience/attention span.

But of course in 1950, people didn't think about such things; they were the depression generation. They thought about doing work, making things that would be useful at home, training little girls to be little women as quickly as possible. Childhood, especially in the working class, was a luxury, and it ended at about age 6-7. I should have remembered. But I didn't -- not at once, anyway.

So now I think that those of us who have stopped remembering the many stages in life, the ways in which we learn at different ages, need to step back and recall, remake in our minds the many pathways we actually followed before we got it right. I'm trying. I'd like to hear from all of you who have remembered how to be a child! svb

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