Monday, December 31, 2007

Knitting on New Years


A very dear friend of mine just came to town for a quick visit. We share a love of funky earrings, art projects, gourmet grocery stores and aversion to math. She is a fearless and avid knitter, and I aspire to be like her. You might wonder how a person can be a fearless knitter. She fearlessly attacks ambitious projects with expensive materials, invests large amounts of time, becomes emotionally attached, is not afraid to ask for help when she needs it, and then is able to admit mistakes, and completely unravel the project and start again if necessary. She completely immerses herself in the process and doesn’t worry so much about the results. I have a lot to learn, and luckily she is an excellent teacher.

My friend was helping me to accept the fact that a project, a whole sweater, I had worked on for quite some time needed to be un-knit. Yes, completely unraveled. No way to save it. In fact, she told me this sweater might fit Hagrid but certainly not anyone in my family. I mourned the loss for a while and she counseled me about getting “back on the horse” and working on a project I could be more successful at. Like a small washcloth.

Watching all this drama, my seven year old hung around fondling all the yarn. He has always been tactile and loves really soft fabric. Soon he asked, “Can I try?” My friend didn’t even blink, saying “Sure!” and sitting right down with him. She is a teacher and has taught lots of kids to knit, and she is not his mother, so she was patient and encouraging and soon had him happily knitting away. On my washcloth.

I’m sure she doesn’t realize how she got the ball rolling. Now all three boys want to knit. So they all put on their Heelys (shoes with wheels on them) and we headed to the craft store. We went to the craft store because I couldn’t take them to the beautiful yarn store, with infinite and very expensive choices. Too overwhelming for them and me. And probably for the nice ladies that work there too.

At the door to the craft store, I threaten the boys not to roll around on their shoes or they will loose them for a day. We go in search of the yarn isle. It takes about 15 minutes of fondling and caressing and discussing to pick out yarn. They automatically, magnetically, irresistibly head for the most expensive yarn the store stocks. My friend told me it’s important for the yarn to feel good, so we negotiate and settle on some choices. Then we pick out the needles, a different color and size for each boy. We get a few looks and smiles from other customers but the boys see nothing humorous or odd about getting knitting supplies; they are excited.

Once home, we roll the yarn into balls, which makes it easier to pull from as you knit. Then we got started. I sat with each boy and gave him about a three minute lesson. The lesson was really basic since I am a beginning knitter also. They started knitting away. I marveled at the sight for a moment and then spent the next three hours fielding questions, checking work, fixing dropped stitches, helping to unravel mistakes, and generally being the constant on-call knitting doctor. I couldn’t get a thing done. This was a problem as it’s New Year’s eve and we had nothing planned for dinner and no restaurants nearby were open. My husband surveyed the scene when he arrived home from work, perplexed and amused. He learned to knit as a boy also. Assessing the situation, he started cooking the only thing he knows how to cook: macaroni and cheese. Yes, we had macaroni and cheese, and tomato soup, for New Year’s eve dinner. And it was a quick dinner because everyone wanted to get back to knitting.

My youngest wondered aloud, who invented knitting? I looked in my knitting book and read to them that no one really knows who invented it, but that traditionally women produced the yarn, while men did the knitting. This did not seem odd to them, of course men did the knitting. Because it is really fun and cool.

This is perhaps one of the most bizarre New Year’s eves I have ever experienced. No entertaining, no champagne, no count-down, no resolutions, no elaborate goodbye to the year ending and a new one beginning.

Instead, one year is woven, knotted, knitted into another, a single strand of experience transformed into a more complex and amazing form.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Jesus Christ!

I am not afraid to admit that I am an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. When I had the opportunity to buy tickets months and months ago to Jesus Christ Superstar coming to my area, I envisioned a great family experience of sharing my love of the music with my sons. I looked forward to the performance for a long time, and as it got closer, downloaded the music so the boys could listen to it before seeing the show.

Showtime! I eagerly led everyone to the third row center seats. Right up in front! The best place for kids to sit for a musical, I think, right where they are almost a part of the action.

Wrong.

Really wrong.

It was right when the noose lowers down from the ceiling and Judas is singing his guts out about his torment in betraying Jesus that I realize what a big mistake I made in bringing my boys (and my friend visiting from out of town, and another friend and her daughter who took the extra tickets we had at the last minute because my oldest son got sick and my husband had to stay home with him) to this show that I saw once before but obviously didn’t realize would be so, well, really so inappropriate for a seven and nine year old.

Don’t get me wrong, the music and most of the singing was fantastic.

But seeing an African American man, playing Judas, sticking his head into a noose on stage mere feet away from our third row seats was not good. Not good. I tried to block the eyes of my seven year old. It shouldn’t have been hard, as he was sitting on my lap and had been since the second song. He fought me off though, like he was watching something he knew he shouldn’t see but had to watch.

Things continued on very intensely to the ultimate scene. Yes, Jesus nailed to the cross. Yes, mere feet away, we bore witness to a 60 year old man, playing Jesus, nearly naked, nailed to a huge cross, moaning, groaning, gasping, panting, struggling, calling for his mother, and truly suffering for what seemed to be at least 15 minutes. It was taking him forever to die. I was gripping the arm of my friend to my right, and ridiculously we got the giggles. Suppressing laughter at the situation I had put us in, I was straining so hard to hold in my emotions when my friend to my left whispered into my ear, “Wow he must do yoga!” I managed to keep it together but had tears streaming down my face. My seven year old was absolutely transfixed by the scene, and my legs were going numb with the weight of him on my lap for two hours. I couldn’t even begin to explain to him what was going on, so I kept whispering into his ear, “Just concentrate on the music and the singing. Just listen to the music.” My nine year old was two seats away from me, I couldn’t talk to him at all.

My boys were way too young for the graphic, violent, dark and complex story line. What was I thinking? What if they ask me about Mary Magdalene? Was this really the best way to introduce them to the story of the life of Jesus? You can’t get a more different viewpoint from the gentle hippy man wearing a dress and petting a lamb other kids learn about in Sunday school. This Jesus was scary, even to me. Especially so close up. Oh no, I’ve scarred them for life.

Leaving our row, my nine year old asked if he could check out the guitar player he caught a glimpse of in the orchestra pit. Glad for the diversion, we looked at the musicians, keyboards, electric guitars, and computers that produced all the wonderful music for the show. Walking out into the chilly afternoon, I was contemplating all the questions that were going to be asked of me in the following days. I was pretty sure none of them would be about the music.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Just Go With It

My youngest son announced the other day, "I know Santa is really moms and dads. But I'm just going to go with it." I was saddened by the fact that my youngest child no longer believes in Santa, but impressed with his honest and matter-of-fact way of letting us know. His older brothers have never challenged the Santa Myth quite so directly. There have been comments about the impossibility of Santa's gift-giving journey around the world in one night, or how exactly he could fit down the chimney and what about houses that don't have chimneys? What about the kids who don't get any presents from Santa because they're Jewish? I have answered all these questions and more by saying something along the lines of "it's magical, isn't it?" I have tried my best not to directly lie. I have not come out and said there is no Santa either.

This makes it all rather difficult to have a conversation about preserving the beliefs of friends and especially younger cousins. I really don't want my sisters mad at me for destroying Santa at their houses. I'd rather leave that up their friends at school.

So while mourning the loss of innocence in my house, I was ever so slightly distracted and didn't notice that my youngest son has not only turned into a skeptic, he is now a snoop as well. Every second in which he is not being directly watched, he is rummaging around through closets and rifling through drawers. I am shocked. For years before this, I could leave an unwrapped gift laying around in almost plain sight and no one would notice it. This year, my youngest may have discovered every present before I've had a chance to wrap it. He might know exactly what he is getting, and he might know exactly what his brothers are getting. I don't know for sure though, because in addition to being a skeptic and a snoop, he is also a very smooth story-teller.

I believed in Santa until I was probably ten years old. I thought only Santa could possibly know how much I wanted my very own giant jar of sweet pickles (he delivered, even in the days before Costco) and another year how much I wanted that huge set of plastic Barbie shoes and purses in every color. I wasn't much of a snoop myself but I must admit that one year I did ever-so-carefully unwrap one of my presents enough to see what it was before I closed it all back up again. I don't remember what the gift was but I do remember feeling an odd mixture of pride in being so sneaky and getting away with it, and a disappointment that the surprise was spoiled.

Some of my friends tell me that the youngest child tends to be the one who questions the status quo. This is a desirable trait in an adult, but NOT in a seven year old who is out of school, hyped up on See's Candies and beside himself with excitement a couple days before Christmas. Today I had to take him to my husband's office for an hour or two, to get him out of the house so I could wrap and/or hide things. And so I could hear myself think.

Next year I may be forced to take the advice of another friend (older and wiser), who told me that he arranges to drop off all gifts for his three children at a friend's house. He provides all the supplies and the friend wraps everything and holds on to the gifts until they are ready to put them under the tree. This was a revolutionary idea to me, something I just never would have come up with myself. Any volunteers?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Santa's What??

You know you live in a house with boys when . . .

the phrase "Santa and his sack" meets with such laughter.

I never thought of Santa as an anatomically correct man before. Kinda grosses me out.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Birthday Suit

My oldest son's eleventh birthday is coming up very soon.

He is a non-materialistic person, not interested in acquiring possessions or even in having any money to his name.

When I asked him recently what he wants for his birthday, he was surprisingly specific.

He wants a suit.

From Dad. Not from Mom.

Because it is Dad's department.

I'm not sure how to interpret this, but I have to admit it made me sad. He's growing up.

I don't know where he will be wearing his suit. Out to breakfast on Saturday morning? To a meeting with his teacher about the next book report? To baseball try-outs?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Bad Dinner Party Behavior

Recently we went to a dinner party. Our whole family was invited, which doesn't happen too often when you have three kids. The hosts have a son the same age as one of mine. There were two other families there as well.

With nine kids, the hostess wisely hired a neighbor she knows well to watch over the kids, help serve them dinner and make sure they didn't get out of control. The kids had their own table, ate dinner early, and then went to the detached rec room to play the Wii and hang out while the adults had a lovely dinner at the dining room table.

Conversation centered around the sub-prime mortgage collapse as each couple had some connection or was affected in some way by it. Despite terms like "negative amortization" and "inflation" flying around, it was a good conversation, sometimes veering off to other topics such as schools and Van Halen concerts. Soon after the adults sat down to eat, the oldest of the children present, a 13 year old girl, came in and whispered to her mother, then sat nearby playing her hand-held video game. The mother mentioned to no one in particular that there was some bad behavior going on among the kids. I thought she was referring to her own child, or one of the boys I didn't know, but of course she wasn't talking about any of my kids.

She got up to check on the kids, came back, sat down, filled up her wine glass again. Wait, did I miss something? Why does this woman look like she wants to slap me?

She leaned forward in a sort of fake, mean-spirited conspiratorial way and said, "I want to tell you that your seven year old was beating up my daughter and he is really not a nice kid. I'm telling you this because if my son did anything like this, I would want to know about it. Is this the way he usually acts?"

So many reactions and thoughts were rushing through my head that I just sat there and stared at her. What do you do when someone insults your child in the middle of polite dinner conversation? I mean, besides calling them a bitch? I really like the friends who hosted the party, and I didn't want to ruin the dinner. I'm not really a confrontational person. So, wondering what my second grade son could have possibly done to this seventh grader, I told the woman that I would find out the what was going on from all my boys. But I would do it later. And I just sat there, turned to another guest at the table, and joined another conversation.

A few minutes later I caught my husband's eye. He looked at me and immediately said, "What's wrong?" I had that look that spouses instantly recognize in each other, the "I'm really really pissed off" look. He started to panic thinking he did something when I motioned to the woman next to him. He rolled his eyes, letting me know he understood my feeling but would get the story later.

As soon as we were in the car, I instituted an absolute dictatorship. I announced I would hear what went on from the seven year old with no interruptions or comments from anyone, then the brothers would have their turns. I was seething mad but knew I didn't have the whole story.

It turns out that the seventh grader refused to let the second grader have a turn with the Wii. And she was picking on him, telling him girls were better than boys, he was a bad person (which was particularly hurtful to him) and telling him to shut up. He admitted his anger got the best of him but he did not hit her, he instead was hitting the back of her chair. One brother backed up his story and the other said it was such a minor thing that he didn't even notice anything was going on. The babysitter didn't notice anything amiss either. When the mother came out to check on the kids she was particularly rude to the seven year old. All the kids noticed that.

How to explain all this to a second grader? My god I couldn't even explain it to myself.

My husband came to the rescue. Utterly uninformed of the situation until we got in the car, he summed it all up for the boys by telling them that 13 year old girls are creatures to be wary of, they can unpredictable and not very nice. Be careful and steer clear of them.

I guess that goes for their mothers too.

I'm not sure it was the best explanation. But I had to agree with it, I was a 13 year old girl myself once.

Thank god I have boys.