Saturday, December 31, 2011

The End

We all say it:  I can't believe the year is over; where did the time go?  Nobody ever answers, though.  Where did the time go?

Boyo had only started ballet in the last quarter of 2010.  Now he's had more than a year of it, with many performances, and is still focused and intent.  We've had ups and downs with behavior and some issues in school, but I'm happy to say we are ending the year on the 'up' side.  We're still riding the wave of 'The Nutcracker'-induced good behavior (which we think is due to the effect of performance demands and being surrounded by a positive atmosphere of kind, helpful people) and it seems to have pushed him into the next phase of maturity.  We hope.  There also appears to have been another advance in Boyo's musical ability, as well; almost as if he is appreciating that what he is playing is music, and listening for mistakes and improvements.

Anyone remember the old Virginia Slims ads?  Girlie really has come a long way, Baby.  She has begun to advocate for herself and articulate what she thinks her needs are, as well as negotiating food choices and making compromises toward good nutrition.  She is doing consistently well in school with fewer accommodations, and has begun doing homework independently; occasionally with little or no supervision. Last spring Girlie officially became a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs of America and has grown a lot in regard to learning responsibility, both for herself and the dog she is raising.

Both kids have gone entire days without getting into serious, screaming conflict with each other.  This is the first time I feel comfortable putting that down in black and white.  In the past few months I have witnessed them playing a game cooperatively on more than one occasion.  Admittedly, I'm listening for signs of tension mounting so if necessary I can interrupt with a reasonable excuse to stop the game before it degrades, but hearing them laughing together is a miracle I despaired of ever happening.

Dearest and I are pleased and surprised with all the progress made, and happy for some of the differences made in our lives as a couple.  We occasionally have uninterrupted conversations while the kids are awake. We feel there is plenty to celebrate, in spite of all the rough times we've had.

My New Year wish to family and friends is that you find something to celebrate in life.  Such a simple little wish that may require maximum effort, at times - but we can do it if we remain strong.  And when you find that thing that's worth celebrating, especially if it's in the midst of a mess, or a heartache, or a tragedy, revel in it.  Do a little dance.  Happy New Year!

Tiny little sweater, knitted for fun, on a 6" artist's model.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Handing over the reins...

It can't be helped, and I believe it's common in most families: one parent tends to be 'in charge'.  In our family, that's my role, and Dearest is a great supporter.  Recently, we realized that things had gotten a bit out of proportion, so that even if he was sitting right next to the kids, they'd come to me in a different room to ask a question.  That's not fair to Dearest.  It's also not practical, because not only am I taking on a lot more of the mental workload, it would leave the family in a difficult place if I had an unplanned absence.

We realized that Dearest needs to know more about the daily operations - how things work, and where to find the answers.  It isn't that I was keeping him out of the loop; just that neither of us particularly felt up to the job of getting him into the loop.  As much as possible, considering he works full time, he's taking the kids to some of their classes or lessons, going to any parent meetings that work with his schedule, and just generally bringing himself up to speed.

Dearest is a wonderful parent, and today is one of those days when he sends me off to have a good time while he handles everything at home.  I have to admit, since I'm so used to sitting in the driver's seat, it can be hard to hand over the reins, but it's a welcome break for everyone.  Dearest will handle a doctor appointment for both kids, and I'm not going to worry about what anyone wears or what their hair looks like in public.  I'm not going to give any advice about whether they should have fast food, and the kids can advocate for themselves.  I'm off for the day with my oldest daughter and grandkids to see out-of-town friends and family - a visit long overdue!

Sock monkey modeling the Twinkle Vintage Cardigan knitted
for a grandbaby with KnitPicks 'Stroll' and 'Imagination' sock yarn.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Moms are braver than Dads...

OK, I don’t know if that’s really true, but think about it: when parents start leaving the kids home alone, it’s usually the mom who knows what the kids might really get into.  Dads just go along with it; “They’ll be fine, quit worrying.”  Sure, that’s easy for you to say.

None of what I just said takes single- or same-sex parenting into account, and I apologize for that, but I can only write what I know.  And this Mom is definitely braver than Dad in many respects.  I’m the one who found the burned matches in the garbage.  It was me who noticed the kid cutting paper on the floor with nothing between the scissors and the carpet.  If I hadn’t made one last check, the gate to the dog yard would have been ajar (which wouldn’t be that big a deal if not for the fact that Girlie is raising a puppy for Guide Dogs of America). 

Does this mean we’ll never leave the kids home alone?  No, in fact, it means the kids have to realize we understand there is a risk but we believe in their ability to make good choices.  Truly, I think knowing all of these things and realizing the dreadful potential – but still being willing to start leaving the kids home alone – takes bravery.  And faith.  And a good knitting project to work on in the car to take my mind off what better not be happening at home.
Washcloth in Jarbo Soft Cotton using a 'broken rib' stitch pattern.
I like knitted cotton cloths for scrubbing counter- and stove-tops, and knitted washcloths in finer cotton.  I just knit a square of whatever stitch pattern suits me at the time and doesn’t require a lot of attention, so that makes them perfect projects while traveling.  Now that I think about it, the fact that Dearest lets me sit next to him in the car with pointy sticks makes him pretty brave, too.  :-)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A True Thing...

I am an introvert.  There, I said it – and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to admit it.  Being an introvert does not mean I’m inadequate or weak.  I’ve only really known this fact for the last several years, and it was quite a relief to see that people understand introversion and extroversion; that folks have written about it, and there are lots of people out there like me.  I felt validated.  Does that mean I never want to go out and be social?  No, in fact I like to go to family gatherings or out shopping – the same things other people like to do – but I’ve learned to plan time for recharging my emotional batteries so as not to become exhausted.

Aside from the social challenges that can go with Asperger’s, I think Girlie is an introvert, too.  She is happy to stay in the car with a book rather than go into the store, most days – even though she does like shopping.  If we’ve been out and about, she wants to spend some time drawing, coloring, or reading when we get home, and I think that’s her ‘recharge’ time.

In spite of his anxiety issues, Boyo is an extrovert.  He thrives especially on what I think of as almost overwhelming chaos that happens during The Nutcracker season.  He actually seems calmer and more sure of himself, his attitude is more positive, and he tends to be kinder and more thoughtful of others when he’s been surrounded by dozens of other hard-working dancers.

It occurred to me recently that raising kids with challenges might be a bit easier for an extrovert; someone less likely to get worn out with what can seem like endless explanations and appointments.  Honestly, knitting is a big help, here!  My knitting goes everywhere with me, and it’s like portable meditation; a way to re-center myself in the midst of whatever is going on around me.  It has become a bit of a joke in my family, so there are photos of me knitting in some rather odd circumstances – like during a helicopter tour over Cannon Beach, Oregon, and in the middle of a honeybee swarm.  Maybe this was when I realized that knitting is my zzzzzzzzzzen.      :-)
You can see the sky is filled with bees, and the spots you see on me are
actually bee shadows. I was never in any danger, because honeybees
are not aggressive when they are swarming to find a new hive. It was a
bit disconcerting to feel them occasionally bouncing off  me, though!  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Keepin' it real...

Whew – we made it through Christmas!  Yes, I really was that concerned.  Friday we went to the library to get the kids their own cards.  They filled out the applications themselves at home first, and after turning them in we browsed the shelves while waiting for the cards.  Boyo didn’t want a book, but Girlie found one she was interested in.  All pretty straightforward and expected, right?  No; in fact, everything was fine until we got to the counter and Girlie suddenly changed her mind and said she didn’t want the book, and was beginning to raise her voice and on the verge of tears - I could tell she was getting worked up enough to lose whatever public composure she had.  We walked back to the shelf to replace the book, picked up the cards, the kids signed them, and we left.  When I asked Girlie what was going on she never gave me a clear answer – I still don’t know what happened.  Anyway, I re-explained the whole process; that if she didn’t want to use the kiosk she could give the book and card to a librarian, and any one of the employees are more than happy to answer her questions if she needs help.  We’ll see what happens next time.

We had a pretty tense morning on Christmas Eve because an express mail delivery came fairly early in the morning, setting the dogs all barking.  We don’t get many people coming to the door so hearing a stranger’s voice and the dogs barking was enough to set things off, I guess.  We walked to Grandma’s house and several cousins showed up at the same time, but we got through that better than expected and the rest of the day was relatively uneventful.

Now we’re in ‘vacation mode’ because Dearest took the whole week off.  I’m torn between feeling like I wish I had a cabin to myself for a few days, and really wanting to spend extra time with Dearest without the kids – neither of which is possible, but a girl can dream…  The most important thing is not to let anyone sleep in too long and keep sticking close to regular bedtimes, because Back-to-School-Tuesday will come before we know it.  It’s complicated, because Dearest and I both have things we want to do around the house since there is nothing scheduled and nowhere we have to be, and we tend to forget about such mundane things as mealtimes.

Staying in the usual routine as much as possible, even under what can be extreme circumstances surrounding a holiday or vacation, can be difficult.  Anything can set off a meltdown or anxiety, and there are no guarantees whether we can recover and get back on track, or have to push ‘reset’ on whatever we had planned.  This is what I mean by ‘keepin’ it real’.

I don't crochet very much any more, but it's fun to do a fast, simple project now and then.  I don’t know if we’ll get any of the real ‘white stuff’, so I’ll take what I can get - no shoveling required!  
Crocheted 'Snowflake No. 11' from Crocheted Snowflakes by Mary Thomas

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Z is for...

Zzzzzzzz....

I'm going to take a couple days off.  You don't mind, do you?

If you're celebrating a holiday, I hope it's happy, relaxed, and everyone can be at peace, even if for just a little while. ♥

This knitted pillow cover was put together with the sweater-in-progress my
mother-in-law, Phebe, was working on when she died.  It is shown on the cute orange
loveseat that was a part of Dearest's family for as long as he can remember.
What a comfy place to catch a few ZZZZZs...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Y is for...

Yes.

How often do we encounter this word?  How often do our children hear ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’?

Somehow, I was conditioned to say ‘no’.  I don’t know how it happened, or why, but it was a startling realization.  Again I found myself grateful that I was not the only person parenting the two older kids!  Also, that the two younger kids are young enough that I probably didn’t do any permanent damage.  :-)

When I decided to listen to myself, I realized ‘no’ was a habit.  I rarely even stopped to consider whether the request was practical, not to mention occasionally even a good idea!  Yes, it is OK to have another sheet of paper (even though she's already had 5 and we can practically hear the trees falling, because the more drawing and coloring Girlie does, the better her fine motor control will be).  Yes, you can go outside and play even though it’s raining (because the more energy Boyo uses up outside, the less we’ll have to deal with inside).  Yes, you can have more milk or juice (no matter how close it is to meal time, because neither of them drink enough and both take medications that recommend they drink more than usual, as well as both having difficulty keeping everything, um… moving).  Yes, you can sleep on top of your covers or under your bed (because why not?).

So, do we always say ‘yes’? No! In fact, ‘no’ probably does have to be used here more than in the average home.  We hardly ever let the kids stay up any later on weekends than during the week because it’s an aberration in the routine that requires time and effort from which to recover.  We don’t let Girlie eat as much bread, tortillas, and crackers as she wants, even though it’s hard to get enough calories into her, because she doesn’t take in enough liquid, fats, protein, and fiber to compensate calorically and keep the ‘white food’ from clogging up the works.

Sometimes, we find out that ‘yes’ leads to something that doesn’t work out as we’d hoped, but more often I find it was worth a stretch in my parenting muscles.  Do I pay more attention, now?  Definitely, yes.

I say ‘yes’ to the grandkids more often, too.  Here are two of the littles, helping me felt an oven mitt for their grandpa.
Felting is a perfect activity for kids because, first of all, what could be better than playing with soap suds in the sink?  For younger kids it's great because squishing and rubbing the knitted item is great for preparing those little hand muscles for the hard job of writing.  And yes, they can have another piece of paper.  :-)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

X is for...

eXcitement.

All right, I know, but I really didn’t feel I could get much out of xenolith (although Girlie has found some examples of those).  On second thought, come to think about it, I’m sure we all feel sometimes as though we are made up of different material than those around us…

Here we are at the holiday break from school.  Is this supposed to be fun?  No; in fact school breaks have been a struggle for us forever, because the kids do so much better with strict routine, which takes a lot of energy for me to maintain.  Thus, we have a stressful situation that frequently degrades into a big mess. 

It didn’t take very long for me to realize it isn’t a good idea to build up excitement in our house.  We don’t play the anticipation games: “I just can’t wait until (insert holiday name here)!” or, “Yay, only 5 more sleeps ‘til our trip to the beach!” If we’re planning a trip, we inform the kids very matter-of-factly, and then remind them the day before.  Boyo gets especially anxious because he can’t remember how near or far places are and sometimes thinks we’re planning a much bigger trip than it will actually be.  We absolutely do not use this time for extra shopping or other activities that are outside our normal routine – going into a store or restaurant with all the decorations and more people – that’s just asking for trouble!

I have to admit, sometimes I allow too much screen time because it gives me time without a kiddo wandering back and forth buzzing with too much energy and asking the same question repeatedly, or terrorizing his sister.  I always pay for it later, because that much excitement built up in Boyo’s head comes busting out eventually, and needs to be guided safely.  Sometimes we have a job lined up for him in the way of vacuuming or laundry; other times he’ll ask for things to do, so I know he has gained some maturity. 

So, we stick to bedtime as usual and make sure everyone eats when they should, try to remember there has to be plenty of physical activity happening and everything is moving as it should be, and watch for signs of stress and agitation.  In the mean while, I’ll just keep things as UNexciting as possible around here, and look forward to January 3rd.  :-)

I’m always looking forward to my next planned knitting project with excitement.  Knowing I will be finishing something and preparing to start something new gives me a sense of accomplishment and anticipation that’s just for me; a little reward for a job (hopefully!) well done.

Quick-to-knit 'Drip' coaster pattern can be found here :-)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

W is for...

Wishes.

“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” James Kelly's Scottish Proverbs, Collected and Arranged in 1721

“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you.” Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinnochio, 1940

I’ll be honest; I would have overpopulated the world with horses all by myself.  And I wished on enough stars during my youth, and didn’t get what my heart desired (although clearly the importance was negligible, since I can’t remember anything I wished for).

All parents make wishes on behalf of their children, at some point.  Parents of children with challenges wish in less lofty directions, sometimes; instead of wishing for Ivy League colleges, we may just wish we could get through a week without a call from the school.  Accepting our lot in life – the trials along with the blessings – doesn’t mean we shouldn’t indulge in a little dream now and then.  What is important is owning your wishes, realizing they are yours and not necessarily those of your children.

I can spend a moment or two wishing for a music or ballet scholarship, or a geology internship (and those things are much better for my mental health than worrying about raising bail or learning a child is a homeless indigent – as long as we’re being honest, here).  What will make me the happiest, though, is knowing my children are competent and responsible within whatever capacity they have to understand those concepts.  What more could any parent really wish for?

Since the holiday season is upon us, I’m finishing up last-minute gifts, including knitting a few bumpy, scrubby, seed-stitch washcloths.  For years, I wished I could get through a winter without my hands ending up cracked and bleeding.  In 2008 our new neighbor told me about the soap she makes, and I am happy to report that wish, at least, finally came true.  :-)
Cotton seed-stitch washcloths and oatmeal clove soap from The Fourth Button

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

V is for...

Venture.

Ven-ture (ven-cher): noun 1. an undertaking involving uncertainty as to the outcome, especially a risky or dangerous one.

(Insert hysterical laughter here.  For a whole minute.  I knew I wanted this word but didn’t realize this was the exact definition – perfect!)

OK, where was I?  Oh yes… so, when Dearest and I first decided to adopt we really had no idea of the entire scope of our little ‘venture’.  Thankfully, it didn’t pan out all at once and steamroller us!  All we really knew about Girlie, at first, was that she’d been born at 30 weeks gestation in very healthy condition, only needing a little blow-by oxygen for the first day or so.  She was kept in the nursery for a month, as she weighed less than four pounds at birth, and then went to a foster home.  Girlie had some developmental delays, as one might expect, and by the time she was a few months old she was having an ear infection or pneumonia almost monthly.  She was actually in the hospital when we met her a couple weeks before her first birthday, when it became clear that she needed to be placed into an adoptive home before too much more time went by.  I like to tell people when I brought my third child home from the hospital, she weighed nineteen pounds. :-)  Even when she was ill, she was the most cheerful sick baby I’d ever known.

Girlie was only 2 ½ when Boyo came to live with us at the age of six months.  It quickly became obvious he was precocious, determined to be where he wasn’t and grab what he shouldn’t.  Boyo was up and running at 9 ½ months, and he was exceptionally strong and agile – keeping him and everything else safe was a full time job!  His activity level was higher than average; his sleep patterns and frustration tolerance lower than average, and the tantrums started at about a year or so.  By that time, Girlie had only been saying a few words and not meeting the physical milestones, so we suspected there was more than the usual delay due to prematurity.  Thus began our journey of learning and discovering: parenting children with challenges.

Have we ever wished we’d never taken on this venture?  No.  In fact, there were times even after we had an idea of what we were dealing with that we considered getting more children (but we both realize that wouldn’t have been practical in our situation).  There have been plenty of times when we worried we were doing all the wrong things, and wished we’d had more information, but these two kids couldn’t be any more our own if we’d given birth to them.  So far, a very successful venture.

I did something crazy recently – I deliberately chopped the ends from a pair of gorgeous laminated hardwood knitting needles.  These particular needles are marketed both in the US and in Europe by different companies; the interchangeable parts work together but the pieces available are slightly different.  I had a short European cable, but long US tips, and they couldn’t be used together to make a 16” circular needle.  I decided to try shortening my size 8 tips: if I was successful, I’d have a great needle, perfect for the hat I am knitting.  If I failed, I could buy a relatively inexpensive set of replacement tips. 
What I really feared was the nail clipper being dull,
and crushing or splitting the wood. I was lucky!

A little careful use of the guillotine-style dog nail clippers, a few turns of the pencil sharpener… a little more clipping, a little more grinding, followed by plenty of sanding and smoothing… Success!  I don’t know how many more of my tips can be shortened; I think only a few of them would work well in our pencil sharpener.  It's nice when a risky little venture off with such a big reward!
Shorter size 8 needle shown next to original length size 10.

Monday, December 19, 2011

U is for...

Understanding.

More than almost anything else, we need understanding.  To understand, and to be understood.

When we have children with challenges, that can be difficult.  Sometimes it just isn’t possible to understand a certain behavior or the reason for it.  Sometimes family members or friends just don’t seem to understand where we’re coming from, and have a hard time being empathetic.

I tend to get caught up in analyzing situations and placing a lot of importance on reasons, forgetting sometimes that it’s the response that matters whether one completely understands the impetus or not.  There’s time, later, to go over the play-by-play and try to understand it; then one can be better prepared to deal with a situation quickly and possibly more effectively.  Depending on the child’s level of understanding, he may be able to articulate what he was feeling, or what his understanding of the situation was.  There can be big surprises in conversations like that; sometimes the disparity between what was expressed and what was intended can be shocking.

Feeling understood is just as important for the parent as for the child.  Cultivating a supportive, understanding group of relatives or friends, who are willing to be educated about the particular challenges we face, is critical.  Some days, it can seem to make the difference between giving up, and going on.  Having that kind of friend is a treasure; being that kind of friend is a gift beyond measure.

I’ve been knitting obsessively for about 3 ½ years now, but do I understand every pattern I attempt?  No, in fact, there are times when reading the text and looking at the photos isn’t enough and I go searching for videos to learn a certain technique.  Usually I get what I need, but I still can’t really understand lace charting.  Thank goodness there are plenty of experts out there to do the work and all I have to do is follow the instructions!  Still, similar patterns can be written in different ways and be easier or more difficult to understand.

When I knitted the first star last year, I didn’t quite see the relationship in the decreases, and you can see the points ended up in a bit of a spiraling pattern.  The end result looked more like a flower than a star. 

In the second star, following a nearly-identical construction but worded differently, I ended up with exactly what the pattern was intended to look like.  

I would like to think, had I been as experienced then as I am now, I would have understood the first pattern and been successful, but it was a learning experience and by no means a waste of time.  It may seem like reaching for the stars, sometimes, but eventually one comes to an understanding.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

T is for...

Time out.

We all need one, occasionally.  Sometimes, no matter how carefully one tries to defuse a situation, the explosion happens.  Sometimes, none of the pleasant platitudes or wise words will help.  Sometimes, the best thing that can happen is to put one’s self in time out.  It can be a way to prevent things from degrading even further (because, yes, no matter how bad it looks, it could be worse) and ensuring the safety all concerned.

“But surely,” you may be thinking, “knitting is always your magic time out?”  No, in fact, sometimes even knitting isn’t enough.  Sometimes jumping up and down or walking really fast on the treadmill is the only thing that works, because with so much conflict and anger in this house I might be literally shaking with adrenaline.

This is honest.  This is what I would have wanted to read at times.  As much as I would like my public face to be the picture of perfect parenting, that ain’t happenin’.  This is what is real, and it’s what happens in families even if no one wants to talk about it.  Times like these are when I would go to the internet in desperation, looking for help, comfort, solace; anything to tell me I haven’t done everything in the entire world wrong.

If all you can do is go into a bedroom or bathroom for a minute or two and jump up and down, do it.  It will help.  I promise.  Your knitting will wait for you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

S is for...

Solitaire.

Sol-i-taire: Any of a number of card games played by one person.

Me and solitaire go way back, long before there was such a thing as a personal computer available to the general population.  Dad played solitaire as a form of meditation when he wanted to relax, and a way to keep his hands occupied when his head was busy with the problems or plans of the day.  He played solitaire until not only the ink was rubbed from the cards (and he would grudgingly replace it with a new deck that had to be ‘broken in’) but the colored finish was rubbed from the Formica countertop where he sat.  I wonder how many people could say the sound of shuffling cards is practically a lullaby?

Once, as an adult going through a hard time, I went to stay with Mom and Dad for a couple days.  The first night, after I went to bed, Dad sat at the counter playing cards.  After a few relaxing minutes of listening to him shuffle, I heard Mom say his cards were making too much noise and probably disturbing me.  I quickly called out that just the opposite was true; it was the sound of comfort and calm.

I like to play solitaire, too, and although I do enjoy the feeling of shuffling the cards, it is more practical to play on the computer.  No cards to get scattered or thrown by one kid while I’m dealing with the other.  Is it the same kind of meditation for me as it was for Dad?  No, in fact, it turns out knitting is my ‘solitaire’.  More than the colors and movements of the cards, I appreciate the smaller motions and tactile sensations of knitting.  I don’t knit my anger or stress into the project; on the contrary, the repetitive movements, smooth feeling of the needles, and the softness of the wool seems to make the stress melt away. 

The longer I knit, the more I wonder if it has any effect on the kids similar to the way I felt watching and listening to Dad playing solitaire.  Dearest has told me that the effect knitting has on me is discernible to him; he can tell I’m unwinding and relaxing.  I would love to think that, at some point, whatever the kids imagine as a comforting scene of home life includes the vision of me knitting – the same way I think of my dad playing solitaire.

A relaxing cup of tea goes so well with knitting!
Tea cozy of my own design and vintage brown 'Drip Glaze' teapot.

Friday, December 16, 2011

R is for...

Reality.

Reality is no respecter of dreams.  Well, that was blunt and to the point, wasn’t it?  It sounds dark and negative, but human nature is to dream in the face of reality.  The trick is not to let one’s dreams carry one too far from the here and now.

Dreaming about having a bigger kitchen or living in a different house all together may be the cause of a wistful moment or two.  Dreaming about ‘what might have been’ with our children can rob us of much more than a moment; we risk losing sight of the amazing gifts our children do present to us.

We’ve learned to let reality shape our perspective and priorities so that we can celebrate milestones like printing legibly, making a two-hour car trip without an anxiety-laden meltdown, completing a homework assignment independently, and accepting help without a tantrum.  Does that mean I never think about ‘what if?’  No, in fact, I do occasionally allow myself to dream a little bigger.  But who knows, maybe a bit of a stretch is a good thing sometimes, providing a little more encouragement and motivation; it might be just the thing to get over the last hump in reaching the next goal.

I admired a sock pattern for a long time, probably just as much because of the description as the photo.  They were a lace pattern, though, and more complicated than anything I had tried, so I tried to forget about them.  One way or another, they kept showing up on my knitting radar, so I decided if I could find the perfect yarn, I’d take the plunge.  Well, lucky me, no yarn appeared to be suitable, so I could disregard the pattern for good, right?  No, not that simple – all I had to do was locate the same yarn the designer had used, and that proved to be easier than I had imagined; I had to keep my promise to myself.  The socks ended up being a satisfying knit and the yarn was a pleasure to work with – so even in knitting, it’s a good thing to allow yourself a bit of a stretch to accomplish the next goal!
'Zinfandel' socks in Dream in Color 'Smooshy' yarn

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Q is for...

Quiet.

One of the things we learn as parents is that if it’s too quiet, the kids are up to something!  I’m not the only mother who has walked into a quiet room to discover a toddler with a book in one hand and a marker in the other.  Or a pair of scissors in hand and locks of hair on the floor!  With our two youngest, sometimes the discoveries were a bit more upsetting (I’ve mentioned what, um… natural substances, shall we say? kids can ‘paint’ with…)

So we learn to be cautious and not take a perceived peacefulness for granted.  Peep around the doorway, look out the window, and most of the time we can walk away with a sense of relief that all is well.  Nothing untoward is happening, no messes are in the offing, no disasters about to occur.

Now that the kids are older, we have a different view.  Adolescents are loud, as a rule – at least ours are!  I still check on them when it’s quiet, but usually it means they’re doing… nothing.  When it’s ‘too quiet’, I usually find the kids reading, or listening to an audio book on an mp3 player.  Does that mean I’ll quit checking?  No, in fact, just last week I walked over to Girlie, who was looking up Pokemon games on the computer, and a “your anti-virus software may be out of date” ad had just popped up.  Thankfully, I was right there to remind her never to click on anything like that!

I appreciate quiet more than just about anyone I know.  We didn’t know enough about home design to realize the drawbacks of the floor plan we chose, but considering the space we had available I’m not sure it would have mattered.  One of the best things about this house is that the dining area next to the kitchen is adequate, so the formal dining room at the front of the house is mine.  It’s control central, and tends to collect everyone’s business, but I can do what I want with the space.  It houses all my yarn stash and other knitting and craft supplies, as well as my ‘office’.  We may yet put a door on this room, but for now, I only share the space with the very quietest folks…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

P is for...

Potential.


That is not the word I had originally chosen; I was going to write about Phebe.  Phebe, one of the most supportive women I’ve ever known, was my mother-in-law for much too short a time.  The older kids remember her fondly, but alas, the two younger kids barely remember her, if at all.  One of the reasons I was going to write about her is because she was a great believer in potential and in making wonderful opportunities possible for others whenever she could.

When Dearest and I started considering the possibility of adopting children from the foster system, Phebe was ready to embrace more grandchildren, no matter what size, shape, color, physical condition, or mental ability they would be; she was probably the most accepting and supportive family member of all.  Because I had spent quite a bit of time looking into adopting hard-to-place children, I was aware of what the possibilities were (but not on a very practical level, as I’ve mentioned before!).

Whether the children with challenges in your life are biological offspring, adopted, stepchildren, foster, or other friends or relatives, it’s important to remember that even though they present with challenges, they also have potential.  For practical reasons, the limitations are often what we learn about first, because it may otherwise place a child in a dangerous situation.  Over time, though, we learned that ‘potential’ goes both ways; if there is potential for good, there must also be potential for bad.  Boyo loves to be involved in cooking and kitchen activities, but at the same time we get calls and emails from the school about problems – we used to joke that he will be a famous chef and make his cellmates proud.

Does this mean we don’t have any say in how these kids turn out?  No, in fact, I’m quite certain we could join the debate on nature vs. nurture, but what it really comes down to is that we give our kids tools – how they are used is up to them.  We, like parents everywhere, provide the best guidance we can manage and hope for the best.

A skein of yarn represents potential, to me, in every way.  With it, we can create something beautiful – that gorgeous red yarn is a merino-cashmere blend sock yarn.  There can also be disaster – the pretty, sparkly aqua yarn has already been knitted up into a spectacular failure; thankfully I was able to frog the whole project without ruining the yarn.  Now it will make a perfect hat for a dark-haired, brown-eyed granddaughter.  The point is, potential goes both ways.  The outcome is up to me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

O is for...

Occupation

I touched on the subject of career paths in yesterdays post.  Every parent wonders and occasionally worries about whether their child will find a suitable occupation.  In the case of children with challenges, it may be of more concern.  What if my child is unable or unwilling to further his or her education?  What if my child can’t compete in the job market with neurotypical people?  What if my child just doesn’t show any inclination or skill that points toward a specific occupation?

There aren’t going to be any answers in this post, because we don’t have any, yet.  I thought it might be helpful for someone else out there to hear me express my doubts and know – you’re not alone.  Our two kids are high-functioning enough that it’s unlikely they’ll qualify for much, if any, help via some type of school-to-work transition program.  At this point, in sixth and seventh grades, I remind myself there is still time.  Do we feel a career has to be settled by the time the kids are finished with school?  That would be an emphatic ‘No’… in fact, I didn’t have my own career goals sorted until fairly recently.  We will let them know that although the goal is to someday work one’s dream job, the necessity is to buy groceries, and there will be a lot of valuable experience in whatever job is performed conscientiously and with one’s best effort.

We live in a high-stakes situation when it comes to competition for employment, even for skilled and educated people – but adding to the pressure and stress for our kiddos will do more harm than good.  In the meantime, we advise the kids to do their best at whatever they attempt.  To get the highest grades they can manage and keep as many options available as possible.  To read, have ideas, and imagine their future. 

As much as I love knitting, and can happily knit for many hours at a time, I could never make it an occupation.  It would be like putting an obligation on meditation and comfort, and a dollar figure on my peace and relaxation.  Can’t be done – these things are priceless.
Grandpa Jack's cat pillow

Monday, December 12, 2011

N is for...

Nurture.

Not as in “nature vs.”; that is too volatile a topic and I have way too much at stake. Not going there. Just ‘nurture’.

What does that even mean?  At the most basic level, nurture means ‘to feed and protect’.  Well, there are a lot of children in this world who are being fed and protected, and still, sadly, lacking.  Dictionary.com also defines ‘nurture’ as “to support and encourage; foster. To bring up; train; educate”.  So I will specify that when I think of the word ‘nurture’, I define it as feeding and protecting the whole child, to include their intellectual and emotional selves. 

In our family, it means we look for signs of interest and try to structure toys and play areas in such a way that it feeds a child’s curiosity and comfort.  For a long time, Girlie was fascinated by manipulating small items, not building or counting them.  Dolls were completely uninteresting, but marbles were mesmerizing.  Eventually she started constructing marble runs, and then changing the construction and paying attention to what happens when the marbles met different obstacles.  In addition, everyone who knows her is aware of her obsession with rocks.  Many people have given her interesting specimens, and she has collected a few books and studied them carefully.  Even if these things don’t manifest into career paths, they make her feel secure, and we can nurture that.

Boyo is still building elaborate scenarios with LEGOs, Lincoln Logs, soldiers, cowboys, and Indians. He is in two ballet classes, and also continues to take piano lessons and practice daily.  He’s been playing since he was four years old and we think it’s a tool for stability and relaxation.  Is he bound for Julliard?  No, in fact, he shows no signs of becoming a virtuoso*, but even his teacher recognizes music as something that captures his focus and maybe blocks out all the other input.  The same seems to be true of ballet.  If it helps him manage his anxiety, believe me, we will nurture that!  (*I won’t rule out any possibilities, so if he dreams of becoming skilled enough to take music or dance to a higher level, we will be behind him all the way!)

Knitting, especially with wool, is nurturing to me.  Besides being meditative, it’s a very tactile experience, and the colors and textures can be soothing to the eye or jazz things up a little on a gray day.  My favorite thing is to knit something beautiful and give it away – Surprise! – a little something to make one feel nurtured and loved.
My 'With a Twist' handwarmers were originally designed and knitted  for a Ravelry swap partner in Sweden.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

M is for...

Math.

Why is math scary to so many people?  If you think about it, it would make more sense to be scared of words, than of math.  Words can be tricky, but math is steadfast and absolute.  The only time most people run into trouble is when you mix words and math – remember those story problems?  Logic doesn't enter into fear, though, and math can be mighty scary to me!

Neither of my two older kids had any real issues with math.  Good thing, since their mother is practically phobic about it.  I did fine until junior high – Mr. T, sitting behind his desk with his newspaper, probably dreaming about retirement, wasn’t very helpful for those of us who felt a bit insecure.

Apparently I’m not as dumb about it as I feel; sometimes, the most startling equations just appear in my head, as when I’m working on a building project or planning a major modification in a knitting project.  But then it’s not math, see, it’s building or knitting.

The two youngest kids are having middle-school-math-growing-pains.  Me, too.  One spent the entire first year of middle school in tears over math homework every day.  One said, on more than one occasion, “I don’t need any help; I just don’t know how to do it!”  (What?)  The hardest part is teaching the kids that if they don’t actually learn to solve what is in front of them, they cannot move on to the next step.

So, have I gotten over my fear of math?  No, in fact there are still times when, if I look at a problem in the book or on a worksheet, I feel a bit of anxiety and have to take myself sternly in hand.  After all, if I don’t approach it calmly, none of us will get through it successfully.  We’re fortunate that daughter Carey lives next door, as she has a great talent for teaching math and can stay calm and matter-of-fact when things are a bit tense.  We have more tools available to help, too – Girlie learned how to use her scientific calculator within a couple days and explained it to me, and quite a lot of our school math is available in an interactive online platform.  Very, very helpful.  If all else fails, Google is my trusty friend.  I don’t know what we’re going to do when we get to high school math…

One of my biggest math challenges in knitting was figuring out how to make a large sphere for a ‘balloon ball’.  It’s a fabric sphere with a small hole in one end.  You insert most of a balloon, inflate ‘til it fills up the sphere, tie it off, and tuck the knot into the fabric.  It makes a great, light-weight, indoor-safe play ball and the balloon, protected by the fabric, can last weeks.  To knit one, I had to figure out the rate of increase, how long to knit evenly, and mirrored decreases.  There are plenty of patterns available now for similar items, or even Christmas ornaments that could be enlarged, but I was pretty pleased with myself – I did the math.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

L is for...

Limitations.

We all have them.  The difficulty lies not only in recognizing them, but in respecting them.

Sometimes, limits are meant to be pushed.  Often, that is how growth is encouraged and realized.  Putting ourselves or our children just a little bit out of the comfort zone to master a newly emerging skill enables us to either celebrate success or learn where more work is needed.

Other times, there are limits that must be respected.  Those of us with chronic physical conditions have to heed our limitations and work within them to stay healthy and safe.  Children with emotional challenges present special circumstances, because it can be especially difficult deciding which limits to push – including when and how hard – and which to leave in place. 

Girlie is sensitive to loud noises; she always has been.  In primary school, the cafeteria was torture, and eventually the staff learned there were days when it was better to let her eat in the office.  Before a scheduled fire drill, someone would get her out of class and take her for a walk outside.  By the time she was in elementary school, she was able to deal with those situations better, but would be emotionally fragile the rest of the day.  We spent years dealing with nightly hysteria around the Fourth of July.  Now, she can tolerate fireworks displays when she can see them, but the fireworks for days before and after Independence Day, when folks are having fireworks in our rural area, wear her out.  The surprise explosions keep her in hyper-startle mode for days.

She is in middle school now, and learning to advocate for herself.  Although she is still stressed or fearful in noisy surroundings or by some sounds in particular, she can often talk her way through it.  Did I get that?  No; in fact, what with those expectations I keep referring to, it’s taken me far too long to understand that Girlie really doesn’t want to go see the latest show (dark theater and surround-sound at maximum volume, anyone?) and is much happier waiting for the DVD.  She gets it.  She doesn’t want to go to the school concerts, and why didn’t I realize that the reason she was chattering all during the introductions is because she was about to get hysterical when the music started?  She gets it.  No matter how much she admires the beautiful costumes, she doesn’t want to go to the ballet and be surrounded by crashing applause.  She gets it.  Finally, thankfully, Mom gets it, too.

In knitting, the only real limitations we have are those we impose upon ourselves.  Once we’re comfortable with a few basic stitches, we have the building blocks for pretty much any pattern.  Eventually, though, I realized it’s better for me to recognize what I need from knitting, not just what I want.  Although I love the look of beautiful stranded fairisle colorwork, I don’t want to deal with multiple yarns and a pattern that needs my full attention every minute.  Even though I enjoy the occasional cable and really admire traditional Aran sweaters, I can’t see myself getting much pleasure out of the process.  I became a much happier knitter when I limited my knitting to my comfort zone, even if I do still look wistfully through the pattern books.  Maybe someday, but right now, I’ll just let the yarn do the work.
'Waving Not Drowning' Pattern by Violet Green knitted with Sockotta Striped Effect Yarn

Friday, December 9, 2011

K is for...

Kid gloves.

As in, the kind one might wear when handling delicate situations.  Children who are anxious can be cranky, uptight, belligerent, and downright rude.  Neurotypical kids will usually acknowledge ‘the line’ and not cross it; challenged kids may not recognize the presence of a line at all.  One can feel the explosive energy in the air at our house, sometimes, and it’s almost as if one incendiary word would blow the lid off.  It takes a lot of energy to not only figure out the source of the anxiety (and sometimes we just can’t), but to maintain a calm and soothing atmosphere as much as possible.

The truth is, I don’t always have that kind of energy, so sometimes we all go down in flames.  All the books we read about raising children with challenges – no matter how much they vary on some points – will give this piece of wisdom: you must take care of yourself.  You must take care of yourself.  The problem is, parents of kids with challenges often find difficulty in arranging time for self-care.

In our family, we have learned to capitalize on moments of respite.  I can walk out to get the mail – that’s good for a few deep breaths.  I can go out to the chicken coop and fulfill whatever small needs the hens may have.  In the summer, I might go around to the garden and pluck a few raspberries or pull a few weeds.  Probably the most important thing Dearest and I have established as a couple is a firm bedtime for the kids, ensuring we have quiet time together in the evening to watch a movie (and knit!) or sit and read (and knit!) together.

As our two have gotten older we are practicing more independence by leaving them home alone, but that, too, is handled with ‘kid gloves’.  We rarely leave the two kids together and we make sure our oldest daughter, who lives next door, is home.  An hour is still the limit.  Having been a model Helicopter Mom for several years I can tell you this transition is difficult, but so very necessary for all concerned. 

'Kid gloves' are also good for keeping 'kid hands' warm, but gloves can make zippers and buttons difficult to manage.  Our kiddos (including the big ones!) like the fingerless gloves or handwarmers I’ve knitted.  There are plenty of free patterns on Ravelry, but once you’ve knitted a couple you get the basic idea and can turn it into mindless, meditative knitting.  Perfect for knitting in the evening after a day of putting out fires.




Thursday, December 8, 2011

J is for...

Judicious: having, showing, or done with good judgment or sense.

Full disclosure – I have a bag of tricks that include incentive, encouragement, and metaphors.  These are very complicated techniques that may sometimes appear to be bribery, manipulation, and lies.  All used judiciously, and always for the purpose of achieving a positive outcome as often as possible.

For instance, it would be to no one’s benefit for Girlie to be told there is no Santa Claus.  She’s 13; I don’t know for sure what she believes in her heart, but we aren’t saying anything one way or the other.  When she called Dearest and I together the other evening and tearfully voiced her concerns that she and her brother were on the Naughty List, I did not rush to tell her there was no such thing.  Dearest and I said we didn’t think there was anything to worry about; on the contrary, she and her brother have done pretty well lately, and as long as she keeps doing her best, she’ll be fine.  I believe she felt placated, and we didn’t once mention Santa’s name.

Mealtimes are often fraught with tension.  I struggle with it, but dinner is my least favorite meal of the day, in many ways.  There is no such thing as cooking a meal and putting it on the table for all to enjoy, unless it’s half pepperoni, half Hawaiian pizza.  There either has to be separate foods (something from Girlie’s very short list) or we have to prepare ourselves for conflict.  This is where I most often use incentive and encouragement, and if my teeth are gritted behind my smile it’s better than someone stomping away from the table in a huff (and yes, it’s been me on occasion).  Since Girlie is so underweight we can’t just let her refuse to eat; unlike a neurotypical child, she won’t give in and eat when she gets hungry. 

I try, every day, to make sure there is something she likes or at least has a grudging willingness to eat if covered with enough ketchup.  Girlie has mastered the avoidance technique by engaging someone – anyone – in conversation to avoid eating foods she doesn’t like.  She’s a slow eater, too, and will often be at the table for over an hour while Boyo is waiting to watch a bit of television, which we can’t do while Girlie is at the table because she’ll sit with food on her half-raised fork and never get it to her mouth.  Yes, we have some regrets about establishing a ‘habit’ of dessert, but desperate times call for desperate measures!

Do our techniques always work?  No – in fact, something that probably started off as avoiding a conversation about the Easter Bunny almost ended in what would likely have been a 5th grade social disaster.  I can’t remember how it morphed into a legendary tale, but it involved Jackalopes, a favorite 'symbol' of the West in my family.  Boyo was sitting at the computer one day last spring and we were discussing eggs, because he was working on his science fair project.  Somehow, past conversations had completely transformed in his head; it seems he was looking for information on whether the Jackalopes had antlers because they were guardians of Easter eggs.  Whoops…

My knitted, felted Jackalope bag - with a (Jackalope?) antler button!  :-)



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I is for...

Incredible.

1) too extraordinary and improbable to be believed 
2) amazing, extraordinary

Our experiences raising children with challenges have been incredible.  Read the definitions carefully, and use your imagination.  This word can encompass the horror one might feel to witness an eighteen-month-old whose tantrums are so violent his forehead has bloody scabs from banging it repeatedly against a wall.  The mortification when hearing an enraged three-year-old threaten to kill a family member with scissors and knives.  The frustration with a child who has never, not once, slept through the night. The revulsion upon discovering a five year old can ‘paint’ most of a room with feces.  The heartache when a child is so frustrated and angry she screams that she should just kill herself.

The extraordinary revelation, when hope is nearly gone, that there is still hope.  The amazing moments that we hold onto with every bit of strength we can muster to get through those bleak, dark times.

Smiling through my tears at the picture drawn of Mommy with ‘your hair, your eyes, your mouth, and your kiss that I gave you.’  Listening incredulously to a child who can’t remember how to read when the page is turned (because the words are not in the same context), have a breakthrough and suddenly begin reading fluently, page after page, while sitting on a stool in the kitchen reading aloud to Mommy.  Proudly watching a kindergartener play a lively, ‘two-hand’ piece of piano music at the kindergarten talent show.  Realizing the footsteps running through the house at night are going back the way they came, and the child has put himself back to bed for the first time in six years.  Witnessing a girl who has never gotten up willingly in the morning, now getting up independently at 5:00 a.m. – in the dark – to take the puppy out.  Being complimented about a boy who is focused and intent on ballet.

Do we ever really let our guard down?  No.  In fact, we had a gut-wrenching breakdown just last week.  But we didn’t feel hopeless; only tired and, for a while, a bit sad.  We know, now, that every ‘incredible’ experience we go through gives us a lesson from which to learn or a gift for our hearts to treasure.

Knitting has been an incredible tool for me, and Dearest has noticed I have an increased capacity to deal with our experiences more calmly since I started knitting.  There isn’t anything very incredible about my knitting in and of itself, though – certainly not in comparison to this!
This is an extraordinary art installation by Ben Cuevas, and you can see more amazing photos and read about it here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

H is for...

Hush.

I talk too much.  I’m working on changing that, but it's been this way for as long as I can remember.  I want there to be a full explanation, a complete answer, for everything.

When I was little, it seemed no one had the time or the inclination to answer my questions with much besides, “Because.”  I’m pretty sure I did my older kids a disservice by answering their questions ad nauseam, but that did have an amusing result at least once: their stepmother reported a conversation in the backseat when the kids were four and six years old that involved detailed differences between evergreen and deciduous trees.  In most cases, though, I just went on and on – taking away from them the opportunity to investigate and discover.  Fortunately, I wasn’t the only person parenting them, and they had plenty of folks, like Dearest, who would counter their questions with, “What do you think?”

More and more we have the ability to find answers instantly, because someone else has already done the research, already done the investigation, already done the work.  It isn’t much of a challenge to look up anything imaginable and get a fairly accurate hit on the first try.  Do I think we should discourage the kids from going to the internet for their answers?  No, in fact I think it’s better than going to Mom, asking the question, and getting an answer with no effort at all.  At least, when one looks up something on the internet, one has to phrase the search term in a way that will generate relevant answers.  One has to think.  In this house we still have plenty of books, too, and we use them frequently; especially to look up birds, trees, and bugs.

If asking questions is the best way to learn, then giving easy answers will take away part of the process, and eliminate the need to put forth any effort.  Pretty soon we might end up with children who haven’t learned how to learn.  Sometimes, the best answer is an expectant silence, and I should just hush.

My favorite time to knit is in the evening after everyone has gone to bed.  I don’t have the television on, or music.  Sometimes I listen to an audio book, but usually I just knit in the hush of a sleepy house.  One of my favorite things I’ve completed recently is a sleepy bunny for my newest grandson’s first Christmas.  Shhhh… it’s a secret...  :-)

Schaefer Yarn Company free pattern here

Monday, December 5, 2011

G is for...

Grandchildren

My first grandchild was born when the two youngest kids were 8 and 6.  The very first problem we experienced was the anxiety that manifested when a kiddo decided that since I became a grandma it must mean I am very old and, therefore, soon to die.  Not so far-fetched, in his mind, because my children lost two grandparents within a few months; but they'd been in their seventies and eighties.  That one took a little extra help from our counselor, but it finally got sorted.  Mostly.  He hardly ever asks if Dad or I will die soon.

Counter to everything I imagined, Girlie showed very little interest in the new baby.  It shouldn’t have been such a surprise; after all, she had absolutely no interest in dolls, either.  Still, there were those expectations, again!

Fast forward a few years: surprises are in store when you spend time with neurotypical toddlers and preschoolers after having such an intense time with challenged children!  Some of those surprises were for Dearest, who had very little experience with small children, other than our own two; but most have been for me. 

A particularly poignant example was when my oldest daughter had an emergency and asked me to watch her 3 ½ year old.  I was sorry to tell her I couldn’t; it was the day of Boyo’s birthday celebration at school and I was taking treats to his class.  Almost as soon as I hung up the phone, I had a startling realization: I could take Madee with me, and she could help pass out napkins to Boyo’s classmates.  Doesn’t that sound simple?  Shouldn’t that have been my first thought?  No, in fact, my first thought was that it would be impossible to take a 3-year-old into a situation like that without expecting disaster, because that’s how it would have been when Girlie and Boyo were three; Girlie would not have been physically capable of passing out napkins and instead been screaming and trying to take ice cream away from 4th graders.  Boyo would have run away unless a large and immovable guard was posted at the door. 

I called Carey right back and explained my faulty reasoning, and that I’d be happy to take Madee with me.  She felt like such a big girl passing out the napkins, and Boyo felt proud to show off being an uncle to his classmates.  That was a pivotal day for me.  Making assumptions about a child’s behavior based on a different child’s behavior – whether one expects the child to be higher functioning or lower functioning than his or her ability – is limiting to everyone involved.

On to knitting!  I’m lucky to have 'littles' living so close – grandchild number five was born a month ago and has been dressed in handknits from both his mama and I right from the very start.  Here is a photo worth much more than a thousand words.  ♥
Thanks for the photo, Rhondi!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

F is for...

Flexibility.

flex-i-ble  3. willing or disposed to yield; pliable: a flexible personality.

Flexibility as a quality is difficult to teach. It’s a concept, not a touchable, tangible thing. It’s also absolutely critical to instill in kids with challenges.

The way we describe flexibility is ‘being OK when something unexpected happens.’  Because if one isn’t OK when something unexpected happens – if one isn’t flexible – something is going to break.

Over the years, we have had tragedy strike over things that most families would take for granted.  We have had sobbing-screaming-swearing meltdowns lasting hours over a change in furniture arrangement.  Someone else’s breakfast getting cold.  Deciding on an artificial Christmas tree rather than a real one.  Having to sit at a different place at the dinner table in adjusting for company.  Having to use a different spoon.  These examples are a very small sample; I could go on, but will spare you, in case you are cringing as I am just thinking about this. 

Rigid, inflexible thinking is a problem for both kids, and the last breakdown wasn’t that long ago.  We’re getting better at talking about being flexible.  We can say, for example, “Remember, if the cafeteria is out of pizza, you can be OK with having a chicken sandwich,” or, "If we get home too late to watch the show we can check to see when that episode will be on again."  When we hear an exchange like, “I really wanted fish sticks for dinner but I can wait until tomorrow,” or, “I want to watch Redwall but you already said Mythbusters, so I can be OK with that,” we are very quick to compliment the child on his/her flexibility.  Really, we draw it to the attention of everyone in the room with positive affirmation – ‘Way to be flexible!  Thanks very much, that’s great cooperation!’ and so on.

Is it only the kids in this family that have difficulty being flexible?  No, in fact, I find myself doing little surveys in my head fairly often these days about whether I can be more flexible in my interactions with the kids!  Thankfully I find I can, quite often.  With a few exceptions, it doesn’t really matter what the kids wear, as long as it fits within safety/modesty/school rule guidelines.  You may think it’s no big deal, but in this family, allowing them to choose what they wear means sometimes I have to be OK if the same clothes are worn for two days and two nights.  It’s hard to know what an anxious child needs to ‘be OK’, and sometimes not changing clothes is going to make the difference between feeling fairly secure and feeling as if one might shatter into a million pieces. 

There are many ways I can tie flexibility in knitting, but I’ll go with one that involves what we are taught.  Every pattern gives the recommended gauge, and all knitters know the phrase “To save time, take time to check gauge”.  It means you’re supposed to knit a little swatch to ensure you’re getting the same number of stitches per inch and rows per inch as written in the pattern.  Gauge is one of the first things we’re taught when we learn to knit – it is not necessarily one of the first things we learn, though.
 
We knit happily away on projects for which, really, the exact gauge doesn’t matter.  It’s not too important that a scarf isn’t the same dimensions as stated in the pattern, or a dishcloth, or a shawl.  It’s critical in a garment, though, and even if one is using the same yarn and needle size as in the pattern, any individual will certainly knit a bit more tightly or loosely than the pattern designer.  These socks were knitted with yarn I bought at one of my first trips to a ‘real’ yarn store.  It’s called Zauberball Crazy and I love the way the colors are plied together.  It’s impossible to knit an identical pair of socks!  This was the first time I had knitted any kind of design in the socks, too, so I was feeling pretty proud of myself!  Too bad they didn’t fit me.  They ended up being just about a size too small, but my niece said she loved them and would be happy to have them.

Twists and Ribs socks on blockers I made from a tutorial

For this reason, one has to be flexible.  If size matters, gauge matters – even if it means using needles two or three sizes different than what the pattern calls for.  I learned my lesson, and Sarah loves her socks.  I can be OK with that.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

E is for...

Expectations.

Mine are usually out of proportion.  I believe one's response to a given situation can be, to some extent, pre-determined by one's expectations.  It's amazing to me that I can still be surprised when something doesn't turn out the way I expect, in spite of the fact that it didn't work the previous umpteen times.  I tell myself it's because I'm an optimist.  :-)

One of the most helpful things we've learned in teaching social skills is to think in terms of 'expected' behavior.  Not 'normal', not 'appropriate'.  Those words imply judgement; that if one is not normal or appropriate, one must be bad.  If we tell a child his or her behavior is 'unexpected', it simply means that it came as a surprise.  Bursting into tears at the dinner table is pretty unexpected, especially if we've been telling a kid forever that some form of fruit or vegetable has to be consumed at dinner.

We can tell a child what behaviors are expected based on age or situation: a thirteen year old is expected to brush her hair independently, and an eleven year old is expected to remember that, if food was just served out of a boiling pot, it will be hot.  Both of those things are usually understood by much younger children, but Girlie is just recently able to brush her hair independently, and Boyo doesn't burn his mouth most days.  Putting the desired behavior in terms of what is expected, along with repetition, has been an effective, non-judgmental way of teaching the kids better social and life skills.  Does this mean the vegetables on our dinner table will magically be met without derision or resistance?  No, in fact, that would be the most unexpected event of all!

We all have expectations, and it's no different in knitting.  Like I said, though, sometimes our expectations are unreasonable based on assumptions, misinformation, or... um... ignorance.  I planned carefully for a cardigan that I'd been wanting to knit for some time: Mr. Greenjeans by Amy Swenson.  It's a very well-written pattern and nearly two thousand projects had already been finished on Ravelry by the time I felt my skills were up to it.  I researched my yarn choice and got lucky last year in KnitPicks Cyber Monday sale; a sweater quantity of Swish superwash merino for less than $25!

It took six months to the day to knit my sweater (but it wasn't a very portable project, so I was knitting plenty of other things at the same time).  My modifications worked perfectly and the sweater fit exactly the way I wanted.  I was so proud!  After soaking it carefully and pressing it in towels, I arranged it on a drying screen.  It was the first thing I thought of on waking the next morning - imagine my shock and surprise to discover the 3/4 length sleeves I'd knitted now came well past my fingers, and the body length was below my hips!  Almost a paper bag moment: OK, breathe... 



This was the first time I'd knitted with 'superwash' wool, which means it's meant to be machine washable and often, dryable.  The yarn is treated to remove the microscopic scales along the fibers, which keeps the yarn from felting together and shrinking; I knew that, but was unaware it has the opposite effect, and grows out of control when it gets wet.  I figured at this point the sweater was useless to me, so it couldn't hurt to throw it in the dryer, right?  After about 20 minutes on low heat I pulled the sweater out and put it on - clearly, a miracle had happened in the dryer.  Beyond all my expectations, the sweater fit perfectly.