Two Arms Full

This is when I annually observe “I’m not at Maryland Sheep and Wool weekend.” Gosh, that sounds petulant, probably because it is. The last time I went to MDS&W, my five year old was two months old. This year I’m again post-partum, with a two week old on my shoulder this time.

Post-partum is an interesting time for me. I have so much to be thankful for. My baby is healthy, my recovery has been fab, she sleeps as much as could be reasonably expected, I have supportive friends nearby, my spouse is a rockstar, and my in laws were just visiting for a week so I haven’t had to wash one dish.

Observing INAMDS&WW with the level of fibery engagement available to me: reading PLY Magazine during nap time!

Even this most optimal of circumstances is no good for making. Which may seem a silly complaint, but when I can’t keep my hands busy, I find my brain spinning its wheels. I’m sure it’s a combination of general discomfort and tiredness, plus a nervous anticipation of just how real everything is going to get now that my in laws are out of town and Jared is mostly going back to work. But with my hands still, my brain spins.

I usually have one hand free, one hand to hold a mobile device. I spent an embarrassing number of hours last week surfing back issues of Twist Collective and queuing patterns I’ll never get around to making. During feedings I’ll dream of all the things I could be doing. I know this about myself now, that this is how I deal with discomfort: shopping other lives.

I spent the first months of this year reading through Genesis and a commentary on it, and I finished the day before D was born. Juggling another huge book with a newborn seemed unwise, so on a whim, I snagged this book off the shelf so I could read something other than Instagram while I decide what book of the Bible to study next.

It was passed on to me by a friend. I haven’t read Ann Voskamp’s first book, though I’ve heard the cliff notes. I was concerned it might be trite. But about three pages in, I had picked up my baby and held her close, because the reality of temporality had cut right through all my avoidance. This woman gets it. Each chapter, a convenient fifteen minute read, has been a daily reminder to cut the crap, sit up, and figure out how to be present.

I deleted my ravelry queue.

My hands are empty because my arms are full. Can I focus on that? My house is a mess because children are playing in it. I’m doing laundry all the time because we have enough clothes to wear. I’m cooking more than ever because my family can afford to eat healthy home cooked meals and gee the kids actually eat the food sometimes.

I’ve been tempted by so many ways to serve myself. Plans for what I will buy and make for myself. Post-partum fitness plans to “get my body back.” Tracking my every calorie and movement so I am motivated to make the best choices for myself. Self-care is awesome, but my word, it balloons like my rav queue into self-obsession. Into fixation with my needs.

Every second spent staring at my phone, I am missing this face. But I do it anyway.

But I am not my own end. I am not going to live forever. The point of me – and this is the hardest thing to live out – is to glorify God, the God whose glory was a cross, whose cross is remembered in communion, in being with and loving others. The point of a strong healthy body is to be present with others. The point of a clean house is creative space for more messes. The point of a beautiful space is peace for my loved ones, and to invite others in. The point of good food is to share it around a table where we enjoy each other. The point of me being more fully alive is to be better poured out.

This is the hardest thing for me to live. I am not naturally generous, hospitable, or nurturing. I experience no need to be needed; I have little trouble saying no. I overcommit to my own desires first, and I burn out quickly on helping. I honestly envy those who struggle with the opposite; they seem much more suited to all my life choices.

But there’s no going back now. My arms are full and there’s no emptying them. I made these choices because I want to figure it out. I want to love well my own family and beyond. I want to press into the discomfort and find the cross there. Find the cross in my daily failures and live in grace. Give me too much comfort and I’ll escape that process as quick as I can. Throw in another baby and I’ll be forced back into the walk.

Baby D enjoys her first quilt by Mimi, my MIL. My Maryland-loving heart feels awfully sentimental about the blue crabs.

My arms are full. They almost weren’t. Three babies were lost seven years ago. I haven’t forgotten their names. There’s no replacing them, but there’s a certain completeness in having three healthy children I’ve gotten to hold in my arms. There’s no way not to be thankful if I can remember that.

My hands are empty, so I have to hold them out. My brain is spinning, with no work to latch onto, so it has to rest. I have to open my heart to feel his arms, Gods acceptance of who I am regardless of my failures, even my failure to engage the journey he has me on.

It’s all grace. Every day, every minute. Every snuggle, every smile, every hurt, every struggle. It’s all gift. I can find my way to accept them if I lean in, embrace the failure, give back, accept how small I am, how far I have to go, how loved I am regardless. Let the grace of a God who already died and rose for me do the work.

The generosity of others so far outstrips my own that I’m left speechless. The girls enjoy headbands from the care package all the way from British Columbia from online spinning friends I haven’t even met.

There’s no 12-week plan for that. No way to track my progress with selfies. No way to feel good about myself. But I would like, ten years from now, to look back and see that I’ve done the best I could to love the right things. Or even better, maybe I just won’t think about myself quite so much.

One

Oh dear, my Martha, Martha my dear.

At the present moment, my younger daughter is coming out of a fabulously intense developmental stage. Suddenly my baby is no longer constantly clinging to me. She has new confidence to strike out on her own. I hear the sound of her distinctive scoot-slide, scoot-slide – whose efficiency she has now refined to get across the kitchen in just a few scoots – and these days, when I turn around, she might well be out of sight. She’s taken off for the great white north. Or at least for the great white tiles of the sealift room.

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But. Within the first hour after she was born, I put her on my shoulder, and she draped one arm around my shoulder and the other around my neck. She’s still the expert hugger, and has taught us all to stand still to receive some affection. I adore that she still nurses to sleep quite often, and afterwards, when I transfer her from my bed to her bed, I linger in those moments that she’s asleep in my arms. Her body now takes up my whole torso, like a warm, breathing sack of potatoes, but for now, she’s still my baby.

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Speaking of a sack of potatoes, my northern baby loves to be amuk-ed. She’s so happy to observe the world from my back, especially now that it’s warm enough that I don’t have to put our hood up or wrap her face in layers of knitwear. But I have to watch it – regardless of the time of day, if she’s on my back for more than half an hour, she’ll be asleep. She has some tolerance for frozen fish, and she was pretty interested in the illu (igloo) we visited last week, but her most northern quality is certainly her affinity for the amauti.

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Martha is a joy and a delight. Between her maniacal laughs and her scrunched-up ham-face grins, she’s so determined to communicate: sampling new combinations of sounds, pointing gleefully at everything, pushing her way into whatever her sister is trying to do, saving her effective expressions of extreme displeasure for when she’s excluded, ignored or injured. She communicates quite well to her parents, though somehow her sister is the first to hear her saying that she needs a new diaper.

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Her birthday party was so much fun, with all her and Naomi’s little friends, their grown-up friends, and their northern adopted grandmas. She slimed up the miniature carrot cake I made her, and let all the bigger kids help open her presents and blow out her candle.

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Here’s to you, my peanut, my little monster, Maatakulu, Maataralaaq, Maatakallak, Maataga. Dear Martha, Little Martha, Chubby Martha, My Martha.

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Three

How, how, how are you three, little girl?
With your light, silky hair and your heart-piercing stare.
You chuckle ’till you’re out of breath, you whine my patience half to death;
you’re a quiet, patient friend; you’re an effortlessly kind sister…
I’m still hopelessly in love with you, you sweet, smart, expressive, thoughtful child.

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Indeed, how can she be three? How can I be the parent of a three year old?

Three, N is teaching me, is old enough to make up songs, to dress herself, to deeply desire to do everything else by herself, to play board games, to learn all the sounds letters make, to do and undo every button on her clothes, to “help” sweep the floor, to “help” cook, and to “help” do the dishes every morning. I am not going to apologize for the use of scare quotes; you don’t understand why they call them “scare” quotes until you have a three-year-old “help” do the dishes. We have a lot of fun, but that broom gets lots of use.

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Three is also old enough to pick one’s own knitted birthday gift. N had been dressing and undressing her one little fancy doll several times a day, so I offered to knit her a new dress. She came with me to Iqaluit’s local yarn store (which is half of a fabric store, within half of a hardware store, and really not bad). With only a little coaching, she narrowed down her many choices to some yarn that was downright lovely (Patons Silk Bamboo, in a sort of salmon-coral).

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Three is, however, definitely not old enough to have a concept of the time it takes to craft something by hand. After that initial purchase, every day came the question, “Did you finish knitting Pink Dolly’s new dress?”

The pattern was a total eyeball job, right out of my head: I cast on some stitches that seemed about right, fiddled about with stitch markers ’till they seemed about right for a raglan shape, then knit downward, throwing eyelets and garter bits until it seemed “right.” I did actually try the thing on “pink dolly” to make sure the whole scheme was working before casting off to finish the yoke, then knit straight for the skirt, incorporating a couple increases. Another bit of complementary patterning at the bottom, and shazam, a dress!

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I admit to being fairly proud of myself, though the newly re-christened “Orange Dolly” isn’t quite ready for 5th Avenue. That’s that fashion place, right? Or is that where the money people are? No, that’s Wall Street. Clearly I’ve never been there.

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Improvising a doll dress was about half cleverness (It’s a tiny sweater, I know how to do those) and half laziness (who wants to google when you can guess?) I have since been introduced to the wide and wild world of doll fashions. I have a friend up here lending me pattern books full of pictures of dolls who are all significantly better dressed than myself.

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But they’ll have to wait. I told N I wouldn’t teach her to knit ’till she’s four.

Starting to Understand

One of the more maddening things people say to parents of small children is some variation of, “Enjoy the moment!” “Seize the day!” “They’re small for so short a time, enjoy it while it lasts!”

Now, I’m generally a polite person, so I usually say something along the lines of “okay!” or “yeah, I’m doing my best!” and what have you. But, at least when I had one baby, I was usually thinking something along the lines of, “Do you even remember at all what it was like to have a baby?” Parenting is so much harder than anything I’d ever done before, that I couldn’t do too much to control my desire that it just be over quickly. People would say, “It goes by so fast!” Uh huh. Sure. More like, every single day goes by so slowly that when a whole month is done, I’m so shocked that time managed to pass at all that it seems way faster than the eternity I was sure it was going to be.

Well, baby #2 is giving me a slightly different perspective.

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I enjoy M so much. My little Dot. Her giggles, her noises, her first words, every new thing she learns. So far, familiar. But I started noticing: when the time came to be looking for milestones, or stages, or things to mark with your child’s growth – which I had studied to memorization with N – With M, I had forgotten all of it. I had no idea what was supposed to be happening when. I remembered no cows milk or honey before one year, but for the rest I was content to guess. I chalked it up to being more relaxed with my second child.

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Then one day, I was looking back at pictures of N when she was M’s age, and I realized – I don’t remember her. I don’t remember what she sounded like. What she smelled like. What she did when she was learning to play. Learning to eat. I took ten thousand pictures, but that sensory memory of my cuddly bald baby is already more distant than I thought possible.

Now, that’s partly because N’s babyhood was a really insane season in my life. I was a full-time graduate student, we were living on a ghost of a shoestring, I was discerning a call to ministry. I spent most of my days at home with N, and gave her a lot of devoted attention. But life was complicated.

It’s also partly because my memory of who N was has been subsumed into the current reality of who she is. She’s a tiny wiry force of nature with a massive vocabulary and a bottomless fount of desires. She’s sweet, orderly, compulsive, willful, thoughtful, sharp, and busy busy busy. She’s the same person she was two years ago, but also so much more than she was. She was a complete human person then, but with agency has come complexity, in exponential leaps and bounds.

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Brave explorer.

 

Exploring the frozen river, very carefully, on a weirdly warm November day when the snow half-melted.

Exploring the frozen river, very carefully, on a weirdly warm November day when the snow half-melted.

But it’s also because, she was a baby then. This is now.

M is a baby now. She’s here. All the time, when she’s not sleeping, she’s right there. And I know now: I will forget. I will forget what this is like.

So yes. I’m eating it up. I’m savoring her baby-ness.
Her impossibly round features, but delicate expressions.
Her intense frowning brow of concentration as she uses thumb and forefinger to pick up a piece of corn.
Her dive-bombing attempts to eat my nose.
Her desire to be held at all times, especially when sporting her rosy teething cheeks.
Her deep baby chuckle, contrasted with her high, soft attempts at speech.
The way she says “dadadada” when happy, and “MMAAAMMAAAMMM” when she’s mad.
The times she catches her sister’s eye across the dinner table, and they both tilt their heads to the side and dissolve into giggles.
The day she discovered how to bang two cups together in the bath, and was so pleased with herself she laughed every time she did it, then had all three of us banging cups together by the end.

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I have no less than five books of knitting for babies. I have very little hope of knitting most of the enclosed patterns for my own babies, as M is already into her 12-month things. But my one bit of Christmas knitting is for her.

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Meet Elmer the elephant. From Vintage Baby Knits by Kristen Rengren, a book so beautiful I have flipped through it many times for the sheer joy of it. Elmer is an honest-to-goodness vintage pattern, from the 50s I think. No one would be designing like this these days, with the above-shown insane number of flat-knit pieces. I loved it. It was really different.

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And the yarn, which I brought with me, was some old sock yarn from Mother Martha’s stash. So this is a little bit from Martha, to Martha. This warms the heart.

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The sweet moments of having a baby, I’ve decided, are not unlike catching a sunset. You take the picture because you can’t help yourself, you really want to preserve some of this incredible moment for the future. (Not that I get on anyone’s case for taking pictures. It’s their life, and petty criticism is attractive on exactly nobody.) But really, a sunset is a gift for right now. The fact that it is only for a moment is part of the enjoyment, even though that knowledge is a little like sadness. It’s also a little like looking forward to heaven.

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(Ok, so this is a sunrise. It’s hard to miss sunrises here, since they happen at 9.)

You’re worth it, baby. I wish I could communicate to the whole world what an overpowering joy it is to be your mommy. But I can’t, so I’ll just store it up in my heart.

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Mandalas in the Wind

My knitting has slowed to a snail’s pace. We’ve been here a month and a half, and I’ve got one measly sock to show for it.

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This is not surprising. When would I knit? We don’t commute anymore. My spare time is spent writing sermons or planning things. My evenings are spent working, or drinking tea and talking to my husband. When I play with my children, either both hands are full, or if they are not, I jump at the chance for 1:1 time. My life is full of all the wonderful, exhausting things that are exactly what I want to be doing and should be doing, and I have very little energy left for multi-tasking. This is simultaneously delightful and annoying.

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(Of course, I do waste myriad free moments scrolling facebook. I would like to retrain myself to turn those scrolls into stitches. Good luck with that, me.)

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Picking crowberries by the bay. Another attempt at a hike interrupted by toddler-sized explorations.

I’m still writing, but mostly in my journal. I still haven’t found my blogging voice, and that bothers me. I’m starting to value my words, having suddenly realized that I have things worth saying, and the ability to say them halfway-decently. But my first reaction is insecurity – to hold them close to my chest. Suddenly they’re my children, and I’m not sure if they’ll stand up if I plaster them up on the internet, alone and unsupported. I have no framework for my thoughts yet.

I’ve also been pondering privacy, embracing impermanence, and how fleeting moments are. There’s a reason we take pictures of everything now, and why we want to post every last thought on the internet. At least, there’s a reason I do. It’s because I want it to last. I want it to mean something. If a thing just happens, if my daughter just smiles her big smile at me, and there’s no one but me to watch it, and I know I’ll forget it – then does it mean anything? So I pull out my phone to try to catch it, and in making her smile for the camera, I make sure it doesn’t mean anything. It’s the same thing with the food I cook, or the insights I have, or the books I read – I want to record it all, keep it in a bottle, so I can have more of it later. Forgetting that if I do that, there will be later moments I will be missing by trying to cling to the old ones.

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On FB, I just saw a picture of a beautiful flower mandala that an artist friend made. But when I think of a mandala, like the ones made of sand that Buddhist monks somewhere make (sorry; I forget where), or that are made in the path of a religious procession… isn’t the point of them that they will blow away? Doesn’t it sort of… defeat the purpose to take a picture of them? In making them last forever, in the form of a picture, isn’t that betraying the medium?

I love McKenzie’s mandalas, and I want her to keep taking pictures of them, so maybe not. But I guess I mean that as a metaphor for my life right now, because the moments that mean the most to me are the ones that blow away. When I play with my baby, let her pull my hair, wet-kiss my cheek, and giggle madly when I screech because she got my nose in her mouth. When I color a page in my toddler’s coloring book, just because she told me to, or read her the same book over and over again until she decides she’d rather play by herself. Those are the moments, too rare, that I think to myself, yes, that was right. I am being poured out, but it’s filling someone else up. That’s what I’m for, really.

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So that’s the parenting part. But I don’t feel the same way about my words. I journal a little bit, every day that I can, just skimming the cream off the surface of my thoughts. But it feels unsure. I don’t know what’s being built yet, though I feel as if something should be. And because it’s insecure, it’s far too serious! You’ll know I’ve worked that out when I stop using up words calling attention to the fact that I don’t know what to say. All very silly. Maybe I should just write an essay about butts.

So I’ve been baking instead. Baking for saint days, cooking for holidays, baking for the Sabbath, and not walking enough to make up for it. The definition of impermanent work, but good and worthwhile, if I don’t let it distract me from the real mandala-making.

Happy half-birthday, Martha!

There Should Be Two of Them

The toddler is actually asleep during the daytime. The six-week old is swaddled and staying asleep while not physically attached to me. At the same time.

This is the first time this has happened in weeks.

Welcome to my life!

The adjustment to having two kids has been… about what you’d expect. We had our “babymoon” – two weeks that are easy not just because I have extra help, but because baby is clueless to the world around her. She’ll eat and sleep when she needs to, and as long as I keep her close and respond to her needs, she’s pretty undemanding.

But pretty soon, she’s waking up. She starts moving her hands, which she uses to cluelessly bop herself away from her food source. She starts lifting her head, which she uses to keep herself from falling asleep on the comfort of my chest. She starts smiling, which distracts her from nursing. She starts straightening her strong legs, which she uses to keep herself from getting comfortable in newborn wrap carries.

Isn’t it amazing how, from the very very beginning, we use every single tiny new power of independence to push ourselves away from what we need? From what we were made for? And from the very very beginning, someone with a lot of grace and patience has to be there, teaching us to use our powers for what is good, and what is good for us.

M is a truly wonderful little baby. She’s at that peak stage of newborns-being-difficult, with her waking up to the world meaning that she is getting in the way of herself. And getting in the way of me helping her meet her basic needs. But she’s at the very easy end of such things, so I really have nothing to complain about. She’s thriving, all medical question marks have turned out to be false alarms, and we’re learning each other’s idiosyncrasies. The details of this dance of learning each other have been all-consuming for the past weeks. And will continue to be so; I expect continuous transition for quite a while yet.

I got a surprising amount of knitting done during that first month, but the last two weeks have seen about five stitches. Even during those few moments that it’s been possible, I feel like just lifting the two ounces of sleeve and needles will make my arms fall off at the shoulders. Besides, I need to start showing my daughters the example that it is possible to rest sometimes.

You can imagine my frustration, then, when I kept running into issues with the tiny sheep sweater.

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You see one sweater here, but I think I knit enough to have two of these already.

The body of the thing (back and two fronts from bottom to armpits) I knit most of twice, because I completely misread the instructions for the decreases.

The collar I knit twice as long as it was supposed to be before reading the directions and realizing it only had to be four rows long.

The button band I managed to read the directions right, but when I bound off the first side, I realized it was unconscionably tight. I ripped it out and had to redo it with more stitches.

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The sleeves were fine. I was supposed to knit two of those.

The sheep yoke… oh dear.

I did a row of sheep, then ripped it out because doubling my contrast yarns was too thick.
I did a row of sheep, then ripped it out because just one strand of contrast yarns was too thin. (I was using some fingering from stash. I don’t know why I thought that would work.)
I did a little finagling (and gee, swatching), and found that pairing each contrast yarn with a lace yarn gave the right gauge. (I paired the white yarn with some lace mohair, which adds a little extra fluffiness to the sheep.)
Then I did a row of sheep, decided doing the colorwork flat was making me insane, so I ripped back and added a steek.

Yes, I am the sort of mad person who adds a steek to a pattern that does not have a steek.

See, I have rules about fair isle knitting. (1) It should always be in the round. (2) you should never have more than two colors to a row. (3) you should keep long floats (6 stitches or more) to a minimum, since that means you have to catch the floats more often. This pattern broke all those rules, making it absolutely impossible for me to work fair isle with decent tension.

So I got rid of one problem by adding a steek. Cutting and sewing down a little steek is easier than working this stupid maddening little yoke flat.

Then I did the second row of sheep, and had to rip back because I’d missed the instruction for three extra rows between the rows of sheep.

I got the second row of sheep right. Then I did the decreases and few rows after it. I looked at the directions and decided I’d done those rows wrong. So I ripped them out, looked at the directions again, and realized I’d ripped out what I’d done correctly. (I stopped knitting for the night at that point.)

This project was novel for me, in that it was not knit from stash – this is the first time in a long time that I’ve bought the yarn for something, then just knit it. That helped, because every time I ripped back, I said to myself “I spent too dang much on this nice yarn to have a screwy, dumb-looking sweater out of it.”

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Though, after I finish the green sweater (hopefully without having to knit enough stitches for two more of them), I think my next project will be something nice and garter-stitch-y. At least until I’m getting a bit more sleep.

So far so good, though I haven’t gotten past the sleeves.

No, not much knitting time with a tiny kid. And this post, started during a naptime on Thursday, is now being completed on a Monday morning. But this phase shall past. And this little peanut is entirely worth it.

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