Thursday, December 29, 2005

Four Whole Rows

I'm not even going to attempt to post a picture because today? I knit about four rows on Mittlet #2. At least I have one warm hand, unless a child steals it. The eldest is openly talking of making off with them when they're done; the third just took the finished one and wore it.

While eating soup.

Just before he threw a crust of bread.

And then his soup bowl crashed to the table, drenching his chair and the floor in soup.

He wasn't wet because, of course, he wasn't actually IN his chair.

I rescued the mittlet, popped #s 2 and 3 into the bathtub, and returned to find the dog had cleaned up a great amount of spilled soup. I cleaned the rest, finished my dinner, got the middle children out of the tub, brushed teeth and hair, read to them, and popped them into bed.

Then I ate ice cream with a good friend's homemade fudge sauce. Maybe I'll knit tonight. Who knows? Maybe I'll finish the second mitt!

That fudge sauce made up for a lot of spilled soup.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Knitting as fast as I can

Today was marked by a blessed absence of major intestinal upsets, although the bath tub got quite a workout. Whenever any of us feel bad for almost any reason, we take a bath. Even Eric, who is generally a shower-only kind of guy, headed there once. I love baths, and have for as long as I can remember. Now I like them most when I get to take one alone, with a good book for company. I often get to take baths with other small people for company, though.

Instead of a bath this morning, I took a nap. That's right, I fell right back asleep this morning after the baby got up and she and I fell asleep together. I must have really needed it, because I didn't hear the cacophony from the living room. Eric felt bad enough to stay home a second day, so the Visigoths had someone to make breakfast for them while I was unconscious.

After that, the rest of the day felt as though I was running through molassas. The house seemed much more wrecked than one day of the Queen of Order being laid up should have rendered it. So I cleaned up what I could, while feeling rather faint and blowing my nose a lot. I had planned to spend the day knitting, but had to clear the area first. Then, of course, those children seemed to want to eat occasionally. And to talk. And to have books read to them. And to argue about pretty much anything ("I wanted to hand the phone to mama! Waaaaah!" "He licked my leeeeeeegggggg!").

Not as much knitting as I'd hoped to do, especially since I spent some of the time I did have to knit rectifying things like this.

That's right, I can't even make ribbing go in the right order.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm uniquely unqualified to knit, given my lack of attention to detail and enhanced skill at multitasking, also known as being a bit scatterbrained. It's useful dealing with four children, and it's useful if I want to accomplish anything besides keeping up with the random event generators and their messes, but I don't spend a lot of time in quiet contemplation or accomplishment.

[Unless I'm reading. I'm well into Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman by Nancy B. Reich. Schumann makes me seem like a complete lazybones.]

So. . . that knitting thing is frustrating. I knit for a lot of reasons. I learned (for the second time, the first one at 7 not sticking) when I was staying at home with my first child in a town where I knew no one. I like the look of knitted fabric, and I like that I could take out and redo any mistakes. I sew also, and knitting was more portable and instantaneous for me. (I have, however, sewn in sleeves upside down in both knitted and sewn garments.) I knit because I like the creation of something that wasn't there before; something that no one else can do, even if they use the same yarn and pattern. It's me. I like knitting just what I need at the time. A scarf? Sure! A gray sweater -- yes, that's what I need! Wrapping my children up in things I've knitted warms me as well as them. I knit so I can sit still.

But right now, I knit in the interstices of my day. Rows here, rows there, a bit at night after they're all asleep. At the park while they're playing -- IF the littlest Thing is asleep and not being held in arms. Not really the most conducive atmosphere for the kind of knitting I want to do.

I can knit almost any garment. Socks, sweaters, hats, little pants. I can follow patterns. But I can't focus my brain like a laser on my knitting, and I don't internalize patterns well. Perhaps because of the stop-and-go nature of my knitting. Perhaps because my interior is so crowded -- I don't know. My head knows more about knitting than my hands do. And, as anyone who does a craft knows, if the hands don't know it, the head can go soak itself.

I want to knit complicated patterns. Lace! Cables! Shaping with funky short rows! Faster! Faster! I want to drape everyone I love in yarny goodness, whether or not they want me to. I want to knit little home decor items. Actually, now that I think about it, I mostly don't want to do that. But I want the freedom that greater speed and concentration would give me.

Don't get me wrong. I realize that any minutes spent watching the littlest Thing discover things: "Hey. I have hands. I can move them. Look! They have another side. Ohmygosh is this the greatest thing ever or what?" are probably not better spent knitting, even if I have the cutest idea for a Fair Isle cardigan for a baby ever thought up. But I do struggle against what seems like painfully slow knitting coupled with an almost superhuman ability to make mistakes. Knitting everything I make at least twice, if not three times, if one counts all of the unraveling and redoing, definitely works against speed.

I watch friends effortlessly churning out cables and lace, no instructions in sight, and think, "Why can't I do that?" Despite the fact that I firmly believe comparisons are odious, when I read Wendy's blog or many other bloggers and see the sheer volume of what they're putting out, it's hard not to sigh a bit.

One day, I had an epiphany. I realized, after working on something, that it didn't matter if I knit faster if I wasn't spending any time knitting. Even slowly adding stitches to a garment grew the garment. So I do try to maximize my knitting speed, by using "fast" needles, by marking patterns and garments, by knitting Continental style, but when it all comes down, I just don't have tons of time. I knit what I can, when I can, trust that I'm learning not to make the same boneheaded mistakes over and over (like messing up the ribbing while increasing on that mittlet), and that I'll add knowlege as my overheated head can fit it.

So last night, I finished the first of the Cool Little Mittlets (which for some reason, like too much Black Adder, I keep calling the Cunning Little Mittlets).
And since I know myself, and more importantly, know my circumstances, I immediately cast on for the left one.

After all, it's going to be easier to try speeding things up with Combination Knitting with warm hands.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Do we know how to live, or what?

As I'm writing this, bear in mind that on Christmas Eve, after the kids were banished upstairs with strict instructions not to come down until morning, I experienced one of the most vicious bouts of occasional insomnia I've ever had. Asleep at 9:30, all stocking stuffing and gift displaying done, and wide awake at midnight. 2:00 nursing? Check. Bath with reading Good Morning, Midnight, by Reginald Hill, from 2:30-3:30? Check. Sleepy conversation with spouse about 3:15 when he stumbled into the bathroom? Check. Two bowls of tomato and roast pepper soup with cheese and bread at 4:00? Check. Back in bed, another feeding of babykins, trying to fall asleep for about 15 minutes? Check.

Then. . . the pitter-patter crashthump of little feet on the stairs at 4:30? Check, check and CHECK!
Eldest: "Mama, we can't sleep!"
Me: "Go. Back. To. Bed."
Them: Thumpthumpthumnpthump.

I'm just about to drop off, nearly weeping from frustration, when I hear thumpthumpthump. It's now 5:30.
"Mama. . . can we at least open our stockings?" said plaintively.
Me: "No. Go away. I'm tired. Wait at least until 6:30."

Lots of noise from upstairs. I can't sleep. They're back. Okay, it's something near 6:30 by now. Their father sweetly reminds me that they're kids, they've been relatively patient, and this is the highlight of the "whole kid year!" I get up, put the pre-made breakfast in the oven, and go to do the present opening thing. With four of them, it took a while and was both delightful and frustrating. I love their enthusiasm, but I'm looking forward to it being a little more seasoned over the next few years. I did get a teeny nap in afterwards with the littlest one from about 9:00-11:00.

Then, yesterday was okay, sleep and all considered. I realized that we had no food in the house, threw together a menu, bought edibles and because I had that tickly nose and throat feeling, got some Gan Mao Ling on my friend Susan's recommendation. It's supposed to ward off impending viruses. But, last night, the baby was reluctant to go to sleep at the regular time, so she really dropped off about 10:00. At 11:15, right as I'm finally dropping off, I hear wailing.

An hour later, I've nursed, rocked, patted, lay the baby down, held, sung, and nearly beaten my head on the wall, but sleep has won. I crawl back to bed, and announce I can't breathe. I can't find a tissue, so I grab a cloth diaper and just whimper. My spouse had earlier said that he felt a little dicey, but nothing definite. Some stomach trouble.

During my patting/nursing/singing/crying hour, he launched himself out of bed and was violently sick. I'm feeling sorry for him, sorry for me, sorry for the baby. He is sick. He takes a bath. Just as we were settling back down, down comes the eldest child.

She's crying because she's been throwing up in her bathroom upstairs. She reprises the activity in our bathroom. I finally fall asleep somewhere in this. She gets in the bath, and the next thing I know, it's 4:00, and I'm nursing the baby again. As I get back in my bed, I realize that the two middle children have come into our bed, from Thing 3's room, where they started the night. I don't like this, because it's crowded.

But it soon becomes more exciting, because Thing 2 sits up in our bed, says nothing, and begins to throw up all over our floor, my slippers, our bed. . . Fun! I find some diapers to start wiping, direct that child to the bathroom, where now there are two in the bath. Thing 3 wakes, insists on getting in the bath, even though it's over 1 & 2's objections, and I continue to strip the bed, wipe the floor, etc. Child 2 now begins a vomit reprise over the edge of the tub. Unfortunately, I'm out of towels. Whoopie!!

I find other things to wipe with, tell the kids they will have to share the final towel when they leave the tub, repeatedly ask them to whisper so they don't wake up the baby, strip the bed and gather the towels, clothes, and other vomity things and get them near the washer, and convince the four year old to return to my bed. At least now we have clean sheets. During this time, the parents have managed to have a tiff -- odd how exhaustion, self-pity (on my part -- how did they do this when I have a cold? Waaaah), and, well, vomit bring out the worst in us. So my spouse takes the comforter and goes to the couch.

I drag the too-big wool blanket off of the second child's bed and spread it over me and the third child, who is now too wired to sleep. After explaining very slooooowly that if Mama's side or hand is rubbed again by a little four year-old hand, she will start crying Very Large Adult Tears, we both fall back asleep.

Only to wake with the baby at 6:30 and more morning heaving by the three sick ones. I take the baby and go on a mercy grocery store run. I buy things I don't usually buy, plus ice and ice cube trays so the next time someone needs ice chips, we'll have them.

Back home, put another load of the laundry in. Blow my nose. The Gan Mao Ling seems to be losing the rhinovirus war. Feed the well child, give liquids to the sick ones. Wonder how much it would cost to hire a maid service JUST to vacuum and mop the floors. Notice that the ants have returned and wonder what dropped food has attracted them.

Take child #3 to get a much-needed hair cut. Fail to communicate well with the salonista, who makes little corners and cuts an odd shape around the ears. I reason to myself that it's just hair, and it grows, and at least that is out of the way.

Oh, yes, it's raining and blowy. Nice day to sit on the couch, drink tea, and knit, right? Ha!

Back home, leave that child, comfort the still-vomiting ones, and take the now-awake baby to the Social Security Administration office. Yes, that's right, what better to do on a rainy post-holiday work day than hang around with grumpy civil servants and an interesting cross-section of the urban population. One of the very very few downsides of homebirth is government paperwork. The SSA had sent back our mailed-in application for a card for the babe, without specifically saying why it had been rejected. This kind of bureacratic mess-up makes my spouse crazy, so I go to deal with it in person. I take the originals of the documents with me, some change for the meters, and head out into the pelting rain.

The office is crowded, my diaper bag is wet through, and it's hard to knit on my easy knitting while holding the baby. Even though I didn't want to be sitting in hard plastic chairs under a photograph of our President, I got to read SS informational posters in Spanish and English, watch some interesting dynamics between the populace and the security guard (Sample dialogue: "Answering questions is not my job so I am doing you a favor."), and play with the baby.

For two hours.

I did knit a few rows, and the baby charmed most of the people around. I don't know how they do it, but having a raspberry blown at you by a bald little drooly cherub makes people smile, instead of calling the police, the way they would if it were an adult doing it. One lady gracefully allowed her raincoat to be pulled, and another wiggled painted fingernails at the little one. It was still good to finally hear, "D129. That's D as in David, 1-2-9. Window 2 please."

I hand over my documents and find out that we need "A medical paper." Finally it's established that we need one of the documents I have plus that "medical paper." Turns out an insurance card will do. Wild rejoicing -- I have one! The Social Security person takes my papers and disappears. After two hours of wonderful, charm-the-pants-off-everyone behavior, the baby has started to have had enough. Banging my keys on the counter and ingesting who knows what random horrible germ is out there is only entertaining so long. It's not wailing yet, more like medium-grade grousing, but I know that that lady with the papers had better show up soon.

Finally she does, all is well, the meter had just run out, and we head home. The sickest child is still vomiting, still hasn't eaten, the house looks like the 4 year old feels just fiiiiiiiine, and no, the dishes have not washed themselves.

I'm making breakfast for dinner tonight.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Too tired to knit

A long and good day, and I'm too tired to work on my current project, the clock vest from Folk Vests. Besides being complicated enough that I can't read and knit at the same time, Thing Three has been indulging in some book-scribbling lately, and has nearly obliterated the bottom of the second chart. Plus I forgot to reverse directions as I knit, so I have to drop the first rows of some cables as I prepare to knit the second ones, and a full day of family celebrating has left me unable to do that safely. Safely for the vest, I mean.

I suppose I'm going to have to check the book out of the library or borrow a copy to duplicate the damaged chart and then tape it into my copy. Oh well.

We spoke of gratitude tonight -- whether we have it now, whether we had it as children, would our children ever realize their incredibly privileged space in the world? Every New Year's Day, Eric and I make a list of hopes or goals for the coming year. We also do a three-, five-, and seven-year projection. I realized tonight that in five years, I'll be able to more easily travel with all four Things and do lots of stuff, which makes the days ruled by Thing Three's tantrums, Thing Four's naps, Thing Two's destructiveness and Thing One's meltdowns seem like temporary aberrations, rather than permanent conditions. One of my hopes for the coming year is to hold on to that realization -- time is passing, and I'm not going to regret viewing the rough patches as temporary. It's all temporary, really.

I'm too full of turkey, mulled wine, cheesy potatoes and cheesecake to mind any rough patches right now. I had a great day, and my heart, like my stomach, is full. That vest can wait another day.

Of Board Books and Barking

Our lovely Christmas day was filled with board books. Yep, Sandra Boynton board books, to be specific. Our life with children has had silly rhymes as the background music almost from the first baby. We do serious board book, too. Goodnight Moon and Grandfather Twilight each have had a greatest hit stint with the kids, but through it all, it's silly words in the car, in the bath, with the first "sit in the lap and read a story" times.

Thing 1 hated her carseat passionately. But she loved Doggies. So, when a car ride got too long, we would chant, "One dog. . . Woof! Two dogs. . . Woof, yap yap!" as long as it takes. Believe me, even shouting inane barks beats hearing your child wail at the injustices of the five-point restraint system. It got to the point that we barked at the slightest provocation.

At any rate, Thing 4 is now old enough to hear her own books, and her sibling Things are old enough to enjoy handing her a package "from" them. So she has the start to her own library of silliness. She also ingested enough wrapping paper to keep her for a while, but that's a different story.

We ate dinner with my sister's family, and as I looked across the Advent wreath, now complete with its central candle, I realized how stunningly blessed I am. We have food, a home, people who would do almost anything for us. And we have laughter.

And it's hard to be anything but profoundly grateful when you realize that you get to bark at yet another child.

Friday, December 23, 2005

"I don't know how you do it"

My life seems to elicit strong reactions from people I meet. It's not that I appear bizarrely out of any mainstream, or that I spend a lot of time expounding on my views -- I seem to be a sort of blank slate on which people project their thoughts. I don't know; maybe everyone is, really.

But I get variations on the title of this post a lot. Sometimes it's for something I've done, sometimes for something I am. Hand someone a small gift for the holiday? "I don't know how you do it!" Read and talk about a lengthy book? "I don't know how you do it!" Be outed as a mother of four children? "I don't know how you do it!" Admit that I knit and even finish some items (despite those many children)? "I don't know how you do it!"

Some people sound rueful, like they'd like to do something like it, and some sound amused that I even attempt whatever it is they're remarking on. Some sound like I probably shouldn't bother, given the results I'm getting.

Mostly, I don't know what to do in response. Some days, I go for humble, gosh, golly-gee toe scuffing kind of response: "Oh, I don't know, you don't see the bad days." And sometimes, I want to get all up in their faces and say, "Yeah? You don't know how I do it, huh? Well, let me tell you -- I also make all of my own bread! Yeah, I do! and I homeschool these kids! AND we have chickens too!" Then I want to walk off, cackling. But then they'd probably conclude that I "do it" by being stark raving crazy.

Thing is, I don't know how people do most of what they do. By "know," I mean know in any visceral, I-have-walked-in-your-shoes way. Who does? I don't know how women who doing structural engineering for a living do it. Or those who play badmiton for fun. Or those who have grown, successful, happy children. Although those folks, well, I wouldn't mind finding out.

What it all boils down to, I suspect, is that the phrase is code for something else, but what it is varies. It could mean, "I admire what you're accomplishing." Similarly, it could be, "I'm feeling as though I'm not doing much these days and I wish I were doing more," or "You seem utterly overwhelmed -- I'm impressed that your shoes match." It's like the time, back when I only had three children, a friend said, ". . . since you have so many children." This friend had two children at the time. That's right, one more than I did. Still, to her, it seemed as though I had many.

I admit now, I have many. And they seem like more.

But it's a hard phrase to respond to, given the multiple layers of meaning it can have. I know the places I fall so far short of what I want to be, or to accomplish, and I know the places I'm doing well, according to my lights. Mostly I just put one foot in front of the other and do the work at hand. Any joy I can stumble on on the way? Bonus. Any kindness I can remember to do? Even better. I don't know if there's karma waiting for me, or a judgement, or just oblivion. It's immaterial. I do what I do and it's not performance. It's just me.

I am, however, wildly pleased when I finish something.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Some days, it seems that everyone has a blog. That is, everyone except my family and friends, who look at me quizzically when I suggest that to be the case. I've resisted blogging, while enjoying blogs written by a myriad of strangers. Blogging seemed to require that you had something necessary to say, and I never did.

Today it occurred to me that the act of blogging itself might change how I feel about what I say. I used to write for money; I teach people how to write. But I'm not passionate about those things. Passion seems to me to be the engine that drives writing to where other people might care the proverbial rat's ass about it.

So, what am I passionate about? My kids, predictably enough. Things 1 through 4 are why I get up in the morning (and, too often, during the night as well) but I don't feel that they need to be out in cyberspace. What kind of conversation can I have with, oh, anyone with an internet connection? What passions are shareable? In my case, I can think of only two. I like to knit, an dI like to read. Am I an expert on either? No. But these activities are what I long to do, in any spare time I have from the work of my life. Eventually, I hope to make them more into the work of my life, when my family is more able to take on the work of theirs.

So, books and knitting. Books about knitting. Knitting while reading. Reviews of any book I feel like commenting on.

We'll just have to see how it goes.